What Is the Storm and Stress View of Adolescence?

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What Is the Storm and Stress View of Adolescence?

Storm and Stress View of Adolescence

The storm and stress view of adolescence is characterized by the adolescent years, which take place between approximately the ages of 11 and 19. It is a time of upheaval and difficulty in which adolescents experience emotional and behavioral challenges such as increased conflicts with parents and other authority figures, disruptions in mood, and increased participation in risk-taking activities.

The concept has been the subject of a great deal of debate among psychologists and developmental scientists.

This article will provide an overview of the history of the storm and stress view of adolescence, discuss the key elements of storm and stress, and examine why storm and stress happens. The article will then delve into some of the criticism of adolescent storm and stress and provide suggestions for how parents and other adults can support adolescents during this phase of development.

History of Storm and Stress

American psychologist G. Stanley Hall coined the term “storm and stress” to describe the emotional turmoil and behavioral difficulties of "adolescence," which is a term he also coined, in 1904.

The Term Storm and Stress Is Derived From German Literature

While Hall was the first to explicitly consider storm and stress in adolescence, philosophers, artists, and others, including Aristotle and Socrates, had commented on the emotional and behavioral distinctiveness of adolescence since ancient times.

In fact, the term Hall used to describe this period was borrowed from the German 18th-century literary genre known as “sturm and drang,” which depicted the angst of teenagers and roughly translates to “storm and stress” in English.

Did Everyone Agree With This Concept?

Hall’s ideas about storm and stress were extremely influential in both the scientific community and the general public, leading to the popular belief that the disturbances of adolescence were universal. However, not all scholars agreed with the concept:

  • Anthropologists like Margaret Mead observed that non-Western adolescents didn’t experience a period of storm and stress.
  • Psychoanalysts have championed the idea of storm and stress, with Anna Freud even suggesting that adolescents who don’t experience storm and stress are at risk for psychopathy.

More recently, many scholars have argued for a modified version of the storm and stress view of adolescence where storm and stress is no longer considered inevitable. However, this view also suggests that if emotional and behavioral problems are going to occur, they are more likely to occur during adolescence than other life stages.

What Are the Components of Storm and Stress?

While adolescent storm and stress can consist of many emotional and behavioral issues, such as challenges with self-image, scholars consistently discuss three key components:

  1. Conflict with parents
  2. Mood disruptions
  3. Risk-taking behavior

Conflict With Parents

Conflict with parents and other authority figures increases at the beginning of adolescence, with the greatest frequency of conflicts happening in early adolescence and the most intense conflicts happening in mid-adolescence.

Hall suggested this was at least partially the result of the incompatibility between adolescents’ increased desire for independence and parents’ desire to continue to protect their children, who they still see as too young for the independence they crave.

While increases in conflict can be difficult for both adolescents and their parents, and coincide with declines in emotional closeness and the time parents and children spend together, there is a great deal of individual difference in the degree of conflict parents and children experience.

Adolescents who are depressed, having issues like substance abuse, and early-maturing girls tend to have the most conflict with their parents. However, in general, parent-child conflict during adolescence doesn’t have a lasting negative impact on these relationships.

Mood Disruptions

Adolescents often experience mood disruptions, including more negative moods, more extreme moods, and more frequent mood changes than children and adults. Adolescents are also more likely to feel embarrassed, awkward, lonely, and nervous than adults.

Moreover, although the tendency toward negative mood peaks during mid-adolescence for many people, adolescence has also been established as a key period in the development of mental health issues.

Depression is most likely to start during adolescence, often leading to life-long mental health symptoms. In addition, half of all mental health disorders start by the age of 14, and three-fourths begin by the age of 24.

Mood disruptions during adolescence are more likely in those who are less popular with their peers, don’t do well in school, and experience family discord such as the divorce of their parents.

Risk-Taking Behavior

Risk-taking behavior, including illegal activity, drug and alcohol use, risky driving, and risky sexual activity, tends to peak in late adolescence or the early 20s (which some suggest could be considered a period of extended adolescence).

Yet, although many adolescents are likely to engage in risk-taking behavior at least once or twice, rates of risk-taking behavior vary based on individual differences, including levels of traits like sensation seeking and impulsivity.

Children who engage in problematic behavior are more likely to grow into adolescents who engage in risk-taking behavior.

Why Does Storm and Stress Happen?

Storm and stress happens during a period of rapid physical, psychological, and social changes for adolescents. Not only does adolescence coincide with the onset of puberty, adolescents are also being given more independence and autonomy in school and at home, dating for the first time, and taking on increasingly adult responsibilities, such as caring for younger siblings or older family members and working their first job.

Adolescents Start Thinking About Their Future

Plus, this is the time when adolescents start seriously contemplating their future, including the kinds of careers and relationships they'd like to have in adulthood.T hese changes combine to contribute to the storm and stress of adolescence.


Biology plays a role, with the hormonal changes of puberty contributing to mood disruptions, including more negative moods and mood swings.

Cognitive Changes

Similarly, cognitive changes like greater activation in the brain areas associated with social emotions lead to greater feelings of embarrassment and guilt. Meanwhile, risk-taking behavior may be especially likely in adolescence when it’s encouraged by one’s peers due to greater sensitivity in the reward-processing area of the brain.

Changes in the brain during adolescence also lead to a greater capacity for emotional arousal while the capacity to regulate that arousal develops more slowly, resulting in a greater likelihood of mood disruptions.

What's more, biological changes during adolescence don't happen in isolation, they are influenced by the environment and by individual differences.

For example, less supportive and harsher interactions with family have been associated with girls starting their period at an earlier age. Likewise, individual differences dictate how adolescents will respond to and interpret their experiences.

Criticism of the Storm and Stress Concept

The concept of adolescent storm and stress has been the source of a great deal of debate within the scientific community.

Parents May Become More Controlling

Some scholars have concerns that the public acceptance of storm and stress may lead parents to become more controlling in order to try to avoid these issues or that they could attribute serious concerns to storm and stress leading them to fail to get adolescents help when they genuinely need it.

Adolescents May Be Placed in Treatment for Normal Developmental Behavior

Yet, other scholars believe if the storm and stress view is dismissed, more adolescents will be pathologized (in other words, treated differently as if they're 'abnormal') and put into treatment for normal adolescent behavior.

Some Think 'Storm and Stress' Concept Is Outdated

At the same time, other scholars believe the storm and stress view of adolescence should be abandoned entirely, arguing that it views adolescence from an adult perspective. These scholars suggest a more comprehensive, nuanced view of adolescent development should be adopted that doesn’t rely on adult norms and instead focuses on the norms of adolescence.

How Parents & Guardians Can Support Adolescents

Many scholars agree that even though not all adolescents will experience storm and stress, the likelihood is greatly increased during this time. Although adolescents often spend more time with peers than parents, it’s important for parents and other adults to remember that they still have an important role in their kids’ lives.

Foster a Low-Stress Environment

Providing a supportive family environment with minimal stress is one way that parents can help. Furthermore parents, teachers, and other adults can help adolescents through this time by instilling specific ways of thinking and coping in them.

In particular, adults can help children develop tools for handling stress, such as:

  • Active problem-solving
  • Emotional regulation
  • Looking at situations more positively
  • Encouraging adolescents to develop strong friendships instead of focusing how their friends view them

These skills can protect adolescents against some of the greatest stresses of this stage of development, as those who learn these skills are able to more successfully manage stress, become less physiologically aroused when stressed, and are less likely to become depressed.

A Word From Verywell

If you notice that your child is struggling with their mental health, it's best to consult a mental healthcare professional who can assess your child's health.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Cynthia Vinney
Cynthia Vinney, PhD is an expert in media psychology and a published scholar whose work has been published in peer-reviewed psychology journals.