Pathways through Adolescence: Individual Development in Relation to Social Contexts

By Lisa J. Crockett; Ann C. Crouter | Go to book overview

in combination with their increasing autonomy and independence-intervention strategies aimed at "self-development" may be developmentally appropriate for young adolescents. The philosophical grounding of such interventions in the "organismic" notion of the "active" organism ( Lerner, 1986) also presents an attractive alternative to mechanistic emphases on biological and environmental "determinants" of youths' developmental trajectories.

Although self-determination is an important factor in healthy development, we cannot hold adolescents' low self-esteem or disintegrated identities entirely to blame for their poor adaptation. The "down side" of a focus on building life skills and personal efficacy is that we may come to blame the victims of social and economic circumstances. A second problem is that inculcating youth with the notion that they have control over their own destinies, in contexts where social and economic opportunities are actually quite limited, is questionable on ethical grounds. This is why Winfield's emphasis on "opening up new opportunities" is so important in any intervention effort. Recognizing the role that contextual forces play in adolescents' adaptation means that, in addition to changing adolescents' behaviors and attitudes, interventions must also be directed toward changing the contexts of adolescents' development.

Insights from Caspi and Moffit's ( 1993) analysis of factors central to personality change provide guidelines for interventionists interested in contextual change (see also Crockett & Petersen, 1993). According to these authors, in addition to placing individuals in novel roles and situations, previous behavioral patterns must be "knifed off' and "scripts" for new social patterns provided if significant personality change is to be effected. Adolescence is a time of transition and, as such, an opportunity for effecting meaningful change in youths' developmental trajectories. What Caspi and Moffit's analysis also tells us, however, is that circumstances must be structured so that there is "a strong press to behave . . . previous responses are actively discouraged . . . [and] clear information is provided about how to behave adaptively . . ." (p. 264).

In short, the existing literature, including the work described in this volume, provides many ideas about characteristics of effective intervention programs for adolescents. The challenge that continues to face us is communicating what we know, in convincing ways, to practitioners and policymakers -- whose job it is to effect change in the lives of youth.


REFERENCES

Baltes P. B., & Baltes M. M. ( 1990). "Psychological perspectives on successful aging: The model of selective optimization with compensation". In P. B. Baltes & M. M. Baltes (Eds.), Successful aging: Perspectives from the behavioral sciences (pp. 1-34). NewYork: Cambridge University Press.

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