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  • Cited by 14
  • Print publication year: 2002
  • Online publication date: June 2012

1 - The Kaleidoscope of Adolescence: Experiences of the World's Youth at the Beginning of the 21st Century


A century ago people were intrigued by a new invention, the forerunner of the modern kinescope. By inserting a strip of paper containing a series of pictures into a drum, then spinning the drum while peering through a set of slits around the drum's perimeter, one could watch the pictures on the paper slowly coalesce into a repetitive set of coordinated movements. From the drum's disparate pictures, a single, moving picture appeared before one's eyes.

In many respects, our understanding of adolescence at the outset of the 21st century mimics this instrument of entertainment from Victorian parlors. We spin together the related but distinctive features of life for youth around the world and discern a common image of their movement from childhood into adulthood. At a superficial level the pictures coalesce to give the impression that young people worldwide share the same challenges, interests, and concerns. We speak of the emergence of a “global youth culture” (Schlegel 2000), in which young people – at least in the middle class – wear the same clothing and hair styles, listen to some of the same music, and adopt similar slang expressions. We remark on how the world is “shrinking” by virtue of new technologies (e.g., the Internet) that bring people from far-flung corners of the globe into close contact with each other. We emphasize the commonality of experience among youth as opposing ideologies falter and economic systems begin to meld.

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