The Child - Adult Dichotomies of Cultural Values

Besides the dichotomies of opposite value patterns that cut through the whole American culture, there is a division of values that distinguishes between those applicable to the child and those applicable to the adult. The American culture upholds this age-determined double standard more emphatically than most other societies and submits relatively well-defined expectations to each age group. However, the more discrete and isolated the status of child is from the status of adult, the more ambiguous and difficult is the transition from one to the other. In other words, the more distinct the dichotomous pattern, the more intense the status discontinuity experienced by the adolescent. Anthropologist Ruth Benedict is known for exploring the cultural qualities separating these two statuses, and the following discussion relies heavily on her work.

No culture in the world can ascribe the same blueprint to all participants. Humans at different chronological stages have different needs and capabilities; nowhere is a child required to act like an adult, and neither is a mature and healthy adult allowed to act like a child for any length of time. The differences which various cultures have in respect to time of role transition and to degree of role distinction vary greatly. In some societies, mostly the small and so-called primitive societies, children assume adult roles at an early age, while in the large and modern societies, as in the American, children grow into adulthood via a nondescript phase that separates adulthood from childhood by as many as 6 to 10 years. In respect to the degree of role differentiation, the American culture goes to great lengths in emphasizing contrasts between the role of the child and the role of the adult, prescribing for each entirely distinct sets of expectations in a number of life sectors. This principle can be exemplified by a number of specific opposite role expectations.

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