School Conventions and Adolescence
Early adolescence is a second phase of negation of convention. This is coupled with an expansion of what children at this age consider to be personal, rather than under the jurisdiction of adult authority. The developmental double whammy of the early adolescent negation of convention along with the expansion of the personal is associated with an increase in parent-child conflicts (Smetana, 1995). It also makes teacher-student relations more challenging. School norms that were annoying to fifth graders become highly objectionable to some adolescents in grades 7 through 9. Issues of appearance, manners, tardiness, talking in class may become a blur of personal choice and arbitrary adult dictate.
These adolescent behaviors often give a false impression of self-centeredness, and the resistance to authority is sometimes mistakenly responded to through harsh control. University of Michigan researchers (Eccles, et al., 1993; Eccles, Wigfield, & Schiefele, 1998) have provided evidence that despite the increased maturity of adolescents, middle schools and junior high schools emphasize greater teacher control and discipline and offer fewer opportunities for student involvement in decision making, choice, and self-management than do elementary school classrooms. Accordingly, Eccles and her colleagues (1998) have reported that the mismatch between adolescents’ efforts to attain greater autonomy and the schools’ increased efforts at control resulted in declines in junior high students’ intrinsic motivation and interest in school.
Through it all, these students are still children in need of affection and structure. Schools are still social institutions that require compliance with certain norms in order to function. The key then in terms of positive social climate is to construct a conventional system that allows for personal expression. In many American schools this is accomplished through generous dress codes that permit oddities, such as green hair, but draw the line at obscene or immodest attire. But open dress codes needn’t be the avenue that a given community or school takes. As stated above, adolescents are generally able to adjust to the idea that school is a place where behaviors (e.g., public displays of affection, such as kissing) that would be personal matters elsewhere are under legitimate conventional regulation at school (Smetana & Bitz, 1996).
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