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ESE504 : The Class : Adolescence : Merry-go-round Ring

Adolescent need for stimulation:

A Quest for Understanding

J'Anne Ellsworth

To complete this assignment successfully, you should:

  1. Study the reading carefully.
  2. Investigate your own feelings and life experiences.
  3. Synthesize the author's ideas and your own experiences into a position for answering the questions posed.
  4. Send the Assignment

A man's reach must exceed his grasp, else what's a heaven for? - Browning

What makes adolescence such a notable, rich time in the human life span? Rice, in the text, speaks of many complex issues and areas that contribute to the internal landscape. Still, something is missing, in capturing what the adolescent is about. Consider the evidence on the need for stimulation in the following passages.

A rich man was once reported to say that the best way to become a millionaire was to keep the same wants. How many times have you set out to "get something" and it was the getting that was the real treasure? Once you have the best friend, the highest golf score, the perfect apartment, the ideal job, what occurs? I suppose one way of thinking about this is that there is a lot of gypsy in the most staid of us. We are seeking -- seeking, seeking, seeking. As Maslow's Hierarchy depicts, once we satisfy needs on an elemental survival level -- things like food and shelter, we move on to a different set of needs -- safety, security, and thus upward. We don't keep our wants -- we satisfy them, only to see that we are not really satisfied. . . and then we look for new vistas.

After spending the day with friends at the Fair, a teen comes home, washes up to eat and chats on the phone while consuming supper. Supper and phone call completed, laments, isn't there anything else to do? Can we run into town and see what's happening at the arcade?

Walking into her daughter's room is almost painful for June. The TV is on with Teddi clicking through stations while she pets her dog. Black lights wink on and off, a lava light cascades in the corner, the stereo is blaring and the computer screen shows games at the ready.

John, Mary's father, decides to quit fighting for control of the phone and gets another line for the family. How can just one kid stay on the phone, nonstop? His frustration boils over into thinly veiled sarcasm about the phone line being an umbilical cord, saving up money for an ear implant, asking if the phone company is offering a kickback.

The premise of this reading is the idea that adolescence it one of the clearest markers of an ongoing, desire or drive to fulfill a human need that is little discussed -- the need for stimulation. Wexler (1991) discusses it in his work on adolescents: Adolescence is a period when the need for stimulating experiences is overwhelming, sometimes almost insatiable. This natural craving sets the stage for drug and alcohol use, new sexual experiences, joyrides, fighting, stealing, doing things on a dare, or taking wild physical risks (p. 5).

Jung speaks of the need for stimulation in his archetypes and uses the notion in his discussion of introvert and extrovert More recent brain research agrees, suggesting that some people are highly stimulated through a personal chemical cocktail -- and can be satisfied with the stimulation that surrounds them. Others, more extroverted folks, seem to need external stimulation. This chart discusses some of the ideas involved in Jung's ideas.


Extroverts are sociable, but that is but one of the traits that comprise the domain. Other traits include being assertive, active, and talkative. They like excitement and stimulation and tend to be cheerful in disposition. They are upbeat, energetic, and fun loving. They seek validation from others, get "wound up", feel excited and fulfilled through the company of others.

Introversion is having an internal sense or state of well being and self competence that does not depend on others for validation. Introverts are often reserved, independent, even paced, self contained and quietly seeking. On the other hand, they can perform highly stimulating social roles, but rather than being fulfilling, they are draining and tiring. Introverts may say they are shy when they mean that they prefer to be alone: they do not necessarily suffer from social anxiety, but they find it wearing rather than stimulating. Finally, although they are not given to the exuberant high spirits of extroverts, introverts are not unhappy or pessimistic.

Curious as some of these distinctions may seem, they are strongly supported by research. Breaking the mental sets that link such pairs as "happy - unhappy," "friendly - hostile," and "outgoing - shy" allows important insights into personality. It is also important to remember that these tend to be trait, but can change, according to situations. For instance, an introvert could enjoy going to a rock concert, but not crave the experience. Also, when paired, we tend to think of these traits as mutually exclusive, sort of an on and off switch, rather than seeing it as a continuum, or a dimmer switch, with varying levels of intensity.

Facets of Extroversion -Introversion
Warmth is the facet of extroversion most relevant to issues of interpersonal intimacy. Warm people are affectionate and friendly. They genuinely like people and easily form close attachments to others. Introverts are neither hostile nor necessarily lacking in compassion or the need for affection and closeness, but they are more formal, reserved, and distant in sharing those bonds with others outside their intimate circle.
Gregariousness is another aspect -- the preference for other people's company. Gregarious people enjoy the company of others, and the more the merrier. Introverts tend to want one or two close friends who are privy to personal secrets, respect personal space, are loyal and do not seek or who even actively avoid high levels of social stimulation.
Assertiveness High scorers on this scale are dominant, forceful, and socially ascendant. They speak without hesitation and often become group leaders. Low scorers prefer to keep in the background and let others do the talking.
Activity refers to rapid tempo and vigorous movement, a sense of energy and urgency, and a need to keep busy. Active people lead fast-paced lives. Introverts are more leisurely and relaxed in tempo, or committed to complex and deep activities, perhaps contemplative or solitary pursuits of facts, thoughts, ideas..
Excitement-Seeking refers to a craving for excitement and stimulation, bright colors and noisy environments. Excitement-Seeking is akin to some aspects of sensation seeking. Introverts feel little need for thrills and prefer a life that is predictable, mentally stimulating, perhaps, resting lightly rather than intrusive.
Positive Emotions such as joy, happiness, love, and excitement are crucial to everyone. Extroverts seem to laugh easily and often. They are cheerful and optimistic, like to be entertained and are often seen as entertaining, a good time. Introverts have the same needs, are not unhappy; but they are less exuberant and high-spirited, able to gain a sense of excitement from inner thoughts, projects in progress, accomplishments, quiet times shared with another.

From observation, it appears that adolescence may be a developmental stage when extroversion is a need. The next figure shows the list of needs established by Maslow(1962) and those established by Glasser(1992).

Glasser speaks of fun, but neither theory recognizes the importance of stimulation. Erikson (1964), a theorist who speaks to the adolescent condition in his book, Identity Society, views adolescence as a time when there are major changes in the way life is viewed, and as a part of that world view, he believes that the pressing needs are myriad and as a result, the needs of the student alter. This is addressed in a previous reading, PEPSI for Early Adolescence. The chart that applies follows:

Erikson's work suggests pressure to satisfy needs for

peer recognition

accomplishment - the ability to do things well and feel competent, even widely recognized (fame)

understand self and gain a personal sense of direction and purpose

separate and individuate from adult expectations while honoring self

try out new roles and ways of being without monitoring or recrimination from others

personal ways of organizing and explaining life and having that personal stake honored

validation of intelligence, insightfulness

experience sexual roles and act on urges of infatuation and sexual drives

gain support for sense of omniscience, expressed as bossiness, self certainty, parenting parents

An additional study (Csikszentmihalyi and Larson, 1984)provides another perspective on youth. To determine what teen lives are like, these researchers gave pagers to 75 teens, called them at random through the day for approximately one week. The random pages were followed by teens recording their thoughts and feelings when contacted.

The study found that the average teen's life is split three ways with nearly even amounts of time spent at home, in public and in the school setting. This sample of teens spent more than half of their time in the presence of or speaking with peers, while the time in the presence of family members was 17%, even though home 42 % of the time. In effect, though home almost half of the time, nearly 3/4 of the time in the home was spent in some form of solitary pursuit.

The emotional roller coaster effect was very clear with these teens. Many experienced a see saw of ups and downs, from one extreme to the other, often within a 30 minute period. The authors drew several important conclusions from these patterns.

Students were constantly bombarded by disappointment between what they wanted life to be like and what was actually occurring.

Discouragement and disappointment were frequent states for the youth, and they often countered these negative emotions by seeking thrills or behaving in ways that provided immediate gratification and resolution of the anxiety

Confusion and uncertainty were frequent feelings for the adolescents.

Peers provided support, anxiety, stimulation, discouragement, solace and despair . . often in the space of one social outing.

The activities that helped students become focused and centered were highly disparate. Most students had a way to calm themselves, regain focus and balance, but they were usually personalized actions. Some students turned to sports, some to TV, to video games, substance abuse. The form of self soothing was consistent across one student, but varied widely across the study. Further, the place adolescents opened up had most to do with the amount of safety to do so without recriminations or fault finding. Some were able to spend quality time with peers, some with parents, some only seemed to be at peace when alone.

How do these notions about adolescence affect schooling and the roles of student and teacher?



Csikszentmihalyi, M and Larson, R. (1984). Being adolescent: Conflict and growth in the teenage years. New York: Basic Books.

Glasser, W. (1992). The quality school (2nd ed.). New York: Harper Perennial.

Maslow, A. H. (1962). Toward a psychology of being. Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand Co.

Wexler, D. B. (1991). The adolescent self: strategies for self-management, self-soothing, and self esteem in adolescents. New York: W. W. Norton.

1. As you read through the materials in this module, how did it apply to your own life? You may address your own experiences during adolescence and / or relate them to your current position as a parent or educator.

2. How do you believe these idea impact our understanding of the teen years? In particular, what do these concepts imply about giving in to demands for less structure, more freedom, greater privacy and heightened opportunities for unsupervised activity?

3. If the premises about need for stimulation and heightened internal pressure to acquire and achieve hold true, how does that impact the way we teach?

4. Make a list of eight to ten ways you would restructure middle school or high school to fully address, meet the needs and challenge adolescent youth. Keep in mind some of depth and sophistication of the early childhood models that address the need for high energy and stimulation.

5. Let us continue to suppose that the need for stimulation and to never reach satiation is well founded; further, that adolescence is a time when this pressure is particularly strong. Would you change the way we treat juvenile offenders?

Suggest one new idea for:
dealing with shop lifting
with truancy
running away
cheating on exams
experimenting with drugs
substance abuse

You may wish to direct your responses to the two different age groups involved, early or late adolescence.

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Course developed by J'Anne Ellsworth


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