Developmental Characteristics of Adolescents According to Piaget's theory of cognitive development, adolescents generally reach the stage of formal operations, a stage in which they are less dependent on concrete objects for solving problems and increasingly capable of independent abstract and hypothetical thinking (Piaget & Inhelder, 1969). They have moved from the stage of heteronomous moral authority (ages 5-10), where adult influences dominate their decision-making, to a stage of autonomous moral reasoning (ages 10+), in which the center for moral decision-making resides increasingly within themselves (Piaget, 1932).
Building on Piaget, Kohlberg (1984) sought to explain how people reason morally. He presented an open-ended story (a "moral dilemma") and subjects then described how the moral issues in the story should be resolved. For Kohlberg, most adolescents fell into a reasoning pattern in which they affirmed the conventions of society by acquiescing to the authority figures in their lives (both personal and legal). Some adolescents were able to think at a higher level as autonomous individuals who understood the need for societal order yet who also asserted that individuals must think and act independently, even defiantly at times, on the basis of strongly held personal convictions pointing toward the betterment of society.
In Erikson's (1963) theory of psychosocial development, adolescents attain the stage of "identity versus role confusion." In this stage, the adolescent works through the challenge of determining "who I am" in such domains as values, work, and relationships. Marcia (1980) identified four subcategories in this stage that describe possible outcomes of the identity formation process during adolescence: identity achievement (some adolescents successfully establish an adult identity); identity foreclosure (some adolescents reactively adopt the plans and preferences of authority figures such as their parents); identity moratorium (an "on hold" time for some adolescents during which they avoid the rigors of self-examination); and identity diffusion (some adolescents both avoid rigorous self-examination and adopt the behaviors and values of assertive peers).
Resilience: A Nondevelopmental Approach to Understanding Adolescents
Researchers (e.g., Galambos & Leadbeater, 2000) have long been interested in children and youth who are at risk for failure in school and society because of adverse circumstances in their lives (e.g., poverty, prejudice and discrimination, drug and alcohol problems, difficult family circumstances, irresponsible sexual activity, and major illness or loss). The focus was on problems children had in coping with difficult life circumstances. Solutions proposed often addressed only the limiting circumstances themselves and led to attempts both to right social injustices that created adversity for children and to develop specific strategies for remediation, say, creating a social service program to reduce the effects of the adverse circumstances.
In the 1970s, there was a paradigm shift in research with at-risk children (Howard, Dryden, & Johnson, 1999). Researchers moved away from the traditional focus on youth who had not coped well and began to explore how some children and adolescents rebounded successfully from difficult circumstances. This shift in thinking and approach from a deficit model to an asset model (i.e., from "pathogenesis" that uses a medical or illness model to "salutogenesis" that focuses on strengths that contribute to health) involved the study of resilience in children and youth and the protective factors that enhance resilience (Howard et al., 1999; Rak & Patterson, 1996).
Linquanti (1992) described resilience as the quality in certain children who do not succumb to school failure, substance abuse, mental health problems, and juvenile delinquency when faced with significant stress or adversity. Hauser, Vieyra, Jacobson, and Wertreib (1985) described it as the capacity of some who are exposed to risk factors to overcome those risks and avoid negative consequences such as delinquency, academic and behavior problems, and physical complications. Turner (2001) portrayed resilience as the capacity of individuals to withstand hardship, to bounce back from adversity, and to move forward with functional lives characterized by well-being, citing Vaillant's (1993) metaphorical description of resilience as "the capacity to be bent without breaking and the capacity, once bent, to spring back" (Turner, 2001, p. 441). Luthat, Cicchetti, and Becker (2000) referred to resilience as "a dynamic process encompassing positive adaptation within the context of significant adversity" (p. 543). The emphasis in resilience research was clearly on studying the potential and capacity of children to cope successfully with adverse circumstances while acknowledging that resilience was not a fixed attribute of a child, but a process of coping that could change due to changes in life circumstances (Rutter, 1990).
Why are some children resilient and others not? What are the sources of resilience? How is it nurtured in children and youth? The literature cites the importance of internal and external "protective factors" that are crucial to the development of resilience. Internal protective factors include the child's innate attributes, abilities, skills and self-concept. External protective factors include elements in the child's environment that reduce and provide a buffer to the negative impact of the risk-causing circumstances and strengthen the child's overall resilience and capacity to cope. Protective factors "work" by moderating risk factors through reducing the impact of the risk or exposure to risk, by reducing negative chain-reactions after adverse experiences, by promoting self-esteem and self-efficacy, and by pointing toward positive opportunities for the child that generate hope and resources for success (Rutter, 1990).
Taken together, several studies suggest the following internal and external protective factors that promote resilience (Garmezy, Masten & Tellegen, 1984; McLoyd, 1998; Rak & Patterson, 1996; Rutter, 1985; Tiet et al., 2001; Turner, 2001; Wener, 1984): (1)personal characteristics of the child his or her developmental stage; intellectual capacity and problem-solving skills; social competence and sense of humor; personal goals and sense of purpose; adaptive distancing (the ability to achieve independence from a chaotic family); self-efficacy; and possession of a particular skill or talent; (2) the child's self-concept--heightened self-understanding; ability to form close personal relationships; adaptive skills; helpfulness to others; and a positive outlook for oneself and the situation; (3) favorable family conditions-four or fewer children; focused nurturing during the first year of life with few separations from the primary caregiver; a family network of caring and supportive relatives; a close confidant during childhood; structure and rules in the household; and high but reasonable …