Adolescence (from Latin adolescere, meaning "to grow up") is a transitional stage of physical and psychological development that generally occurs during the period from puberty to legal adulthood (age of majority). Adolescence is usually associated with the teenage years, but its physical, psychological or cultural expressions may begin earlier and end later. For example, puberty now typically begins during preadolescence, particularly in females. Physical growth (particularly in males), and cognitive development can extend into the early twenties. Thus age provides only a rough marker of adolescence, and scholars have found it difficult to agree upon a precise definition of adolescence. A thorough understanding of adolescence in society depends on information from various perspectives, including psychology, biology, history, sociology, education, and anthropology. Within all of these perspectives, adolescence is viewed as a transitional period between childhood and adulthood, whose cultural purpose is the preparation of children for adult roles. It is a period of multiple transitions involving education, training, employment and unemployment, as well as transitions from one living circumstance to another. The end of adolescence and the beginning of adulthood varies by country and by function. Furthermore, even within a single nation state or culture there can be different ages at which an individual is considered (chronologically and legally) mature enough for society to entrust them with certain privileges and responsibilities. Such milestones include driving a vehicle, having legal sexual relations, serving in the armed forces or on a jury, purchasing and drinking alcohol, voting, entering into contracts, finishing certain levels of education, and marriage. Adolescence is usually accompanied by an increased independence allowed by the parents or legal guardians, including less supervision as compared to preadolescence.

The formal study of adolescent psychology began with the publication of G. Stanley Hall's "Adolescence in 1904." Hall, who was the first president of the American Psychological Association, viewed adolescence primarily as a time of internal turmoil and upheaval (sturm und drang). This understanding of youth was based on two then new ways of understanding human behavior: Darwin's evolutionary theory and Freud's psychodynamic theory. He believed that adolescence was a representation of our human ancestors' phylogenetic shift from being primitive to being civilized. Hall's assertions stood relatively uncontested until the 1950s when psychologists such as Erik Erikson and Anna Freud started to formulate their theories about adolescence. Freud believed that the psychological disturbances associated with youth were biologically based and culturally universal while Erikson focused on the dichotomy between identity formation and role fulfillment.[90] Even with their different theories, these three psychologists agreed that adolescence was inherently a time of disturbance and psychological confusion. The less turbulent aspects of adolescence, such as peer relations and cultural influence, were left largely ignored until the 1980s. From the '50s until the '80s, the focus of the field was mainly on describing patterns of behavior as opposed to explaining them.

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