All young people go through a range of hormonal changes at puberty. These result in the body changes that make them become physically adults. This is a relatively slow process that lasts a couple of years. However, in many cultures girls are deemed ready to marry not long after their first period and this marks adulthood. Hormonal changes wil affect the behaviour of young people and they may become irritable or unsure of themselves.
Social transitions to adulthood
- Laws - Each culture has different rights and responsibilities for young people. e.g. In the UK a person must be 17 to drive.
- Accepted behaviour - In the west young people are emotional and unsteady. This may not be true for al cultures. Chinese young men are expected to remain cool.
- Normative behaviour - Social customs may vary. Many cultures expect girls to marry and bear children in their teens. In Western culture the age of marriage is rising to the 20s and the age for bearing first children is also rapidly rising.
- Rites of passage - Many cultures mark a specific point at which a person can be considered to be an adult. This is marked by a ceromy which celebrates the end of childhood and start of adulthood. In Western culture people pass through a series of rites of passage, but no one point makes them as fully adult.
Functionalists claim that people need to feel part of society in order to belong. They call this integration. Without integration, society will break down, and social breakdown is known as 'anomie'. If too many people lack a sense of belonging then no-one knows the rules, so levels of crime and suicide rise.
Parsons (1954) says young people detach themselves from their parents and achieve their own independent sense of integration to wider society. Youth culture provides a bridge betwen childhood and adulthood and is a 'rite of passage' that all youths go through. Children learn to establish their own identities and can develop ideas and values different to those learned at home.
Eisenstadt (1956) supports this and suggested that youth is a time of stress and anxiety caused by the changing norms of becoming an adult. Young people rely on each other so youth culture provides an outlet for tensions and binds young people together.
Theodore Roszak (1969) is a critic of Parson's theory, he argued that a social divide was emerging the older and younger people, the generation gap. Age was becoming more significant than social differences.
Assessments of functionalism
- Functionalists point out that much public response to the behaviour of the young is over-dramatised and exaggerated. Most young people are conformist and don't overthrow society.
- Feminists such as Oakley have pointed out that family life isn't as ideal as Parsons suggests.
- Feminists such as Sharpe and Hey say the role of gender in youth groups is ignored.
- Functionalism doesn't take account of the forms and varities of youth cultures. It ignores youth subcultures.
- Marxists argue that social class is a key dynamic in the development of youth cultures. Functionalists overlook its importance in the youth subcultures.
- Functionalists tend to describe the culture of middle-class white America and claim that it's both normal and correct for all societies. It doesn't understand the social pressures placed on minority and working-class groups.
- Polemus, a postmodernist, sayt ehre's no such thing as a single youth culture, but a variety of styles.