A New Map of Adolescence

The Penn Gazette has a feature article focusing on the pathbreaking research on adolescence by Vivian Setzer, author of Peer-Impact Diagnosis and Therapy: A Handbook for Successful Practice with Adolescents.

And so they gather, these strange, familiar creatures in their ever-shifting habitat. Traveling in flocks and packs, they eye one another warily, constantly, checking out their plumage and song, finally turning to the puzzling creature reflected in the glass to gauge where in the pecking order they stand. And if that reflection falls short of what they had envisioned, if the collective gazes prove too withering, they fly off, by themselves, crests fallen …

We know them, and yet we don’t know them. Though they feed at our table, and accept our shelter, they ignore us as much as they can; we are, for all intents and purposes, irrelevant. Yet we regard them with powerful affection, as well as bemusement and exasperation. After all, we were once those strange birds, and we know how fickle, even cruel, the species can be. And while they may not realize it, or want to admit it, they are slowly evolving into something like us.

It is the adolescent dialectic, and it is an inexorable force.

“When adolescence starts, there’s an imperative that begins to operate,” Vivian Center Seltzer SW’53, professor emerita of human development and behavior in the School of Social Policy and Practice (SP2), is saying. “It’s an imperative to be together—a growth-related imperative. And when they are together, then this whole big process goes into subliminal action. There’s a force that becomes ignited. That force is psychological growth, and it’s ignited by the electricity of the comparison behavior that goes on between them.”

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