Adolescence is a time of many developmental changes. Adolescence is also time to complete or to master developmental tasks. Understanding these tasks and challenges may help in viewing sandplay work of adolescent clients. I also find this information helpful when analyzing the sandplay work of adults. Scenes may be created which reflect an adolescent stage the adult needs to master. Following is an overview of theories, stages, and tasks related to adolescence.
Piaget's theory is based on an understanding of cognitive development. During adolescence, Piaget states that young adults are in the Formal Operational Thought stage. Teens begin to think more abstractly, begin to use hypothetical deductive thinking, and begin to form cognitions related to moral concepts.
Erickson’s theory focuses on psychosocial stages. Between the age of 12 to 19 years, Erickson defined the developmental task as Identity versus Role Confusion. He believed this state of identity crisis and role confusion was essential to the individual's sense of self and ego strength.
A theory based on moral development was proposed by Kohlberg. He viewed adolescence as having two stages covering two tasks. From the age of 10 to 13 years, Kohlberg stated that young adolescents were in the Conventional Morality stage. At this stage, their sense of morality was based on their decision to abide by the standards of others to avoid disapproval. After the age of 13, Kohlberg believed their sense of morality was based on a personal moral code.
The main developmental tasks during adolescence are separation, social competence, and a deep searching for the self. The central task of separation from the parents usually results in conflict and/or withdrawal. To master the task effectively, the adolescence must learn to renegotiate the bond and leave the family without alienation.
Social competence involves dealing with the changes in interpersonal relationships. At this crucial time, adolescents experience high drama and extended hours talking with peers. There is a constant redefining of the sense of self in light of social and societal realities.
The search for identity results and experimentation and struggle. The adolescent is at the height of ego-centrism which is often perceived as selfishness. Writer and psychologist Theodore Lidz describes these developmental issues very well:
(Adolescence) is a time of physical and emotional metamorphosis during which the youth feels estranged from the self the child had known. It is a time of seeking; a seeking inward to find who one is; a searching outward to locate one’s place in life; a longing for another with whom to satisfy cravings for intimacy and fulfillment. It is a time of turbulent awakening to love and beauty but also a time of days darkened by loneliness and despair. It is the time of carefree wandering of the spirit through realms of fantasy and in pursuit of idealistic visions, but also of disillusionment and disgust with the world and the self. It can be a time of adventure with wonderful episodes of reckless folly but also of shame and regrets that linger. The adolescent lives with a vibrant sensitivity that carries to ecstatic heights and lowers to almost untenable depths.