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Child Dev. 1987 Oct;58(5):1220-34.

The impact of cumulative change in early adolescence.

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  • 1Department of Sociology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis 55455.


This article examines the impact of experiencing several major life transitions simultaneously in early adolescence. For many children, entry into the new life period of adolescence is marked by the transition from a relatively intimate elementary school setting into a more complex, impersonal junior high school environment. This major shift in organizational context is often accompanied by dramatic changes in biology and social definition. We hypothesized that transitions will be easier for children to cope with if the various adolescent changes come into focus at different stages rather than simultaneously. In a longitudinal study conducted in a large Midwestern city, schoolchildren were followed from sixth into seventh grade in 2 different types of school systems. The effect of multiple life changes (school transition, pubertal development, early dating behavior, residential mobility, family disruption) on students' self-esteem, academic grade-point average, and participation in extracurricular activities was analyzed. The results identify children who are forced to cope with several life transitions concurrently as a group at risk. Theoretical implications are discussed, with development of the notion that individuals need an "arena of comfort" in at least some spheres of their lives.

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