Grand Theories of Adolescent Development

Erik Erikson, a German-born American psychoanalyst, proposed the most comprehensive theoretical analysis of development during adolescence as part of his more general theoretical analysis of human development across the life span. He hypothesized that developing a sense of mastery, a sense of identity, and a sense of intimacy were the key challenges for this period of life. He also stressed that these challenges are played out in an increasingly complex set of social contexts and in both cultural and historical settings. Optimal resolution of these challenges depends on the psychosocial, physical, and cognitive assets of the individual and the developmental appropriateness of the social contexts encountered by the individual across all of the years of adolescence.

Others have expanded these challenges to include autonomy, sexuality, intimacy, achievement, and identity. In many cultural groups, these challenges translate into more specific tasks, including (1) changing the nature of the relationship between youth and their parents so that the youth can take on a more ''mature'' role in the social fabric of their community (in white American culture this change often takes the form of greater independence from parents and greater decision-making power over one's own current and future behaviors; in other cultures this change can take the form of greater responsibility for family support and increased participation in community decision making); (2) exploring changing social-sexual roles and identities; (3) transforming peer relationships into deeper friendships and intimate partnerships; (4) exploring personal and social identities; (5) focusing some of this identity work on making future life plans; and (6) participating in a series of experiences and choices that facilitate future economic independence or interdependence.

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