G. Stanley Hall: Adolescence and the Teenage Mind

Granville Stanley Hall, who is frequently referred to as G. Stanley Hall, warrants mentioning among the fathers of American psychology in general and developmental psychology in particular. As a lecturer, he influenced a considerable range of other psychologists that are currently known as the leading ones. However, the main point he is famous for is apparently his contribution to investigating on the process of psychological development, primarily, the phase of adolescence. His theory of recapitulation was the first attempt to explore the psyche of teenagers that is believed to be especially vulnerable. Although not all of the postulates the theory involved have withstood the test of time, its overall framework was a fundamental discovery, which remains relevant to this day.

Historical Background and Biography

The second half of the 19th century is marked by the dawn of psychology, the new, hence inspiring field of scientific knowledge. Hall, who had been studying philosophy and theology, also became engrossed in psychological research under the influence of German pioneer Wilhelm Wundt. Later, he worked for a short while in Wundt’s experimental laboratory, which is now known to have been the world’s first psychological lab. This is only one of Hall’s “many firsts” that also include the first Ph.D. in psychology in the USA and being the first president of the American Psychological Association (Cherry, 2020). Also, when he returned to the United States after working with Wundt, he opened a similar laboratory.

Similarly to scientific one, the academic career of G. Stanley Hall began with teaching philosophy, but then, he switched to psychology and pedagogics. One of his numerous achievements in this sphere is the foundation of the American Journal of Psychology in 1887. A year later, he became President of Clark University, where the greatest part of his scientific work actually took place. Cherry emphasizes that Halls views were ambivalent, notably, “rooted in his conservative, Victorian upbringing” but influenced with the more progressive trends of the new century (2020). Thus, in one concern, he shared the ideas of eugenics that were peculiar to the conservative groups of people. By contrast, he paid considerable attention to the sexual side of maturation, which perspective was outstandingly bold at that time.

The Theory of Recapitulation

Such a term as recapitulation theory is actually associated with the name of Ernst Haeckel, who assumed that the stages of embryogenesis resembled those of evolution. G. Stanley Hall, who was deeply influenced by Haeckel as well as evolutionism in general, extrapolated Haeckel’s assumption on psychological development. In other words, he claimed that the formation of a personality comprised the same phases as the formation of society. Hence, those phases are hardwired in the human genotype, which makes them impossible to skip of close sooner than presupposed (Young, 2016). In particular, Hall believed children’s fears to be the consequence of the evolutionary past, notably, repeat after those of the child’s remote ancestors.

In Hall’s perspective of maturation, adolescence is regarded as a unique period, which corresponds to the equally unique era in human history. That was the era when the forming societal norms came into collision with the barbaric habits of early humans. A conflict of that kind in adolescent psyche manifests itself as frequent mood changes and weird behavior, which is sometimes risk-taking and antisocial. Hall defined this phenomenon as “storm and stress” and surmised that it was common for adolescents of all cultures and generations (Fellows, Lackey, & Edwards, 2017). This assumption launched the heated debate, which paved the way for intensive research on teenage psychology.

The idea of repeating after evolution of human society in personal development, is currently not referred to as a scientific one. Nevertheless, the existence of age-specific peculiarities of psyche, which is also integral to G. Stanley Hall’s theory, is actually the basics of developmental psychology as a field of knowledge (Belsky, 2013). In particular, his view of teenage as a period of conflict has been proved and illustrated repeatedly.

Practical Application of the Theory

As mentioned above, G. Stanley Hall stated that adolescence, similarly to other stages of maturation, was experienced by everyone in a comparable way. Considering that, a forming personality will not be able to perceive and process more information that the given stage presupposes. Overall, this perspective remains the basis of developmental psychology, according to which, cognitive abilities as well as interests of a child correspond to the phase of intellectual development (Hanson, 2018). Regarding adolescence in particular, its specialty lies the lack of emotional intelligence, which results in an outstanding emotional intensity and social sensitivity (Belsky, 2013). Although the specific manifestations may differ from one culture as well as environment to another, the general tendencies are similar and frequently instigate teenagers to risky behavior.

The emotion-driven actions of adolescents may be antisocial and even dangerous, both for them and their surroundings. However, according to Hall, they will not adopt any alternative patterns before they are ready to proceed to the next phase of development. Modern research proves that, until a teenager actually grows adult, he or she will continue living “on an intense emotional plane” (Belsky, 2013, p. 277). By contrast, adolescent cognition is similar to that of grown-ups, which means that their moods are not irrational, and there is always a reason for a certain emotional reaction. The root of emotional disturbance is that the reaction is much stronger as compared to a person who has already completed the given phase of maturation.

Taking all of the above into account, it is reasonable to monitor the mental state of adolescents on a constant basis in order to prevent serious consequences. No prohibitive or punitive measures will allow for a behavioral correction, as teenagers are simply not mature enough. Therefore, schools, clubs, and other environments need to implement specific risk prevention strategies. Those should focus on teaching self-control, in particular, how to handle anxiety, and give the highest priority to respecting personal needs of each student.

In addition, Savi-Çakar et al. with reference to the American Psychological Association highlight that “school-family-society coordination” is of a special importance for maximally harmonious development of an adolescent (2015, p. 16). Belsky also emphasizes on the essentiality of good family relationships and a friendly environment in reducing the risks for teens to get into serious trouble (2013). Friendliness means that the environment is not associated with a danger, for instance, that of being bullied in school or robbed in the street. In summary, only a cooperation among all social institutions is likely to facilitate effectively passing through the phase of adolescence.

How the Theory Relates to My Personal Goals

I find it critical to realize that an average teenager is hardly likely to stop misbehaving under pressure. Unfortunately, a big amount of both parents and teachers do not recognize that and try influencing adolescents with the help of their weight, which normally leads to no good. Meanwhile, a respectful attitude and creating a favorable atmosphere reduces the probability for risky behavior much more considerably than methods of force. A competent teacher as well as psychologist apparently has to know that.

I may work with adolescents at some stages of my career, hence need to establish trust-based relationships with them. Without understanding how their psyche works, no trust would be possible, because I would not know how to win their favor. Therefore, the fact that they will not successfully manage their emotions while they are in their teens is of considerable importance. The awareness of that will enable me to focus on facilitation rather than prohibition, which I actually regard as the key to a friendly relationship. Simply put, if I remember that the “storm and stress” is inevitable and not determined by any personal motives, I will have substantially more chances for a harmonious and productive interaction with teenagers.

To summarize, G. Stanley Hall believed an adolescent mind to be similar to the phase in social development, when social norms were being formed. Since then, research has proved that teenagers do have an internal conflict resulting from the excessive social needs along with generally insufficient social as well as emotional skills. This conflict can make them behave in weird, frequently risky ways. However, it is possible to smooth with the help of creating a favorable atmosphere in all communities teenagers may find themselves in and continuous monitoring of their psychological state.


Belsky. J. (2013). Experiencing the lifespan (3rd ed.). Worth Publishers.

Cherry, K. (2020). Biography of psychologist G. Stanley Hall. Very Well Mind. Web.

Fellows, J., Lackey, K., & Edwards, G.S. (2017). Conceptualizing adolescence/ts. Athens, OH: Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs at Ohio University.

Hanson, J. (2019). Evolutionary music education: Robert W. Claiborne and the way man learned music (1927). Journal of Historical Research in Music Education, 41(1), 33-54.

Savi-Çakar, F., Tagay, Ö., & Ikiz, F. E. (2015). Risky behaviors of adolescents: Definition and prevention. In Columbus A. M. (Ed.), Advances in psychology research (Vol. 106). Nova Science Publishers.

Young, J. L. (2016). G. Stanley Hall, child study, and the American public. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 177(6), 195-208. Web.

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PsychologyWriting. "G. Stanley Hall: Adolescence and the Teenage Mind." September 11, 2023. https://psychologywriting.com/g-stanley-hall-adolescence-and-the-teenage-mind/.