The Power Dynamics of Adolescent Marginality & Intergenerational Conflict

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Adolescents are often seen as lazy and/or entitled by older generations. Typically, we can see this today in the baby boomer generation. In this paper I will be applying Sociological Theories to this stereotype, Intergenerational Conflict to be exact. Throughout the years older generations have often looked down on the younger ones for having resources and opportunities that they themselves did not have. This paper will look inter these conflicts and stereotypes and see if they are valid.


The one stereotype about adolescents that I hear almost daily is that they are lazy and entitled. This way of thinking, in my opinion, is very detrimental to society. As the older generations treat the younger ones in a consistently negative way, it can create a larger gap between generations than there already is. I will be applying research from Sociological Theory to this stereotype. Sociological Theory focuses primarily on adolescent marginality and intergenerational conflict (Steinberg, 2020 pg. 11). The intergenerational conflict aspect is what drew me to this theory as much of the stereotype comes from older generations' perspective of adolescents.

Along with Sociological Theory, I will be using the article Understanding and Managing Intergenerational Conflict: An Examination of Influences and Strategies by Urick, Hollensbe, Masterson, and Lyons (2016). This research looks into conflict within organizations, values, traditions, tech, entitlement, and more. It also points out that the conflict does in fact go both ways.

Overview of Sociological Theory

In the textbook it is stated that “Sociological theories of adolescence attempt to understand how adolescents, as a group, come of age in society.” (Steinberg, 2020 pg. 11). I previously stated that Sociological Theories focus on the two major themes of Adolescent Marginality and Intergenerational Conflict, the second of which I am focusing on more so. These theories see a correlation in how adolescents develop across the world based on their shared age.

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Adolescent Marginality is the power difference between adolescents and adults. This difference in power can lead to adolescents feeling unimportant and small. Robert Epstein points out that a possible reason could be how much younger adolescents are treated in recent times in comparison to how they used to be treated (Epstein, 2007 pg 5). Intergenerational Conflict is the difference in conditions each generation grew up in and how it affects how each generation views the others. These differences can lead to conflicts as each generation fails to see eye to eye.

Integration of Research Findings

Taking these concepts into account, it is fairly easy to see where this stereotype stems from. Adolescents these days are growing up in a vastly different settings with vastly different circumstances. It would not be surprising to see some bitterness and judgment from older generations who may have had it harder when they were adolescents. Many of the older generations see adolescents as always looking for what will be handed to them instead of what they can earn through hard work. This conflict goes both ways as the younger generations see the older ones as people who overwork and have no work-life balance.

Overview of Research Findings

The article Understanding and Managing Intergenerational Conflict: An Examination of Influences and Strategies describes the attitude of earned vs. entitled in this context as “Perceiving own generation as having worked for the material pleasures that they possess while perceiving another generation as expecting to be given things without truly earning them.” (Urick et al, 2016). Another study shows that adolescents who are employed at 16-years-old, are more likely to experience antisocial and delinquent behavior (Apel et al, 2007). Yet many adolescents are working a job or two to help support their families.

Evaluation of Stereotype

There is evidence of Intergenerational Conflict between generations throughout history. Any additional technology each new generation gains can be seen as some sort of crutch and can lead to the older one seeing the younger as being lazy for using it. The idea of adolescents showing entitled behavior is not a new concept but in the day of the internet and social media, everyone has more of a platform to express these thoughts and opinions.

Applications of Theory and Research

Viewing this information putting myself into the shoes of a parent of an adolescent, if I believed my child was exhibiting some behaviors that I viewed as entitled, I would use this information to think more about what I grew up with that older generations did not. I would take some time to think about why they could be behaving in that way and what behaviors I could be exhibiting myself to incite it.


Overall I do not believe this stereotype is entirely accurate, but it could have some background in fact. Because every generation has new resources available than the last, it could be said that each generation has it easier in some way than the last. I do not believe this makes an entire generation lazy and outright entitled. There are many adolescents who are the hardest workers and are supporting their families just as much as their parents are.


  1. Apel, R., Bushway, S., Brame, R., Haviland, A. M., Nagin, D. S., & Paternoster, R. (2007). Unpacking the relationship between adolescent employment and antisocial behavior: A matched samples comparison. Criminology, 45(1), 67-97.
  2. Steinberg, L. D. (2020). Adolescence. Dubuque, IA: McGraw-Hill Education.
  3. Urick, M. J., Hollensbe, E. C., Masterson, S. S., & Lyons, S. T. (2016). Understanding and managing intergenerational conflict: An examination of influences and strategies. Work, Aging and Retirement, 3(2), 166-185.
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