How Cultural Differences Influence Adolescent Development

There is a long-standing debate whether the period of adolescence is a natural or a modern development. Some believe modern societies created adolescence by keeping kids in school and delaying marriage and adulthood. Others believe the hormonal changes in puberty are the cause of the unique life period. Whichever side you take, cross-cultural studies have found differences in teens' social and cognitive development.

Social Roles

Lisa J. Crockett of the University of Nebraska discusses how different social roles and cultural expectations influence adolescent development 13. In the industrial world, children and teens are expected to attend elementary, secondary and sometimes post-secondary schools. This activity separates them from their families and allows for the creation of peer groups and youth culture. In agrarian economies and cultures, children are expected to help the family with chores and earning a living. They are an integral part of the family economy and move from childhood to adulthood without prolonged adolescence.

Moral Reasoning

Adolescents raised in different cultures seem to attain the cognitive skill of moral reasoning at different times. Chuansheng Chen, Ph.D., and Susan Farruggia, M.A., at the University of California, Irvine report that the course of thinking skills seems to be universal; the time of attainment of these skills differs among cultures. One study outlined in Chen's and Farruggia's report found that in rural areas of Yucatan and Turkey, 16-year-olds still reasoned at the "preconventional" level, which comes before moral reasoning. Adolescents in collectivist cultures tend to view the concept of justice differently than their peers in individualistic, industrialized societies.

Academic Achievement

Chen and Faruggia also discuss that children raised in different cultures tend to vary in their academic achievement. For example, large-scale international studies have found that adolescents in the Asian countries of Japan, China, Korea, and Singapore consistently perform better in academics than their peers in other countries. Variables that may affect cultural differences in academic achievement include the value of education in different cultures, poverty rates, malnutrition and even language systems.


Cultural attitudes toward adolescent romance affect adolescent development 3. Wyndol Furman and Laura Shaffer of the University of Denver co-wrote "The Role of Romantic Relationships in Adolescent Development" in which they say early adolescent romance brings on changes in identity and family relationships 13. There is empirical evidence that beginning to date and family conflicts are linked; in other words, teens who date have more conflicts with their family. Cultures that do not allow younger teens to date but have strict rules about how their adolescent children socialize may prevent or put off some of the conflict.