Social Change and the Impact on Transition from Childhood to Adulthood

There are several key factors that have contributed to the rapid social change experienced in the late 20th century. Firstly, the education system has undergone dramatic transitions, a legacy from the Thatcher years, which has not only had an impact on young people while they are at school but continues to influence them as the enter into employment. According to Furlong and Cartmel (1997) with a sharp decline in demand for unqualified, minimum aged school leavers, young people are remaining at school for longer periods of time, partly due to the lack of opportunities to engage in paid work. Changes have also meant that all young people from all classes are able to continue with their studies post 16. Young People from all social classes tend to remain in full time education until a later age, and higher education is becoming an experience for many rather than for a relatively small elite.

Changes in the education system, such as young people remaining at school for longer and therefore living at home for longer periods of time has meant there are drastic changes in adolescent life at present from years before. Furlong and Cartmel (1997) state that although we argue the educational changes have had little impact on patterns of social reproduction, new forms of education provision and an increased demand for an educated and trained labour force have had far reaching effects on young people experiences.

While it is of the general view that the education system has undergone several transitions in recent years, Brown (1987) has opposed the view that this is the case for all young people. Brown (1987) believes the experiences of the education system are greatly between classes. Vocational options in the school have largely been take up by working class pupils in the lower attainments bands while leaving intact the traditional academic curriculum followed by middle class pupils. As the numbers of young people continuing their education post 16 increase, Chitty (1989) believes this expansion has not been matched by resources.

Over the past three decades, the youth labour market has undergone drastic alterations. During the mid 1980’s, there was a rapid increase in unemployment at all ages which led to many school leavers opting to enter government training schemes. Consequently, this led to a fundamental restructuring of the youth labour market. The number of 16 year olds entering into employment at this time declined sharply. Into the 1990’s, Kumar (1995) has discussed how there was a growth in part time working and non standard employment and an increased demand for technical skills. Hickman (1997) believes that shifts in the labour market have meant that young men have lost traditional sources of employment while young women have gained new opportunities for work.

While these alterations to the labour force have influenced the transitions from school to employment for young people, it has also impacted the progression into becoming an independent and mature adult. For young people without a doubt the most far reaching implication of the changing labour market is that economic independence a tangible sign of maturity is delayed. As a result of the period of adolescence lasting longer and relationships with parents therefore having to be renegotiated.

Unemployment remains a prominent issue today, especially for school leavers. Roberts and Parcell (1992) state that young people are being trained in context where the chances of employment are virtually nil. Furlong and Cartmel (1997) believe that some young people who experience unemployment after completing education or training, subsequently withdraw from the labour market. This will clearly not only influence young people, but will also have implications for society as a whole.

Peer groups play an important role in how a young person makes their individual transition into adulthood. Outside the family, peers provide as adolescent with a source of information which can prove to be both positive and negative for a young person depending on how they wish to use the information they obtain. Peers can offer support and guidance which can often prove to be beneficial to a young person, especially if they are currently experiencing difficulties at home or at school. According to Conger (1977) they provide an opportunity to learn how to interact with age mates, to control social behaviour, to develop age relevant skills and interests, and to share similar problems and feelings. On the other hand, peers can often be responsible for introducing risky behaviour to their friends such as drugs, alcohol and sex. Young people can sometimes experience pressure from their peers to explore these different forms of risky behaviour and can often become subject to ridicule if they fail to adopt their peers’ attitudes. As young people develop into adults and into a wider society, the relationship they have with their peers play an influential role on their mental wellbeing and how they form and conduct relationships with others later in their lives.

While parents may worry that their child may dabble in such risky behaviour, Coleman (1999) believes peers can provide a more positive influence in the lives of young people. Contrary to popular belief, however, in many areas of adult concern, such as sexual behaviour or drug use, the normative pressures from the group may not be particularly powerful, or can be in the desired direction. This statement could pose the question that do we, as adults underestimate the power of a young person’s mind and their capability to make decisions for themselves without being influenced by their friends? This view is supported by Coleman’s (1999) focal model which suggests that the young person is an agent in his or her own development. This model is one way of conceptualising adolescent development. The model suggests that at different ages, particular sorts of relationship patterns come into focus. As young people progress through their adolescent years, conflict with their families is likely for numerous instances including the young person’s choice of friends, or their career paths. Erikson (1986) has highlighted this in his theory of identity formation. He outlines a young person’s negative identity’ where a young person adopts a specific identity that totally opposed the idea the parent has for them. Erikson’s theory has however been criticised by Coleman (1999) as he fails to acknowledge the board range of adolescent experiences. Erikson’s stage theory is much more rigid than Coleman’s model in terms of how young people develop. Dohrenwend (1974) has however criticised the focal theory believing it is nothing more than a theory of life events applied to adolescence.

As well as the rapid social changes that are occurring at present and that are affecting how young people are adapting to society, globalisation has also had some bearing on this. Employment especially has undergone drastic changes over recent years due to the migrating workforces from several poorer countries than the UK including Poland. Subsequently, this can increased the difficulty levels for some young people to find work as the jobs are being filled by foreign workers. It could be said that young people from this country are being disadvantaged as many are forced into unemployment while foreign workers are earning a wages that surpasses anything they could obtain in their native countries from completing the same jobs.

The technological revolution has also had an immense impression on some young people and their search for work. As technology is developing at a rapid rate almost every day, jobs not only for youths are becoming less available as computers for example are performing duties that were once completed manually. This is highlighted by Furlong and Cartmel (1997) who say in line with the changes occurring throughout the industrialised world, the restructuring of the British economy has involved a continued decline in the manufacturing sector. While in previous decades, young people could easily find work in unskilled jobs with few or no basic qualifications, today globalisation has meant this has been altered. Life in the modern world involves a global insecurity of life and while successful labour market integration is achieved by some, others find themselves marginalised. Indeed, the increasing complexity of the skill market and the segmentation of labour means that young people can become vulnerable to long term exclusion at an early stage in their lives.

According to Coleman (1999), there have been major shifts in the family structure over the last few decades. Furlong and Cartmel (1997) stress that changes in family structures, together with the introduction of recent social policies, represent a new set of hazards to be negotiated by today’s youth. This will however be discussed later.

The family structure is affected by the laws currently in place relating to young people. For example, youths can leave school and enter full time education at 16 yet are not permitted to vote or marry without parental consent until they are 18. Furlong and Cartmel (1997) have therefore described the period of adolescence as semi dependent’. This can however, confuse the boundaries between childhood and adulthood and can place strain on young people’s relationships with their parents and families.