What are the basic needs of teenagers

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We are all guided by needs in our everyday lives. We strive to satisfy needs - to bring about positive experiences and to keep unpleasant things away from us.
In the course of his work, Klaus Grawe postulated four basic needs, which have been very well validated empirically. It is about the need for pleasure & displeasure, attachment, orientation & control and the need for self-esteem & self-esteem protection.
For our psychological and physical well-being, it is essential that our basic needs are met.
This applies to both adults and children and adolescents. Children in particular are still very dependent on adults to meet their needs. For this reason, it seems very important that parents, caregivers, therapists or people who deal with children have an awareness of important needs and take care of them.

Some time ago you could find a blog post on the need for pleasure / displeasure and the need for attachment in children and adolescents. Today's blog post deals with the need for orientation and control. Since this is a very diverse topic, this blog post will focus on the need for control and autonomy, as well as focus a little more on children. A blog post on the subject of orientation and control, which focuses more on adolescence, will follow at a later date.

The need for control and autonomy accompanies us all from birth. However, we all have different levels of need for control. While some babies can only develop well if they have a very clear structure and regularity in everyday life, this plays a less important role for others. In the development of children, all (motor) developmental steps can actually be classified under the need for “control and autonomy”. Babies begin to move, turn, eat, crawl, walk because they have an internal motor for autonomy.
At the latest in the second year of life, this need will also be clearly noticeable for the adults: The children come into the autonomy phase. You want to do everything by yourself. Often, however, they reach the limits of what is feasible, which is associated with a lot of frustration. Such phases of autonomy occur again and again in the development of children until they end in later adolescence (ideally) in a detachment and independence.

“The need for control is (...) a need to be able to do something that is important to achieve and maintain one's own goals. It refers (...) to the competence aspect of mental activity. Not being able to control something in the sense of one's own goals, which is very important to one, represents a serious violation of the basic need for control ”(Grawe, 2002, p. 288).

This is precisely why it is so important that children and young people are repeatedly encouraged in their efforts to achieve control and autonomy. Already in early childhood the basic conviction develops to what extent life makes sense and to what extent one can influence it (concept of the control conviction according to Rotters, 1966).
Children who are taken seriously in their need for control and autonomy can develop a positive basic conviction - I can actively influence my life. I can shape my life. This basic belief helps to actively approach and solve problems in later life.

On the other hand, the need for control and autonomy is also very closely linked to self-worth (and self-efficacy). Being able to do something yourself through the experience makes you feel good, strong and proud. It is only possible to learn things by experiencing for yourself what you can do, where the limits are and where something has to be learned.

From a therapeutic point of view, many psychological problems are related to the need for control. It has been shown that a loss of control in childhood can increasingly lead to adjustment disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, anxiety disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorders.
Or the concept of learned helplessness according to Seligman (1967) shows: a massive and recurring loss of control can lead to resignation and depression.

But what does this mean for everyday life?
Even if it is at times very demanding and demanding for us adults: It is important to perceive the child's need for autonomy and control, to respect it and to maintain the child's boundaries.
In addition, it also means to get in contact with the children in such a way that they experience us as adults as controllable. This means (if possible) to act consistently in your own behavior and to offer you a safe framework in which you can act out your need for control. This also means encouraging them in their development and neither under- nor overburdening them.
A very demanding task, because it requires a constant relationship with the child. And yet: Reinforcing a child in their basic need for control and autonomy gives them a wonderful resource and competence so that they can later lead a healthy, independent and self-reliant life.


Borg-Laufs, M. (2012). The satisfaction of basic psychological needs as the path and goal of child and adolescent psychotherapy. Forum for child and adolescent psychiatry, psychosomatics and psychotherapy (pp. 6-19).

Grawe, K. (2002). Psychological therapy. Göttingen: Hogrefe.

Grawe, K. (2004). Neuropsychotherapy. Göttingen: Hogrefe.

Rotters, J.B. (1966), General expectations for internal vs. external control of reinforcement. Psychological Monographs, 80.

Seligman, M. E. & Maier, S. F. (1967). Failure to escape traumatic shock. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 74, 1-9.

Lic. Phil. Nusa Sager-Sokolic