Adolescence (Explaining Human Culture)

Return to Teaching eHRAF: Tile View | Table View

View exercise overview

Exercise ID: 1.28
Class size: Any
Level(s): I II
Source: Produced by HRAF

Learning Objectives

Does the exercise compare 2 or more cultures? Yes
Subject selection: Multiple subjects specified by teacher
Subjects/OCMS, if applicable: Adolescence
Region selection: pre-selected
Region, if applicable: Various
Culture selection: Set by teacher
Cultures/OWCs, if applicable: Yanoama, Copper Inuit, Muria, Okayama, Amish, Jivaro, Kwoma, Navajo, Gikuyu, Western Woods Cree
Samples: SCCS

Classroom Guide

Instructions for navigating eHRAF included? Yes
Assignments for students to complete in groups? Yes
Assignments for students to complete on their own? Yes
Instructions for Microfiche version? No

Pitek, Emily, Ember, Carol R., Ringen, Erik J., Human Relations Area Files

These eHRAF exercises are designed to accompany the Adolescence module in Explaining Human Culture, which gives a general picture of what we have learned from cross-cultural research about adolescents and the various theories that may explain cultural similarities or difference.

The first set of exercises is Level I; the second set Level II. The Level II exercises may be best done as group exercises by assigning each student a few cultures each and then tabulating the results. I always recommend that more than one person code the same culture so as to discuss reliability of coding.

Level I.

  1. Before you start: Prior to reading the Adolescence module and completing the Teaching Exercise, think about the following questions and write down your answers/thoughts. This can be done individually or as a group. After reading the module and finishing the exercise, refer back to your predictions: did you learn anything new? Were your expectations confirmed?
  • Is adolescence a distinct life stage for industrial societies? For nonindustrial societies?
  • How is adolescence defined? Is this a universal definition?
  • How might adolescence be experienced in other societies?
  • How and why does adolescence vary across cultures?
  1. Most societies recognize adolescence as beginning around the time of puberty. However, there are some exceptions. Read the following passages to learn about Yanoama and Inuit adolescents:

Yanoama: Becher, Hans. “The Surara and Pakidai, two Yanoama tribes in northwest Brazil” (first read Pg. 142, then 141)

Copper Inuit: Condon, Richard G. “Inuit youth: growth and change in the Canadian Arctic” Pg: 55-56

Copper Inuit adolescents in more recent times Pg. 62-65

2.1 How do these cultures define adolescence, and at what age is marriage expected to occur?

2.2 How do the responsibilities of Copper Inuit and Yanoama adolescents differ from the responsibilities of adolescents in your own society? Do you notice any similarities and/or differences between your own culture, the Copper Inuit, and the Yanoama?

3. Adolescent activities (including social interactions and leisure time) vary across cultures. First, jot down what you think adolescents from other societies might do for fun. Then read the following excerpts to learn more about adolescent activities in other cultures. Use the table provided below to take note of your findings.

Muria: Elwin, Verrier. “The Muria and their ghotul” (Pgs. 372-373, 376, 378)

Okayama: Norbeck, Edward. “Child training in a Japanese fishing community” (Pgs. 670-671)

Amish: Huntington, Abbie Gertrude. “Dove at the window: a study of an Old Order Amish community in Ohio” (Pgs. 745-746, 750, 752-753)

3.1 Enter your findings using this table. Take notes on what types of activities adolescents partake in, how much freedom they are allowed, any male/female interaction, whether adolescents create rules/hierarchy among themselves, and how rule breaking or sexuality might be involved.

Culture Activity Freedom


Rules/Hierarchy Breaking Rules/Exploring Sexuality
















3.2 Look for any cross-cultural variation or consistencies within your table.

3.3 Refer back to your expectations on what adolescents in other cultures do for fun (what you jotted down before reading the excerpts).  How do these expectations compare to your findings? Were you surprised by anything; were your assumptions confirmed?


Level II.

4. Most preindustrial societies feature formal rites of passage that signify entry into adolescence or adulthood. Initiation rites are more likely to occur in simpler rather than complex societies—but are most prevalent in middle-range societies. Across societies, these rites of passage share several features while also exhibiting a great deal of variation. In particular, ceremonies tend to differ for boys and girls. In this exercise, you will read varying examples of initiation rites from six cultures, and then assess the social complexity and pattern of residence of each culture.

  • Read the following passages about initiation rites from eHRAF World Cultures. Record relevant information about the initiation rites. A table has been provided below to help guide your notes.

Jivaro: Karsten, Rafael “The head-hunters of Western Amazonas: the life and culture of the Jibaro Indians of eastern Ecuador and Peru” Pg: 238-241

Kwoma: Whiting, John W.M. “Becoming a Kwoma: teaching and learning in a New Guinea tribe” Pg. 65-67

Navajo: Frisbie, Charlotte J. “Kinaaldá: A study of the Navaho girl’s puberty ceremony” Pg: 6-8

Gikuyu: Kenyatta, Jomo “Facing Mount Kenya: The tribal like of the Gikuyu” Pg: 106, 198

Western Woods Cree: Mason, Leonard “The Swampy Cree: A study in acculturation” Pg: 47-48

  • Read the Culture Summaries for each of the six cultures listed above. Look for any information regarding social complexity and pattern of residence. Record the information in the table below.

Instructions: See the Browse Cultures section of the Practical Guide to Using eHRAF to find out how to locate the culture summaries.


Society Societal Complexity (population size, subsistence, social stratification, etc.) Pattern of marital residence (bilocal, matrilocal, neolocal, or patrilocal) Sex and Age of Initiate  Community Member Involvement  Restrictions on Initiate

(Dietary, behavioral, etc.)

Purpose of Initiation Rite/Expected Outcome(s) Other Notes






















Remember the cross-cultural research findings? Here are a few to consider (Schlegel and Barry, 1979, 1980, 1991)

  • A majority of preindustrial societies have adolescent initiation rites
  • For both sexes, the time of the ceremony is usually at or close to puberty
  • Initiation rites are more likely to occur in simpler rather than complex societies, but they tend to be most prevalent in middle-range societies and absent with very high complexity
  • Initiation ceremonies for girls are more likely to involve one girl at a time
  • Initiation ceremonies for boys are more likely to involve large segments of the society, while girls’ ceremonies are more likely to involve seclusion from others


  • Now that your table is complete, do your findings confirm those from cross-cultural research? Do you see any contradictions or additional subtleties? Did you learn anything interesting or new?


Don’t forget to look back on your notes from “before you begin”!