When teenagers enter high school, they begin a journey of preparation that may lead them to college, a career, and the responsibilities of adulthood. How these young people view that process and the timetable for achieving life milestones varies from child to child. Although some evidence exists suggesting that most adolescents adhere to societal expectations of anticipated college completion, work, marriage, and parenthood, little research has examined each of these transitions separately. To get a glimpse into future expectations of teens, Lisa J. Crockett of the Department of Psychology at the University of Nebraska recently led a study comparing the expected time frame for goal achievement of 411 high school students to the actual attainment of specific adult roles.
Crockett found that for the most part, the teens entered into adult roles at roughly the same age they had predicted they would. However, there were some differences. In particular, the participants delayed their college completion date as they progressed through high school. This resulted in anticipated postponement of marriage and parenthood. For the girls, although there were delays, they expected to be married at a younger age than the boys, but they had longer delays in parenting. Perhaps because the girls who were focused on college and career goals realized the conflict that could occur with parenting, they chose to delay that aspect of adulthood. The boys did not delay parenting. This could be the result of male ideals, which could influence boys to place emphasis on making a living to support their families.
Despite the fact the students’ anticipated dates changed during their high school experience, their final predictions were very close to the ages they were when they transitioned into those adult roles. Crockett believes this research provides valuable information about what expectations teens put on themselves. The process of maturing from adolescent to adult requires more than making decisions and taking certain actions. It appears that this process is heavily influenced by societal norms and an individual’s personal aspirations. “Indeed,” Crocket added, “this process may capture one aspect of identity development, where young people align socially and culturally based opportunities with their own interests and abilities to construct their personal plans.”
Crockett, Lisa J., and Sarah J. Beal. The life course in the making: Gender and the development of adolescents’ expected timing of adult role transitions. Developmental Psychology 48.6 (2012): 1727-738. Print.
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