Denise Quinlan, MAPP '08, is a trainer with the Penn Resiliency Program and Strath Haven Positive Psychology Curriculum and is currently a PhD student focusing on strengths and subjective well being. She has over twenty years experience in management consulting. Helping people discover strengths and what makes life worth living is what Denise enjoys most, that and the joy of a good theory. Full bio. Denise's articles are here.
As children have become healthier and our society has become more complex, the age of puberty has fallen while the age of psychosocial maturity has risen. As a result we have a “mismatch” between our bodies and our world. Gluckman and Hanson state, “The coincidence of reproductive and psychosocial maturation which existed for most of our history has been lost.” Their advice to those working with adolescents is to stop blaming and re-think how we address biological maturity with younger adolescents and pre-teens, and consider how we can help them develop psychosocial maturity at an earlier stage.
So what is psychosocial maturity? Gluckman and Hanson describe it as having ‘the skills necessary to be a successful adult.’ Doesn’t that sound a bit like positive psychology? Insights and findings from positive psychology are designed to enhance well-being. Their intention is to provide a ‘road map’ to happiness and well-being; to point to domains and practices which have enhanced well-being for many people. Maybe they also help us grow up. One could even argue that psychosocial maturity is achieved when an individual understands their own well-being needs and how to meet them, and can do that within the bounds of socially acceptable behaviour (although by that standard many people would never reach maturity).
The development of a freely chosen and enjoyed skill supports experiences of competence and autonomy and intrinsic motivation, as described by Ryan and Deci. If that development can happen within a group setting, it will also meet the need for relatedness and help develop social skills. Greater sociability is also associated with higher levels of well-being. Goal setting which is consistent with values can enhance intrinsic motivation and well-being even before goals are achieved.
In practice that research might translate into encouraging adolescents to take part in a group extra-curricular activity e.g. sports, arts or games of some sort, which allows them to develop an interest and skill and work closely with their peers. They might have specific responsibilities in the home to enhance their competence and sense of contribution. We could encourage them to perform some act of service outside the home, so they do some prosocial activity and experience contributing to others. This could be helping older neighbors with household or garden chores (even if they whine initially). Encouraging goal-setting in their areas of interest and strength may boost motivation and confidence. It might also help develop self-regulation and persistence.
This recipe for adolescent well-being may have a 1950s, home spun feel to it, but this time around it’s backed by scientific evidence and not just “because I say so.”
Adolescents have demonstrated their ability to master technology; they are digital natives whot have taken easily to cell phones and touchscreens but they need more help and guidance to develop the complex skills and strengths required for relationship, belonging, and finding purpose in twenty-first century life. Positive psychology provides some useful tools to help them.
Contributions to well-being:
Seligman, Martin (2004), Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press.
Socialization and giving:
Diener, E. & Biswas-Diener, R. (2008). Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth. Wiley-Blackwell.
Post S., & Neimark, J. (2007). Why Good Things Happen to Good People: How to Live a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life by the Simple Act of Giving. USA: Broadway books.
Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. UK: Routledge.
Psychosocial and physical aging gap:
Gluckman, P. & Hanson, M. (2006). Mismatch: The Lifestyle Diseases Timebomb. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Motivation and Setting goals:
Ryan, R., & Deci, E. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78.
Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., author of The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want. New York: Penguin Books.
Miller, C. A. & Frisch, M. B. (2009), Creating Your Best Life: The Ultimate Life List Guide. New York: Sterling. (This reference added by editor.)