Sample paper: Growing Up -- A study of cultural child development and adolescence

A sample Cultural Anthropology term paper by student James Peterson

This paper is a sample of a "term paper" written for Cultural Anthropology. It is not necessarily the best paper I've ever received, but it does meet the course expectations

It can serve not only as an example for others doing this or a similar assignment. The content of the paper may be helpful to those interested in this area of study.

It should be obvious to anyone interested in anthropological studies that development during childhood and adolescence is of paramount importance to the future personality and development of the adult. It should also be clear that "childhood" and "adolescence" are not die-cut, supra-cultural developmental periods. Pre-adult development varies widely with culture, ethnicity, and even socioeconomic class. To think that human development is universal is to be blind to reality and to deny years of anthropological work. It should also be noted that, by definition, development is a process. Thus, human development must be studied not only in its specific periods, but as a whole. To ignore any part of this process is to leave out an important piece of the puzzle and actually nullify the credibility of one's study.

Let's begin at birth. Birth may be undervalued as an important factor in human development. At the time of birth, the child emerges with all of the genetic material it will need to become a fully actualized adult. While this may seem obvious, it does need to be stated that a person's major physical characteristics (of specific importance is gender), propensity for genetically inherited disease, and -- though debated by many psychologists and anthropologists -- many feel that even intelligence and temperament are also largely determined by the time of one's birth (Gordon, 24-29). Another important determination at birth is the socioeconomic situation in which a child is born. This factor of class or status can have more significant effects than perhaps any other factor. A child will form lasting perceptions about life, culture, and his or herself according to the situation in he or she starts life.

In conjunction with this, the parental situation also comes into play. The child's formation will be different according to the examples of adults it will see - the child's parents/guardians being the most important of these examples. The child will be formed according to whether it is raised by its biological parents or not. The child's family environment is of specific importance as well. The child is affected by the number of siblings and the rivalry present between them (Gordon, 43). In summary, the child is affected by its family surroundings. Not only is the family a factor, but the amount of love received and reciprocated by the child is of vital importance as well. Many studies have shown that a child who experiences a greater sense of love and togetherness is more likely to succeed in life than a child who grows up experiencing disharmony.

Interesting things are seen when family relations are studied in a cultural setting. In the Manus culture of New Guinea, for example, a child reaches almost god-like status. Margaret Mead points out that Manus children are permitted to do what they desire, provided they fit into the social obligations of the culture. Fathers in Manus culture are loved and respected by children, while mothers after childbirth and rearing -- are basically disregarded by the child in lieu of the father's love. This is a very different picture of childhood than that presented by Western culture, where the mother is considered the affectionate one and the father is the distant figure of the family.

The childhood stage of human development is important, because it shapes the perspectives the child will take on to its adolescence and adulthood. These perspectives are explored in the next stage of human development: adolescence. This stage is the intermediate stage between childhood and adulthood. Phillip Rice writes, "The transition from one stage to another is gradual and uncertain, but most adolescents eventually become adults" (Rice, 3). In Western culture, the stereotype of adolescents is that they are rowdy, uncouth, immature, and have no respect for authority. Though this generalization is often true for Western adolescents (specifically American adolescents), it is not true of every culture, ethnic group, or socioeconomic class. Adolescents from low socioeconomic situations, for example, are not exposed to the same alternatives, education, family structure, or financial security as are those from higher classes, and therefore suffer the limitations of their situation (Rice, 57-60). This often means a propensity toward rebellious behavior. It includes the mimicking the behavior of other people. Many times this leads to a cycle of degenerative and damaging behavior.

Many times adolescents begin to feel a greater sense of separation from the family unit, and feel a desire to take charge of their own life. But this is not true of all cultures, such as that of Puerto Rican culture. Puerto Rican adolescents often continue the strong sense of family, especially the ties with the mother, who is of great importance to the Puerto Rican family (Rice, 73-74). Again in Manus culture, the adolescent continues to feel a strong sense of connection to the father, and as financial arrangements are solidified, the adolescent remains connected to the family through financial obligation (Mead). Although, often the act of rebellion against family structures still exists in such situations, only in less obvious, more repressed and subtle ways.

Apart from the rebellion against parental authority, adolescents in many cultures feel it necessary to push the boundaries of social and political authority by rebelling against them as well. Formal education seems to provide a fertile ground for this rebellion. Often the adolescent is disenchanted with the view of education he or she has received from the home. Ira Gordon notes that this is very much influenced by the family's socioeconomic level, saying: "Usually there is a connection between the parental economic status and school participation; students whose families have community status have status in school" (Gordon, 161). Often a disenchanted view of education leads the adolescent in his or her stage of self-exploration and self-actualization to become rebellious toward the authority represented by the educational system. For cultures without a formal educational system, such as that of Manus culture, education is a much different concept. In Manus culture, the child is taught early on how to survive not only physically, but socially as well. The cultural norms are strictly adhered to, and any rebellion against such norms even during adolescence is severely punished (Mead). This leaves almost no room for the "youthful indiscretion" of Western culture.

Finally, the adolescent moves into full maturity, or adulthood. This change, as stated before, is often gradual, and occasionally an adolescent does not fully mature into adulthood. But in every culture, the transition from adolescence to adulthood is considered important. Adulthood is when a person finishes actualizing themselves. It is when they find their place in society whichever society that might be. Adulthood is the goal of human development, and that end is something cross-cultural. In every society, people desire themselves and their own to achieve full adulthood, and to become an accepted member of society. Though people in varying cultures arrive at adulthood differently, and though adulthood itself means different things in different societies, the goal is always adulthood. The childhood and adolescence of a person are always, therefore, important to human development, because it is in these stages that the adult is shaped and begins to emerge into a fully actualized self.

Works Cited

Gordon, Ira J. Human Development: A Transactional Perspective. New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1975.

Mead, Margaret. Growing Up In New Guinea. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1930.

Rice, F. Philip. The Adolescent: Development, Relationships, and Culture. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1996.

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