The primary developmental drive adolescents have is to enter into adult society. They are extraordinarily focused on understanding what it would mean for them to be an individual within adult society. This focus means they are driven to explore who they are on the one hand, and what society is, on the other.
Through study and work, they try to clarify burning introspective questions such as ‘Who am I?’, ‘What am I good at, or for?’, ‘How has mankind come to this time and place?’, ‘What does the future hold for our world?’ and ‘What is my role in this future?’
Adolescents have a deep need to affirm their value, to feel that they have a necessary and meaningful contribution to make to their group. Usefully harnessed, this manifests as an urge to collaborate with others on real work – work that is needed and makes a difference.
The creative urge is especially strong during adolescence. Adults often remember their adolescent years as being the period of life when they first wrote poetry, or learned to play an instrument. Adolescents are naturally drawn to the use of art and other forms of self-expression to shape and reshape their ideas of who they were, who they are becoming and who they are now.
Adolescents have a heightened propensity to take risks and expand their boundaries. As the next generation of adults in a society, this is a developmental characteristic that would have, over the course of evolution, served human groups well. If not understood and channelled this can be an area of conflict with well-meaning adults in their life.
Adolescents reach for autonomy and control over their own lives. They prefer to spend time alone or with their peers. Yet though they may not show it, they still need the support of their family. There are specific psychological constructs that emerge during this period; for instance the idea that one’s every action is being watched (and critically judged), or a belief in one’s invincibility.
A capacity for economic independence emerges during this period, bringing together their growing strength and skill and the physical and intellectual independence earned during childhood. The adolescent’s capacity to contribute economically is deeply intertwined with their developmental goal of entering society.