Teens have needs! And no, Wifi is not one of them! Let’s go back to Psychology 101 and look at a theoretical approach to what a parent of a teenager is trying to do every day. Maslow developed a widely used theory of five basic human needs that each person must achieve and master in order to live a full and complete life.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory is commonly depicted as a five-tier pyramid, with the bottom or first layer representing basic physiological needs. In this category are the requirements necessary for survival: food, water, air, warmth, and sleep. Once these needs have been addressed, human beings are able to move on to more complex needs and eventually move on to highly sophisticated needs.
Looking at this theory of development can help us break down the development of a teenager. It can help parents look at the maddening, annoying, frustrating aspects of teenagers with a different perspective.
PHYSIOLOGICAL OR BASIC NEEDS
In adolescence teens start to take these needs into their own hands. Adolescence is a time when teens learn to be responsible for eating breakfast before school, are expected to pack their own lunches, make dinner for the family, and make food and beverage choices independently from their parents. It is important to let them make choices. In order to master this first level, teens must be able to make good decisions, be healthy and master meeting their own basic needs. Teens can struggle with eating disorders, lack of sufficient sleep, choosing to stay out all night, not wear coats when it is 20 below zero, etc. Sometimes as parents we get so focused on the higher level needs with things like ACT scores and college acceptance that we forget that our teens need to master the lowest level of needs first before we can expect them to master the more complex needs of adulthood.
Are your teens taking care of their own basic needs?
Parents have worked hard to keep their kids safe! From baby proofing the house, to holding their hand as they cross the street, to teaching the dangers of drugs and alcohol abuse, parents are constantly aware of safety. The goal of this stage is for teens to master their own safety. Teens need to feel safe and secure in their homes, schools and communities. Teens need to know they can not only walk the halls of high school and feel safe, but also know that they can handle whatever situation comes their way. Teens are wired to be impulsive and sometimes make less than ideal decisions. Feeling safe and secure is so important to this level. But for complete mastery and readiness to move on to the next level, teens must learn to keep themselves safe and secure. They must be able to advocate for their own security, ensure their own safety, and choose safety.
BELONGING AND LOVE NEEDS
This is the stage many teens rush to achieve. They desperately want to feel connected, accepted, chosen, special, loved. When teens feel accepted, either in the “right” group of friends or the “cutest” boyfriend or girlfriend, they feel like they have mastered this stage. But when it falls apart teens often make desperate moves to keep the illusion going that they have mastered this stage. Human beings need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance. Human beings need to love and be loved by others.
As parents, if you see your teens struggling and making scary, dangerous, wrong decisions step in. Help them go back to basic levels and feel a sense of mastery with basic needs and safety and security needs. By doing so, you are showing them exactly what this stage is about, belonging to a family, being loved by others, and being a part of a larger social group. They will still want to be a part of peer and intimate relationships but knowing that they are a part of something bigger, a part of a community, a family and you is a vital part of meeting these needs.
This level requires that a person feels good about themselves. In order to achieve mastery of this level, one must feel confident in their abilities, looks, talents and place in the world. Insecurity, lack of confidence and struggling esteem are rampant in middle schools and even high schools. Maslow believes if one does not achieve true mastery of the previous level of acceptance and belonging, they will not ever be able to master this level. If one’s acceptance and sense of belonging is not secure, positive self esteem cannot be gained. Sadly, this is a stage that some adults never even achieve. It is a point in human development that can be staled or delayed.
You can help your teen lay important ground work by showing them positive esteem in yourself.
Maslow thought that only 2 out of every 100 people can and will reach this level. He believed that self actualization is highly complex and all needs below this level must be mastered. Because teens are still growing and maturing and figuring out what and who they want to be, it would be extraordinarily rare to have a self actualized teenager.
But isn’t this our hope as parents that our teens will grow into confident, competent, kind, generous adults? Think about ways you can support your teens in mastering his physiological needs and his safety needs so that he has a solid pyramid to start out his adult life!
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Joy Hartman is a family therapist in Wisconsin who has worked with teenagers and their families for over twenty years. She now has the unique pleasure of raising three teenagers of her own! Joy helps teens and parents find their own unique strengths and talents to make the complicated journey to adulthood one filled with support, love and little bit of humor!
Visit her website at : joyhartman.com
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