Fundamental Theory

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Youth Development:

Youth development or adolescent development is the process through which adolescents (alternately called youth or young adults) acquire the cognitive, social, and emotional skills and abilities required to navigate life. The experience of adolescence varies for every youth: culture, gender, and socioeconomic class are important influences on development. This development occurs throughout a young person’s life, including formal and informal settings such as home, church, or school; and similar relationships, such as peer friendships, work, parenting, teaching, or mentoring.


Youth Leadership:

Youth leadership is the practice of teens exercising authority over themselves or others. Youth leadership has been eleborated upon as a theory ofyouth development in which young people gain skills and knowledge necessary to lead civic engagement, education reform, and community organizing activities. Countless programs around the world seek to teach young people particular skills associated with leadership, particularly those programs associate withyouth voice or youth empowerment.


Why Youth?

Youth is an important development period described in, most psycological theories of human development from Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychosexual development, Carl Jung, and in particular Erik Erikson.


Phase 1. Adolescence

Adolescence is the period of life between the onset of puberty and the full commitment to an adult social role, such as worker, parent, and/or citizen. It is the period known for the formation of personal and social identity (see Erik Erikson) and the discovery of moral purpose (see William Damon). Intelligence is demonstrated through the logical use of symbols related to abstract concepts and formal reasoning. A return to egocentric thought often occurs early in the period. Only 35% develop the capacity to reason formally during adolescence or adulthood.

The adolescent asks “Who am I? Who do I want to be?” Like toddlers, adolescents must explore, test limits, become  autonomous, and commit to an identity, or sense of self. Different roles, behaviors and ideologies must be tried out to select an identity. Role confusion and inability to choose vocation can result from a failure to achieve a sense of identity.


Phase 2. Early Adulthood

The person must learn how to form intimate relationships, both in friendship and love. The development of this skill relies on the resolution of other stages. It may be hard to establish intimacy if one has not developed trust or a sense of identity. If this skill is not learned the alternative is alienation, isolation, a fear of commitment, and the inability to depend on others.

A related framework for studying this part of the life span is that of emerging adulthood, introduced in 2000 by Jeffrey Arnett. Scholars of emerging adulthood are interested not only in relationship development (focusing on the role of dating in helping individuals settle on a long-term spouse/partner), but also the development of sociopolitical views and occupational choice.

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