Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN)

Report Of The Findings from the First Eight Years of the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development
2012 - 2013

Early researchers on adolescent development started out with the wrong set of assumptions (Lerner & Steinberg, 2009). Most, including the founder of the field, G. Stanley Hall (1844–1924), viewed adolescents in terms of what they lacked when compared to mature adults (Hall, 1904). For many decades, this perspective subtly colored not only how researchers but also how teachers, parents, youth workers, and public policy makers looked at this period of development. It influenced what they thought they could expect from teenagers, and how they would interpret what teens said and did.

Researchers and clinicians viewed adolescence as a time of “sturm und drang” (storm and stress), in which emotional turmoil was a necessary step toward maturity. Hall drew upon Darwin’s writings on evolution for formulating this perspective (Hall, 1904). Hall interpreted each person’s maturation as a retelling of how mankind as a whole evolved from primitive beasts to civilized social animals, with the teenage years reflecting a critical point in that story of transformation. Anna Freud (1969) wrote of emotional upheavals within adolescents and in their close relationships with family and friends. Erik Erikson (1959) described the adolescent’s identity crisis as he or she struggled to achieve a more mature sense of self.

In short, early researchers and clinicians alike based their observations and theories on the underlying assumption that adolescents are inherently “at risk” for behaving in uncivilized or problematic ways; they were “broken” in some way, and needed repair. They were problems to be managed (Roth & Brooks-Gunn, 2003). Given that premise, these deficits are largely what they saw.

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