The Early and Rocky Transition to Adulthood in Severely Distressed Households

Eloise Dunlap, N. D. R. I., Inc.
Bruce D. Johnson, N. D. R. I., Inc.

It is well established that youths growing up in distressed inner-city households are at elevated risk for drug abuse and criminal behavior. This paper adds to growing insights into the detailed mechanics surrounding early emergence of deviant (as constructed from a mainstream and legal perspective) adult behaviors in adolescence. Data comes from an ongoing eight-year ethnographic study in which 60 [severly-distressed] families and approximately 140 persons [from inner-city New York] have been followed longitudinally. In these households, youths transition into major adult-like roles at early ages (14-18), even though they are not [legally] independent of their parents or guardians. These behaviors include early and regular sexual relationships, early child-bearing/parenting, acquisition of street language, dropping out of school, intermittent employment in drug markets and other criminal activities. The ethnographic accounts presented provide insight into the conduct norms behind the behavior patterns associated with the rocky transition into adulthood of youths struggling with the challenges of growing up under highly strained circumstances.

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Updated 05/20/2006