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. …