A century ago, adolescence was understood as a stage of life marked by awakening sexual urgency and by rebellious alliance with fellow teens against adult authority. It was a time of storm and stress. Modern students of adolescence no longer find much evidence of that teen turmoil. On the empirical evidence, they pronounce the great majority of adolescent experience continuous with childhood patterns and congruent with adult formations to come. But vernacular American perceptions have proven impervious to this new academic understanding. In the popular culture, adolescents still seem antagonistic to society. Adults still see teens as out of hand and beyond control. They still mistrust them and expect the worst of them. They still fear them and their peer culture. This essay examines that paradox: no matter what research reveals, belief in the generation gap and its attendant age-animosities still prevails in contemporary America. Generational antagonism makes sense to Americans, even if social scientists can't find much of it. This essay proposes that persisting American obsession with adolescent transgression reflects persisting adult anxiety about standards in a society that has been uncertain of its standards for four centuries.


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 11-25
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.