The appearance of the invention of adolescence

In Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhood (2004), historian Steven Mintz wrote of the “invention of adolescence.” Here is the passage (from p. 3 of Huck’s Raft):

Reading about that history in the Families As They Really Are reader with my undergraduate family course, I wondered if that were literally true — the invention of adolescence. Looks that way:


Ngrams has great teaching potential for things like this.

7 Comments

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7 responses to “The appearance of the invention of adolescence

  1. Laura J.

    I have often wondered if the way that we deem “18” as a magic number for adulthood/graduation/marriage/etc.. has led to an unnatural expectation on teens to be celibate (especially since they are of child-bearing capacity). We beat them over the head for getting pregnant- but the social structure goes against the grain for biology to begin with.

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  2. Ness Blackbird

    When I learned Swedish, I was very interested to note that the modern Swedish word for “baby” is “babys” — it’s borrowed from English. Not very long ago (not sure how long, but probably less than 50 years?) the word was “barn”, which just means “child”.

    Actually, it makes me wonder about etymologies for “baby” and “adolescent” in various languages…isn’t “enfant” both child and baby?

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  3. Ness – I think you’re right.

    According to Google translate, the French use bébé, too. Does that mean they didn’t have baby till after us? Of course, they could say “personne infantile,” but that doesn’t seem like such a cute term.

    There must be people who have figured out how to track innovations like this from language to language. In the case of multiplying life stages, you have to also factor in consumerism — different life stage, different products — in which American leadership seems indispensable.

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