The developmental tasks of young adulthood

Dr Asha Pemberton -
Dr Asha Pemberton -

Dr Asha Pemberton

Although our knowledge and interest in adolescent development are gaining momentum, there remains insufficient discussion regarding the following stage: young adulthood. The very goal of successful adolescence is transition into functional young adulthood life. Exactly what does this mean? Are there characteristics that define healthy young adulthood?

Researchers have described that during this stage of life, young adults have the ability to further develop their critical thinking skills, form relationships based on shared values and belief systems, modify their risk-taking behaviours and make decisions based on future consequences. As mature adolescents move towards adulthood, these several developmental tasks emerge.

Growth and physical development

For the majority of young adults, most of their physical development occurred during their younger teen years. However, some individuals who began puberty later in their adolescence may continue to see physical changes. In addition, during young adulthood, decisions regarding nutrition and exercise play a significant role in the development of healthy or unhealthy bodies. Now completely in charge of their decisions, young adults are now fully responsible for their food purchases and choices and as such need to be mindful.

Cognitive and self development

At this stage, young adults become more adept at complex thinking and can better integrate their emotions in decision-making. This is also a life phase where many individuals will experience a high sense of optimism and passion as they embark on their journey to adulthood. They feel invigorated to make their own choices as they are now free from some of the parental, familial and school restraints they felt in adolescence. This must be tempered by a sense of practicality and reality in their given context, to ensure that decisions are grounded in what is realistic and feasible. Young adults must navigate higher education, employment choices and often the disappointment that occurs when prior dreams are less fulfilling than expected. These are all tasks of this stage of development which are critical to the formation of the full adult identity.

Identity and sense of self

Many young adults will find themselves facing some instability in this “in-between” period of their lives. They often feel that they are not yet fully an adult, however they also feel the pressure that comes with their legal age and having more responsibilities and accountability than when they were adolescents. In our country, many young adults are not financially or functionally independent of their parents which leads to this tension. Parenting young adults can be challenging for this reason, as there is often disconnect between the expectations of parents and the abilities and realities of their young adult children. Issues including financial support of the home, care of siblings or elderly become parent expectations, while young people often want to expand their newfound freedoms and take more time to themselves and their peers.

Relationships and intimacy

This is a time when there is often a shift in the types of relationships individuals have with their peers, parents and society. Romantic relationships are based more on shared belief systems and become more important as young adults emancipate further from their parents. This is a necessary part of young adulthood, as one of the tasks of this stage will include movement away from their family of origin and creation of a new family. Again, this is often a source of conflict with parents, who may not approve of their choices or may feel neglected. Nevertheless, it is recommended that open and honest communication between parents and young adults continue, so that parents learn to respect the decisions of their adult children, while remaining in position to share their wisdom and opinion.

Young adulthood and the tasks therein set the stage for successful adult life. Young people will oscillate in their interests, change their minds about goals, try different careers or even degrees and then ultimately find themselves and settle on the things that make them happy. Parents require support during this stage, as they do through all stages of parenthood, but sadly not enough is shared about these challenges. An understanding of the tasks of young adulthood is just the beginning and with hope parents are inspired to have conversations, seek support and learn how to guide their young adult children.


"The developmental tasks of young adulthood"

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