Department of Educational Psychology


Date of this Version



Published in Applied Developmental Science 15:4 (2011), pp 171–174.



Copyright © 2011 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. Used by permission.


When G. Stanley Hall (1904) wrote the first book on adolescence at the turn of the 20th century, he was describing a new cultural phenomenon that had emerged in the United States and other industrializing societies during the late 19th century. There had always been children, whether or not we theorized about them, but there had not always been adolescents.

Of course, there have always been teenagers in the mathematical sense of persons who have reached the age of 13 years but not yet 20 years (and in the linguistic sense that these are the ‘‘teen’’ years in our counting scheme). But in most societies and cultural traditions teenagers were not a distinguishable group. Depending on gender they might be expected to work, marry, have children, or run a household. The Jewish Bar Mitzvah at age 13, for example, has for centuries marked entry into the adult community with full rights and responsibilities. Romeo’s Juliet was just 13 years old. Teens were young adults for most of history; there was no special category of teenagers or adolescents.

Now that adolescents have been around for more than a century, however, we think they have been here forever. In fact, we theorize about them as if adolescence were a natural biological phenomenon associated with the teen years, and as if the psychological phenomena of adolescence were the predictable result of teen brains.

Our thinking about adolescents, I suggest, is deeply flawed. In this guest editorial, expanding on previous publications (Moshman, 2011a, 2011b, 2011c), I identify five fallacies.