Developmental Considerations for Adolescent Suicide Risk
Adolescence is a time of turmoil and transition. This stage of life is marked by identity development (Erikson, 1968), and young people struggle to determine both who they are and who they want to become. Adolescents turn to others to assist them in their struggle, including parents and other adults as well as same-aged peers and the media. Adolescents who do not navigate this developmental stage successfully may remain confused about their identity and struggle to meet the challenges of the next developmental stage: intimacy. Difficulties with identity and with intimacy have been linked to low self-esteem and depression, common risk factors for suicidal behaviors.
Adolescents live in a world where they are no longer children but are not yet fully adults. In his 1994 book about adolescent development, In Over Our Heads, Kegan discussed the contradictions of adolescence. He noted that adolescents are moving from a dualistic world of right and wrong to a more multiplistic way of thinking or of viewing the world in shades of gray. Adolescents are struggling to make meaning of this new world, which is no longer the absolutist world of parents and rules. Kegan argued that in today's highly complex and technological world, teens have more access to information and appear more sophisticated in their thinking than did teens of previous generations. Therefore, they are given more and more adult-level responsibilities and decisions by adults who give less direction and guidance with fewer rules. However, the appearance of sophistication is only sophistication of content, not of thought process. Thus, adolescents are no more prepared to handle complex decision making than their predecessors, yet they are more often confronted with adult-level, complex, and ambiguous situations. Today's teens even mature physically at younger ages than did their predecessors, but this physical maturity may belie a mental and emotional immaturity. Kegan's message reminds us that adolescents might appear outwardly able to handle today's complex world, but they still require direction and guidance.
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