As several writers have pointed out, the discourse of youth was created before a great number of young people experienced being young in the modern sense of the word. The discourse, so to speak, prepared the ground for the completion of the ideal of adolescence in the ‘tranquil 1950s’ (Gillis 1981:185 and Zinnecker, 1985). The rise of mass schooling created a space where young people could experience a period of life freed from earlier responsibilities in the family and the coming responsibilities of adulthood. Recently, unemployment and the expansion and extension of education and training have stretched the ages of youth far beyond earlier delimitations. Such institutional changes will very likely influence both the discourse of youth and young people’s actions in other life areas than education, work, and employment.
Conventional wisdom tells us that young people are as different as members of other age categories. In spite of this rather trivial fact, we speak of youth as a homogenous category differentiated from both younger and older persons. Obviously, there is something that unites young people and makes it intelligible to speak of young people in general and to describe youth related phenomena with words like youth problems and youth culture. As I have indicated, young people are united in a special discourse. This discourse may change as society changes and young people live their lives more varied than before.
Sociologically youth is a period in life when people make many choices that in important ways have consequences for their life course. In several life areas they have to change from a dependent to a more independent status. It is a time when they are leaving their parental home, leaving school and starting work, getting married or cohabiting, and having children. When young people reach these ‘milestones’ during a relatively short period, they experience in a certain sense similar social situations where they pass from a dependent status as children to an independent life as grown-ups. As long as their status passage overlaps with conceived physiological and psychological changes, the period may be interpreted as adolescence in biological and pshycological terms. Since G. Stanley Hall identified adolescence in his 1904 book of that title, ‘youth’ has been an explanatory concept and an object of scientific observation and clinical treatment. Central to the understanding of youth as stage of life, is the image of a transition from immaturity and dependence to maturity and independence. Although Hall is seldom read now, many of his ideas live on in what is thought, said, and written about young people (Griffin, 1994:197). But how long will this discourse survive?