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December 19, 1977

Rites of Passage: Adolescence in America, 1790 to the Present

JAMA. 1977;238(25):2730. doi:10.1001/jama.1977.03280260060027

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Although adolescence was hardly recognized as a crucial life stage or social problem before 1900, Kett has assembled a wealth of information about the schooling, work, family relationships, and experiences of teenagers at various periods of our history.

In the early 19th century, boys and girls attended school sporadically, worked on farms, in factories, or in shops, and often left home early. Gradually school attendance increased, occupations became more varied, and greater social class differences developed. Around 1900 many adult-sponsored organizations flourished—Christian Endeavor, YMCA, Boy Scouts, most of which have declined in recent decades.

Around 1920 adults became more worried about "flaming youth," young people perhaps became more conscious of themselves, and discussion of intergenerational conflict was more prevalent. Kett notes, "Since the end of World War II, investigation into youth subculture has become virtually an autonomous branch of sociology."

This interesting historical study may not help us understand individual