Recognizing Adolescent Storm and Stress – Granville Stanley Hall

The “father of adolescence,” Granville Stanley Hall is best known for his prodigious scholarship that shaped adolescent themes in psychology, education, and popular culture. Granville Stanley Hall was born in a small farming village in Massachusetts, and his upbringing was modest and conservative. He has produced over 400 books and articles and had become the first president of Clark University, Massachusetts, but his greatest achievement has been his research work on child centered research, education, and adolescence to a society in transition. He was instrumental in the development of educational psychology, and attempted to determine the effect adolescence has on education.

“The Contents of Children’s Minds,” an 1883 publication of Hall helped him establish himself as the leader of the “child-study” movement, which aimed to utilize scientific findings on what children know and when they learn it as a way of understanding the history of and the means of progress in human life. Searching for a source of personal and social rebirth, Hall turned to the theory of evolution for a biologically based ideal of human development, the optimum condition of which was health. His pure and vigorous adolescent countered the fragmented, deadening, and reutilized qualities of urban industrial life. Hall theorized adolescence as the beginning of a new life and welded this vision to a scientific claim that this new life could contribute to the evolution of the race, if properly administered.

Hall’s educational prescriptions for adolescents emphasized the following areas:

  • An education that drew upon and utilized the expression of emotions through emphases on loyalty, patriotism, and service
  • A curriculum sequence informed by recapitulation theory or cultural epochs (i.e., study of the stages believed to have been key developmental points of the race)
  • An administrative gaze schooled to watch youthful bodies
  • Hall believed that curricula should be attuned to sequentially emerging children’s needs that reflect the evolutional history of humankind.

Hall coined the phrase “storm and stress” with reference to adolescence and applied the phrase as he saw turmoil during adolescence as universal and inevitable.

It is important at this point to address directly the question of what is included under the concept of adolescent storm and stress. Taking historical and theoretical views in combination with contemporary research, the core of the storm and-stress view seems to be the idea that adolescence is a period of life that is difficult (Buchanan et al., 1990)—more difficult in some ways than other periods of life and difficult for adolescents as well as for the people around them. This idea, that adolescence is difficult, includes three key elements, let us delve into them:

Conflict with parents and other authority figures:

Hall (1904) viewed adolescence as a time when the wisdom and advice of parents and teachers is overtopped, and in ruder natures may be met by blank contradiction. He viewed this as due not only to human evolutionary history but also to the incompatibility between adolescents’ need for independence and the fact that parents, teachers and other authority figures still think of adolescents as mere children, and tighten the rein where they should loosen it”.

One naturalistic study of early adolescents’ conflicts with parents and siblings reported a rate of 2 conflicts every three days, or 20 per month (Montemayor & Hanson, 1985).

This conflict makes adolescence difficult not just for adolescents but for their parents and this in-turn reflects adolescents behaviour at school.

However, it should be added that there are substantial individual differences, and there are many authority figures and adolescents between whom there is little conflict, even if overall rates of conflict between authority figures and children rise in adolescence. Conflict between parents, teachers and adolescents is more likely when the adolescent is experiencing depressed mood (Cole & McPherson, 1993), when the adolescent is experiencing other problems such as substance abuse (Petersen, 1988),and when the adolescent is an early-maturing girl or boy (Buchanan et al., 1992).

According to a recent survey conducted by EduMedia on ‘Understanding adolescents concerns and relationships’, what stands apart is even amidst relatively high conflicts is that parents, teachers, other authority figures and adolescents tend to report that overall their relationships are good, that they share a wide range of core values, and that they retain a considerable amount of mutual affection and respect. The conflicts tend to be over apparently everyday issues such as dressing, hanging out with friends, home-work, curfews, and the like. Even if they disagree on these issues, they tend to agree on more serious issues such as the importance of education and choosing the right career etc.

Understanding this conflict as a major reason for stress among adolescents can help teachers and the school to create an atmosphere which is non-threatening for the adolescent to share his/her concerns. This in-turn has a positive effect on the academic and overall development of the role of a student played by the same adolescent.

Mood disruptions:

Adolescents tend to be more volatile emotionally than either children or adults. They experience more extremes of mood and more swings of mood from one extreme to the other. They also experience more frequent episodes of depressed mood. Hall’s experience while working with teenagers report them to feel “self-conscious” and “embarrassed” more often than not as compared with other age groups. They also were more likely to feel awkward, lonely, nervous, and ignored.

Hall believed and saw this increase in mood disruptions as due to cognitive and environmental factors as well as pubertal changes. Adolescents’ newly developed capacities for abstract reasoning “allow them to see beneath the surface of situations and envision hidden and more long lasting

threats to their well-being”. Adolescents vary in the degree to which they experience mood disruptions.

Hall also pointed out the variety of factors that have been found to make mood disruptions in adolescence more likely, including low popularity with peers, poor school performance, and family problems such as marital discord and parental divorce (Petersen et al., 1993). The more negative life events adolescents experience, the more likely they are to experience mood disruptions (Brooks-Gunn &Warren, 1989). Although these individual differences should be kept in mind, overall the results of research indicate support for the storm-and-stress view that adolescence is more likely than other age periods to be a time of emotional difficulty. Can we as educators do something to alleviate adolescents’ emotional difficulty? It is indeed an imperative question that needs to be addressed.

Risk behaviour:

Adolescents have higher rates of reckless, norm-breaking, and antisocial behavior than either children or adults. Adolescents are more likely to cause disruptions of the social order and to engage in behavior that carries the potential for harm to themselves and/or the people around them.Adolescence has long been associated with heightened rates of antisocial, norm-breaking, and criminal behavior, particularly for boys.

Unlike conflict with parents or mood disruptions, rates of risk behavior peak in late adolescence/ emerging adulthood rather than early or middle adolescence (Hall, 1999). Rates of crime rise in the teens until peaking at age 18, then drop steeply (Gottfredson & Hirschi,1990). Rates of most types of substance use peak at about age 20 (Johnston, O’Malley, & Bachman, 1994).The variety of respects in which adolescents engage in risk behavior at greater rates than children or adults lends further validity to the perception of adolescence as a difficult time, a time of storm and stress. Although adolescents generally experience their participation in risk behavior as pleasurable (Arnett, 1992; Lyng, 1993), suffering the consequences of such behavior is likely to be experienced as difficult. Furthermore, it is understandable that parents and the school may find it difficult to watch their children and students pass through the ages when such behavior is most likely to occur.

Taking into account all the turmoil that our adolescents face should motivate us to become sensitive to their concerns and their needs. Expecting adolescence to be difficult could have positive effects. Anticipating adolescent storm and stress may inspire parents and teachers to think ahead about how to approach potential problems of adolescence if they arise. Furthermore, parents, teachers, adolescents, and others who expect adolescence to be difficult may be pleasantly surprised when a particular adolescent shows few or no difficulties, as will be the case for many adolescents because there are considerable individual differences in the storm and stress they experience.

Are we there for our adolescents when they most need us? The paradox of adolescence is that it can be at once a time of storm and stress and a time of exuberant growth.

*Stanley Hall’s major books were Adolescence (1904) and Aspects of Child Life and Education (1921). In 1904, G. Stanley Hall published his two-volume magnum opus on adolescence. A sprawling work of over 1,300 pages, its title was similarly capacious, the fruit of 10 years of work, it became Hall’s first (and only) major work in adolescent psychology.

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