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The Development of Purpose During Adolescence

The Development of Purpose During Adolescence,10.1207/S1532480XADS0703_2,Applied Developmental Science,William Damon,Jenni Menon,Kendall Cotton Bronk

The Development of Purpose During Adolescence   (Citations: 70)
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The field of psychology has been slow to recognize the importance of purpose for positive youth development. Until recently, purpose was understood, if at all, as a means of adapting to threatening conditions rather than as a motivator of good deeds and galvanizer of character growth. Moreover, in most psychological studies, purpose has been conflated with personal meaning, a broader and more internally oriented construct. This article offers a new operational definition of purpose that distinguishes it from meaning in an internalistic sense, and it reviews the existing psychological studies pertinent to the development of purpose during youth. The ar- ticle identifies a number of urgent questions concerning how—and whether—young people today are acquiring positive purposes to dedicate themselves to and, if so, what the nature of today's youth purposes might be. When Victor Frankl published the English edition of Man's Search for Meaning in 1959, the book's instant influence forced psychology to come to terms with the primary importance of high-level belief systems that had been considered derivative or epi-phenomenal by the major theories.1 The notion that ethereal constructs such as "meaning" and "purpose" could make a differ- ence—that they could motivate someone to do some- thing, or even shape a person's basic choices about how to live—seemed impossibly soft-headed and sentimen- tal to mainstream psychologists of that time. If the be- haviorist and psychoanalytic schools (the two best-known bodies of psychological work at midcentury) agreed on anything at all, it was that mean- ing, purpose, and other such belief systems were the products of more fundamental drives; that they were de- pendant on the drives for their shape, substance, and very existence; and that meaning and purpose were no more than marginal factors in behavioral development. To this entrenched materialist position, Frankl (1959) wrote (in the non-"degenderized" language of his day): Man's search for meaning is a primary force in his life and not a "secondary rationalization" of instinctual drives. This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can be fulfilled by him alone; only then does it achieve a significance which will satisfy his own will to meaning. There are some authors who contend that meanings and values are "nothing but defense mechanisms, reaction formations and sublimations." But as for myself, I would not be willing to live merely for the sake of my "defense mechanisms," nor would I be ready to die merely for the sake of my "reaction for- mations." Man, however, is able to live and even to die for the sake of his ideals and values! (p. 121)
Journal: Applied Developmental Science - APPL DEV SCI , vol. 7, no. 3, pp. 119-128, 2003
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