Thursday, 29 March 2012

Adolescence Development and External Influences

Recent literature on adolescence distinguishes two separate approaches to the definition of normalcy during adolescence: psychoanalytic interpretation and empirical research. Hall and later classical psychoanalysts e.g. Bernfeld, Spigel, Freud A.,Blos, Erikson, Winnicott and others provided the basis for the assessment of
adolescents by stressing the existence of adolescent storm and stress, turmoil and rebellion as normal external manifestations of changes related to primary objects and accompanying internal restructuring of the mental apparatus, induced by biological maturation during puberty. On the other hand, Daniel Offer, and his collaborators carried out empirical longitudinal population studies outside psychiatric or psychoanalytic clinic. The more one studies normal populations, the more one becomes aware that healthy functioning is as complex, and coping behavior as varied as psychopathological entities. Normality and health cannot be understood in the abstract.

Ruther, they depend on cultural norms, socially expectancies and values, professional biases, individual differences and political climate of the time which sets the tolerance society’s expectancies and values for deviance. According to Offer and his collaborators there are three developmental routs within the border of normality. Psychiatrists and psychoanalysts have moved from deduction and theorizing on normal development toward empirical research on the relationship between multiple variables that contribute to healthy and normal human development. Healthier adolescents are more adjustable to family and environment, and they come from basically healthy families (as defined by these researchers). In the same way, Rutter points out in the introduction to the book Psychosocial Disorders in Young People, Challenges for Prevention that adolescent behaviors indicative of later psychosocial disorders were assumed earlier to be normal. Systematic research on general population clearly contradicts this view. The majority of young people pass through teenage period without visible problems. Petersen and Leffert in 1995 mentioned that although adolescence is characterized by changes and represents a challenging decade of life, it does not have to be turbulent and problematic if not affected by social circumstances. Children who enter adolescence already psychologically and socially vulnerable will probably experience a more difficult adolescent period in challenging social circumstances. Although the authors do not explain the causes of this increased early psychological and social sensitivity, they correctly point at greater challenges imposed on adolescents by current complex societies.

However, it might be useful to ask ourselves whether these two approaches to normality in adolescence are indeed so different as they appear to be or as it is sometimes stressed. In trying to answer this question Kaplan indicates that ac-cording to Offer there are three types of adolescent experiences that still represent normal development. The first refers to adolescents with continuous growth who show optimal functioning and absence of psychiatric syndromes. The second group of surgent growth has the same percentage of these syndromes as expected for normal distribution. The third group of tumultuous growth has two times more clinical psychiatric syndromes than expected for random sample. Without rejecting turmoil as a precondition for healthy development, Offer suggests that among other normal ways it is the least desirable one. His third group of tumultuous growth seems to correspond to the psychoanalytic models of adolescent development described by Blos A. Freud and Kaplan. Noshpitz points out that it might be the most reasonable to accept that probably all adolescents are shaken by emotional storms and disturbing impulses, but for many of them these experiences are transient and they are able to cope with them successfully, while in the minority of them the same problems lead to serious reactions. Consequently, adolescent turmoil may never clearly come into expression in the majority of young people. The young person frequently copes with it by talking about his/her experiences to a friend, a respected teacher or other adult person. Sometimes he/she may resort to abreaction, sometimes to identification, working out the problem in this way without open dramatization.

Both approaches to adolescence emphasize that it is a period of transition. Petersen and Leffert mention that in the majority of developed countries adolescence spans through a sufficiently long period, approximately a decade, so that it can be considered as a separate stage of life. However, adolescence is a period of transitional nature between childhood and adult age. It is consistent with the definition of developmental transitions by e.g. Emde and Harmon, or life periods characterized by major changes in biological and/or social spheres of life. Developmental transitions include infancy, puberty, pregnancy and menopause. These transitions can offer new challenges and opportunities or they can become too straining and stressful. A higher number of simultaneous changes may lead to a worse outcome, as Simmons and Blyth point out giving in this way support to Coleman’s focal theory, according to which one can better cope with developmental tasks if they are experienced successively and not simultaneously. A high degree of inter- and intra-individual variability is of particular importance for the adolescent development. Although there are some typical patterns for certain aspects of changes, individuals do not necessarily experience them in the same way. Different individual changes can occur at different periods of life, with varying intensity and different patterns. For example, a girl may enter puberty changes very early, but emotionally she still remains very immature, so that only through a shorter or longer time period she develops certain skills that will help her to avoid the state of increased risk as a possible result of early biological maturation.

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