UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

"Quiet rebellion" : a study of youth Douglas, Lawrence Fitzroy


This essay reports on findings drawn from a larger study which seeks to discover the ways in which persons between the ages of seventeen and twenty-one years attempt to cope with their situation in the period of transition between childhood and adulthood. The emphasis centres on three matters which are sources of conflict for youth: the striving for independence, the management of sexuality, and the desire for achievement. These conflict areas are considered in their relation to the structure and function of the youth culture, the structured complex of patterns of behaviour adhered to by youth, and their relevance for the process of identity formation. It was expected that the ways of coping with these problems of youth would differ according to the socio-economic position of the respondents. Data for the study was collected first, by means of a questionnaire administered to students in the introductory sociology course of this university. This allowed the selection of a sample of persons exhibiting the necessary characteristics of age, and socio-economic status which was calculated on the basis of the education and income of their parents. Each of the respondents grouped according to these criteria into four categories for each sex was interviewed and given a sentence completion test. Thirty-eight persons instead of the hoped for forty-five in each of eight categories—fulfilled the requirements. We found that all the respondents experience conflicts with regard to the three designated areas. In their striving for independence the conflict centred on their attempts to reconcile their need for independence from parental authority with a complementary need for dependence on their parents. In their attempts to manage sexuality they are striving to satisfy their desires and their consciences, and to gain social approval all at once. Under achievement they are trying to preserve their independence, utilize their capabilities, and obtain security simultaneously. Their general response to these conflicts is characterised as a "quiet rebellion". This involves the expression of independence in ways which satisfy the cultural dictates concerning children's obedience to parents and ensures social approval for "standing on their own feet", although this latter subtly subverts parental authority. It is further manifested in their moral individualism which lays the onus of the decision concerning right conduct on the individual, and in their proposed ritualistic participation in the public sphere with a concomitant innovation in the private realm. The centrality of the problem of independence reveals that these three conflicts are aspects of the search for identity involving at once the struggle to relate themselves to the environment in a new way and reluctance to abandon the old relation. The data suggests that it is not socio-economic status, but the character of the parent-child-relations in which they are embedded which differentiates their response to their situation. Furthermore, their behaviour is characterised by realism, a tendency to assess their social environment critically and not to yield to irresponsibility and romantic idealisation. It is therefore suggested, on the basis of the important similarities and differences between their behaviour and that of the youth culture, that the latter can be differentiated into sub-cultures corresponding to the early, middle and late adolescent age-levels. The more dramatic features of the youth culture would be confined to the two earlier levels, whereas at the third level there is greater orientation to the patterns of adult culture, with maintenance of such youth culture patterns as independence strivings and the dating complex which are adaptive for functioning in the adult world.

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