Developmental Tasks of Normal AdolescenceSome years ago, Professor
Robert Havighurst of the University of Chicago proposed that stages in human
development can best be thought of in terms of the developmental tasks that are
part of the normal transition. He identified eleven developmental tasks
associated with the adolescent transition. Each of the Havighurst tasks can also
be seen as elements of the overall sense of self that adolescents carry with
them as they move toward and into young adulthood.
not progress through these multiple developmental tasks separately. At any given
time, adolescents may be dealing with several. Further, the centrality of
specific developmental tasks varies with early, middle, and late periods of the
transition. During the early adolescent years young people make their first
attempts to leave the dependent, secure role of a child and to establish
themselves as unique individuals, independent of their parents. Early
adolescence is marked by rapid physical growth and maturation. The focus of
adolescents' self-concepts are thus often on their physical self and their
evaluation of their physical acceptability. Early adolescence is also a period
of intense conformity to peers. "Getting along," not being different, and being
accepted seem somehow pressing to the early adolescent. The worst possibility,
from the view of the early adolescent, is to be seen by peers as "different."
- The adolescent must adjust to a new physical sense of self.
At no other time since birth does an individual undergo such rapid and
profound physical changes as during early adolescence. Puberty is marked by
sudden rapid growth in height and weight. Also, the young person experiences
the emergence and accentuation of those physical traits that make him or her a
boy or girl. The young person looks less like a child and more like a
physically and sexually mature adult. The effect of this rapid change is that
the young adolescent often becomes focused on his or her body.
- The adolescent must adjust to new intellectual abilities. In
addition to a sudden spurt in physical growth, adolescents experience a sudden
increase in their ability to think about their world. As a normal part of
maturity, they are able to think about more things. However, they are also
able to conceive of their world with a new level of awareness. Before
adolescence, children's thinking is dominated by a need to have a concrete
example for any problem that they solve. Their thinking is constrained to what
is real and physical. During adolescence, young people begin to recognize and
understand abstractions. The growth in ability to deal with abstractions
accelerates during the middle stages of adolescence.
- The adolescent must adjust to increased cognitive demands at school.
Adults see high school in part as a place where adolescents prepare
for adult roles and responsibilities and in part as preparatory for further
education. School curricula are frequently dominated by inclusion of more
abstract, demanding material, regardless of whether the adolescents have
achieved formal thought. Since not all adolescents make the intellectual
transition at the same rate, demands for abstract thinking prior to
achievement of that ability may be frustrating.
- The adolescent must develop expanded verbal skills. As
adolescents mature intellectually, as they face increased school demands, and
as they prepare for adult roles, they must develop new verbal skills to
accommodate more complex concepts and tasks. Their limited language of
childhood is no longer adequate. Adolescents may appear less competent because
of their inability to express themselves meaningfully.
- The adolescent must develop a personal sense of identity.
Prior to adolescence, one's identity is an extension of one's parents. During
adolescence, a young person begins to recognize her or his uniqueness and
separation from parents. As such, one must restructure the answer to the
question "What does it mean to be me?" or "Who am I?"
- The adolescent must establish adult vocational goals. As
part of the process of establishing a personal identity, the adolescent must
also begin the process of focusing on the question "What do you plan to be
when you grow up?" Adolescents must identify, at least at a preliminary level
what are their adult vocational goals and how they intend to achieve those
- The adolescent must establish emotional and psychological
independence from his or her parents. Childhood is marked by strong
dependence on one's parents. Adolescents may yearn to keep that safe, secure,
supportive, dependent relationship. Yet, to be an adult implies a sense of
independence, of autonomy, of being one's own person. Adolescents may
vacillate between their desire for dependence and their need to be
independent. In an attempt to assert their need for independence and
individuality, adolescents may respond with what appears to be hostility and
lack of cooperation.
- The adolescent must develop stable and productive peer
relationships. Although peer interaction is not unique to adolescence,
peer interaction seems to hit a peak of importance during early and middle
adolescence. The degree to which an adolescent is able to make friends and
have an accepting peer group is a major indicator of how well the adolescent
will successfully adjust in other areas of social and psychological
- The adolescent must learn to manage her or his sexuality.
With their increased physical and sexual maturity, adolescents need to
incorporate into their personal identity, a set of attitudes about what it
means to be male or female. Their self-image must accommodate their personal
sense of masculinity and femininity. Additionally, they must incorporate
values about their sexual behavior.
- The adolescent must adopt a personal value system. During
adolescence, as teens develop increasingly complex knowledge systems, they
also adopt an integrated set of values and morals. During the early stages of
moral development, parents provide their child with a structured set of rules
of what is right and wrong, what is acceptable and unacceptable. Eventually
the adolescent must assess the parents' values as they come into conflict with
values expressed by peers and other segments of society. To reconcile
differences, the adolescent restructures those beliefs into a personal
- The adolescent must develop increased impulse control and behavioral
maturity. In their shift to adulthood, most young people engage in one
or more behaviors that place them at physical, social, or educational risk.
Risky behaviors are sufficiently pervasive among adolescents that risk taking
may be a normal developmental process of adolescence. Risk taking is
particularly evident during early and middle adolescence. Gradually
adolescents develop a set of behavioral self-controls through which they
assess which behaviors are acceptable and adult-like.
Middle adolescence is marked by the emergence of new thinking skills. The
intellectual world of the young person is suddenly greatly expanded. Although
peers still play an important role in the life of middle adolescents, they are
increasingly self-directed. Their concerns about peers are more directed toward
their opposite sexed peers. It is also during this period that the move to
establish psychological independence from one's parents accelerates. Much of
their psychological energies are directed toward preparing for adult roles and
making preliminary decisions about vocational goals. Despite some delinquent
behavior, middle adolescence is a period during which young people are oriented
toward what is right and proper. They are developing a sense of behavioral
maturity and learning to control their impulsiveness.
Late adolescence is marked be the final preparations for adult roles. The
developmental demands of late adolescence often extend into the period that we
think of as young adulthood. Late adolescents attempt to crystallize their
vocational goals and to establish sense of personal identity. Their needs for
peer approval are diminished and they are largely psychologically independent
from their parents. The shift to adulthood is nearly complete.
Adapted from: Ingersoll, Gary M. (to be published). Normal
adolescence. Bloomington, IN: Center for Adolescent Studies