Five psychological drives behind adolescence

5 psychological drives for teens

There is a theory that adolescence is driven by five psychological “engines” all in pursuit of the same objective: independence. The five drives include separation, expansion, differentiation, opposition and responsibility. In order to facilitate their cognitive development and growth as a person, it is vital to gain a familiarity with them. The five psychological engines behind adolescence include the following:

  1. Separation – Adolescents begin to separate from childhood by discarding childhood things and withdrawing socially from their parents. To help affirm their new identity, teenagers will seek new activities and friends; parents that interfere with this process too much (i.e., not allowing them to do social things and putting too many family activities on them) can lead to problematic behavior in the young adult as well as stunting of their emotional growth in extreme cases. Adolescents also spend considerable amounts of time lounging around; it is not necessarily laziness, but more of a result of their transition between identities, which leads us to the next drive.
  2. Expansion – One’s teenage years are marked by new experiences allowing them to function more independently in the world. This need to explore can conflict with parents’ rules; finding a balance between room for them to grow and what is safe is imperative. A sign of this phase includes inattentiveness, messiness and forgetfulness, things that parents will usually try to correct. Understanding their need for expansion and enlarging their life experience is crucial to avoiding alienation or causing them to rebel and endanger themselves even more.
  3. Differentiation – The purpose of differentiation is to experiment with alternative interests that create a more personalized identity. Not only is it a sensitive time for developing self concept, but their social standing as well, making them especially embarrassed about their changes.
  4. Opposition – Adolescents are exceptionally defiant for two reasons: to test their boundaries and live life more on their terms. Common signs of adolescent opposition include complaining, criticism of authority and disagreeing, procrastinating and rebelling in general. To ease tension, parents need to accept active resistance (argument) and passive resistance (delaying), avoiding anger as that it will only exacerbate the situation. When conflict does arise between parents and their adolescents, it helps to see it as an opportunity to open up communication about disagreements and develop better understanding.
  5. Responsibility – The purpose of responsibility is to link choices that were made to the consequences that follow. By understanding and accepting consequences, teenagers will be able to learn from their mistakes and better understand their societal boundaries. Common signs of responsibility include increases in the following:
    • Self-reliance, self-regulation and discipline
    • Planning ahead, focus on school work and future goals as well as money
    • Willingness to own up to mistakes, working to recover from mistakes and learning from them
    • Greater capacity to delay gratification and predict problems
    • Accountability and determination to take charge of one’s life

With separation, expansion, differentiation, opposition and responsibility, a dependent child can develop psychologically into an independent young adult.

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