Love is all you need? Focusing on adolescents' life concerns from an ecological point of view

J Adolesc. 1999 Feb;22(1):49-63. doi: 10.1006/jado.1998.0200.


Focal theory, in trying to explain why the majority of young people cope comparatively well with the variety of transitional tasks they are confronted with during adolescence, suggests that adolescents deal with only one issue at a time: concerns about heterosexual relationships peak around 11, concerns about peer acceptance around 15, and about relationship to and independence from parents at 15 for girls and 17 for boys. However, the model has been criticized for not taking into account economic problems and unemployment. The present study sets out to empirically test the implications of focal theory with a large Swedish sample of 1217 adolescents between 11 and 20 by means of a school-based questionnaire. Young people answered how often they worry about relationship, economic, global and other personal issues. Results show that focal theory should not be taken literally with regard to certain age-related sequences of problems. However, the main concept proposed by Coleman, i.e. that the number of problems dealt with has implications for adolescents' psychological well-being, is strongly supported by the data in this study. Finally, the notion that young people can choose how many issues they focus upon at a time is critically discussed.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Love*
  • Male
  • Personality Development
  • Psychology, Adolescent*
  • Reference Values
  • Rural Population
  • Social Environment*
  • Social Problems / psychology*
  • Sweden