come established and increasingly difficult to alter. Together, the malleable, variable, and formative natures of adolescence make it crucial that schools and other institutions that exert influence over youngsters during this period are structured in ways that optimize the youngsters' chances to have healthy and happy adolescences and to become successful adults.

Generally speaking, a major part of development during adolescence revolves around preparation for the family, work, and citizenship roles of adulthood. Success in each of these domains depends, at the most fundamental level, on the development of certain personal competencies (including the capacity for self-reliance and responsible behavior), interpersonal competencies (including the capacity to form and maintain satisfying relationships with others), and social competencies (including the capacity to function as a member of a broader community). Adolescence is the period during which these capabilities both develop and solidify. Work experience, like any other experience, can be evaluated in terms of the degree to which, and the ways in which, it helps young people become personally, interpersonally, and socially mature.

The development of these psychosocial competencies cannot be viewed outside the broader context in which a young person or a cohort of young people comes of age. Contextual circumstances shape society's definitions of personal, interpersonal, and social competence. Thus, the context in which adolescents develop not only establishes the pathways through which maturity is pursued, but dictates the very competencies that define maturity. Because the components of "competent" adulthood in the twenty-first century will differ from what they were a century ago, the preparation today's adolescents need for successful adulthood is vastly different from that needed by their great-great-grandparents.

In essence, the role of work in the young person's transition to adulthood depends not only on the nature of adolescence—on what adolescents need to develop—but also on the nature of adulthood and on what society expects its adult members to be able to do. Regulations and guidelines concerning young people's participation in the labor force therefore require periodic reexamination in light of the changed, and changing, nature of adolescence and the transition to adulthood. In more concrete terms, what is the role of work in the development of personal, interpersonal, and social maturity,



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement