Historical Descriptions and Prescriptions for Adolescence

  • Hanawalt B
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The use of the term "adolescence" for any period other than the late nineteenth or twentieth century has been much debated. Ariès denied that the medieval period had a life phase that could be described with such a term; others have argued that the term carries a particular, very modern meaning even if Augustine did use the term adolescentia. This introduction to a collection of essays on the history of adolescence shows that the life stage was a well recognized and defined one through the Middle Ages and into the modern period. While the modern period did not invent adolescence, it did modify the definition. Constants in adolescence from the thirteenth through the twentieth century are the struggle between adults and youth over entry and exit from adolescence and for control during that period. But much changes over the centuries. Social scientific discussions that aid in our historical analysis are almost entirely based on the male rather than the female experience. While cultural change modifies the male definitions of adolescence, the medieval and twentieth-century definition of female adolescence stays closer to biological than social definitions of puberty.

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  • Barbara A. Hanawalt

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