How Adolescents Today Imagine Adulthood And Their Future: Research Review


In this article, we analyze research on adolescent perceptions of adulthood and the future in a transforming world. We pay special attention to those of them that dealt with the role of parents, education, and the inclusion of adolescents in productive activities. Analysis of recent studies of the adolescents` conceptions about future has shown: changes in the perceptions of adulthood among adolescents over the past 30 years; the priority of personal traits over social roles in adolescents' ideas about adulthood; part of the research suggests the dependence of the adolescents' adulthood image on the micro- and meso-level environment: the influence of family pressure and the educational environment is noticeable. Analysis of scholars papers from different countries about the adolescents` conceptions of the future showed: 1) modern adolescents worry about the future in the same way as 30-40 years ago; 2) parental support and formed attachment have a positive effect on positive expectations from the future in adolescents; 3) future education can be perceived by adolescents both as a strong stressor and as future success; 4) the image of the future of today's adolescents does not include specific ideas about their profession until the age of 19-20 and therefore work with 11-12 year olds can be built around their ideas and future life and, at the same time, an analysis of their present; 5) teenagers aged 11-13 describe their future in more detail than those aged 13-15; 6) the involvement of adolescents in activity and work helps optimism.

Keywords: Adolescence, concept of the future, perception of adulthood, environment, transition


Ideas about adulthood have changed dramatically over the past century. With an increase in life expectancy, society allows longer childhoods and greater variety in lifestyles than half a century ago. The age of maturity varies from person to person, depending on the biological inheritance, as well as the cultural and social environment in which the person grows up.

Scholars note that a teenager lives through the image of the future: he constructs his present through anticipation of the next step and period. Erickson (1950) described the adolescence as "identity -versus - role confusion" and clarified that the adolescent is faced with the task of combining everything that he knows about himself into a single whole - to comprehend, connect with the past and project into the future.

Problem Statement

The rapid change in social life leads to the loss of the strength and universality of most socially obligatory events that previously marked the onset of adulthood (for example, marriage, childbirth, obtaining a passport). Therefore, for generation Z, the idea of the future is formed not through the development of new social roles, but through changes in behavior and character, such as taking responsibility for oneself, making independent decisions and gaining financial independence (Arnett & Galambos, 2003; Conradty & Bogner, 2020; Mitra & Arnett, 2021).

At the same time, the cultural identity of ideas about adult life is based on the understanding of a successful adult of this place and time (Arnett & Galambos, 2003). This understanding of success can be determined not only by the culture of a country or ethnic group, but also by narrower factors that form a unique environment for adolescent growing up. For example, the type of settlement and routine of an adolescent affect his future educational and work opportunities. This forecast is expected to be complemented by: intelligibility and predictability of social requirements, educational optimism, the presence of reference peers and adults, a measure of social pressure (“we are counting on you”) and social challenge (“you have something to do here”).

Growing up in the present is a process that needs support and the establishment of relationships between disparate elements of adolescent life (parent-child relationships, self-esteem, moral judgments, personality traits, defensive work, behavioral maturity, planning for the future, self-realization (Padilla-Walker et al., 2018) At the same time, the ideas of adolescents about their future determine their activities in the present.

Research Questions

How does adolescent and transforming society imagine their future? As a rule, this issue remains outside the scope of a broad study of topics related to personality, education, social and pedagogical support of adolescents of "risk groups" from different countries and ethnic groups.

Russian school teachers and parents reveal the ineffectiveness of modern education, the negative attitude of children towards school, and sometimes they associate this with the peculiarities of Russian reality. For researchers, it is important to study: what is really happening with the image of the future in modern adolescents, whether its distortion is a product of Russian reality alone or is it a global process that is taking place in other countries as well?

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study is to analyze research conducted in different countries regarding the perception of adulthood and their own future of modern adolescents.

Research Methods

We analyze research on adolescent perceptions of adulthood and the future in a transforming world. We pay special attention to those of them that dealt with the role of parents, education, and the inclusion of adolescents in productive activities.

The concept of adulthood in modern adolescents. Image of the future, time, goals

Levin (1976) wrote that the state of mind of an individual depends more on what he expects in the future than on the pleasantness or unpleasantness of his current situation. This idea echoes Vygotsky's thesis that the psychological perspective of the future is the theoretical possibility of upbringing. Also in this context, we start from the idea of Ananyev (1977) that the life plan is a means of adaptation to adult life, and its presence is an indicator of personal readiness for independent life.

According to Levin's concept, the time perspective is determined by the field features at a given moment in time. Only events and representations that are updated in connection with the current situation are combined in the field; this fact leads to the loss of fundamental temporal relations - relations of the sequence of events. This fact, in turn, makes it difficult to accurately correlate them with chronological time, revealing properties and processes that are relevant for the subject. Levin (1976) singled out in the length of time perspective zones of the present, distant past and future, and in space - the levels of the real and the unreal. The short-term time horizon, according to Levin (1976), characterizes the "primitiveness" of behavior. Comparing the time perspective for representatives of different age groups, he determined that the shortest time perspective is in children 9-12 years old. Boys 14-17 years old significantly lengthen it, but the largest scale of the time perspective is observed at the age of 18-24 years (Levin, 1976).

By the age of 14–15, a person has formed ideas about a relatively distant future in professional, family and other spheres of life. Adolescents show realism in life aspirations related to future professional activities and family. Less realistic ideas about future events in adolescents in the field of education, social advancement and material consumption. High school students' ideas about future events are not specific enough regarding professional plans; they are overly optimistic about the timing they associate with these achievements. Piaget's (1976) cognitive development relies on biological and social factors, while actively stimulating.

Studying the ideas about the future of modern adolescents, Burovikhina (2011) clarified that their descriptions of the future are more detailed, meaningful and detailed than descriptions of the past. For adolescents, reflections on the course of the opening life are more attractive and subjectively important than the analysis of the past.

Modern adolescents lack clear markers for entering adult status. Chronological markers such as eighteen or twenty-one, and transitional events such as marriage or graduation, full-time employment, do not have the connotation of achieving adult status for young people of any ethnicity (Arnett & Galambos, 2003; Jensen et al., 2011).

Cultures can differ in the criteria that they consider to be the most important in marking the transition to adulthood. Petrova and Schwartz (2017) insist on the difference in the experience of their own well-being among adolescents from “hard” and “free” cultures. They view adolescence and emerging adulthood as socially constructed and culturally related transitions between childhood and adulthood. They illustrate how these periods of development are perceived differently by young people in "hard" and "free" cultures. The authors also propose to look at the main aspects of well-being in these two stages of development, while recognizing the complexity of these stages as both universal and contextually related. The authors advocate a clear distinction between well-being and absence of pathology and well-being, and they advance recommendations for promoting youth health by combining developmental, cultural, and applied approaches to adolescent and adult development. Finally, the authors advocate meaningful, active and cultural integration of youth into an “adult” society in order to maximize the future of youth in all aspects.

Burovikhina (2011) clarifies the dynamics of ideas about the future from 11 to 15 years. The event-richness of the future, as well as its subjective duration, are more pronounced in 11–13-year-olds than in 14–15-year-olds. This does not support the research assumption that adolescents' desire to focus on thinking about future goals and long-term life prospects increases as they get older. On the contrary, in the drawing of "life lines", the older respondents gave shorter answers, while the younger ones presented a more complete and meaningful analysis of both the past and the future. Hoff et al. (2018) clarified that adolescence was determined by two broad patterns of change: percentage points generally declined in early adolescence, but then increased in late adolescence. At a young age, the most striking changes were found through people and things orientation. Interests involving people tend to increase (artistic, social, and entrepreneurial), while interests related to things have either decreased (conventional) or remained unchanged (realistic and investigative).

Gender differences associated with professional stereotypes peaked in early adolescence, and then, as a rule, decreased in all subsequent age periods. General findings suggest that there is a normative change in occupational interests from adolescence to adulthood. Girls as young as thirteen may already have more stable aspirations and expectations in adulthood than boys. Girls show greater attachment to family and are more aware of the challenges of reconciling work and family life. Boys, on the other hand, seem to be vague about adulthood at this age and are more dependent on opportunities for social orientation: only boys form a cluster of “social desirability”. These findings are in line with other research on the same phenomenon: When today's young people take on more responsibility, it does not seem to be related to imitation of role models, but is internally motivated by the pursuit of personal independence, responsibility and maturity. Notably, women, despite their previous independence, remain more emotionally connected to their families as they grow up than younger men (Berngruber, 2015; Hoff et al., 2018).

Modern adolescents are much more likely to point to character traits than to social roles when describing their ideas about adulthood (Arnett, 2007a, b; Conradty & Bogner, 2020). At the same time, in the descriptions of 12-year-olds, there is no clear positive attitude towards either childhood or adulthood. Childhood is full of awkward, limiting concepts, but the responsibility attributed to adults also does not seem desirable, it can be perceived by adolescents as a vacuum in which they are vague, indefinite and disoriented. This uncertainty and aimlessness may be the source of current social problems (Conradty & Bogner, 2020)

Positive expectations from one's future and adulthood have a high formative potential. Research by Stoll et al. (2020) on a sample of adolescents in the United States and Iceland shows that in developed countries, the aspirations of the adolescent are more influencing their future success than their inner qualities.

Oshri et al. (2018) argue that a positive assessment of their future as a teenager prevents the risks of adaptation and development in highly vulnerable youth. Their research identified three classes of growth trajectories in future orientation: high stability, low start / increase, and high start / decrease. They note that Time-variant and -invariant risk factors and resources differentiate the orientation trajectories of youth in the future. Youth in high and low onset / rise trajectories are more likely to achieve developmental milestones for youth, including independent living skills, social capital, employment, and higher weekly income.

The adolescent environment: what influences from the outside positive ideas about adulthood and the future?

Osher et al. (2020) reflect on the role in human development of relationships and key macro contexts - poverty, racism, families, communities, schools and peers - in supporting and / or undermining the healthy development of children and youth using relational development systems. Relationships and contexts, along with how children assess and interpret them, can be risks and assets for healthy learning and development, and their impact can be seen from generation to generation and can produce intra- as well as intergenerational assets and risks.

In ecological systems theory, children are both products and creators of the environment. According to Bronfenbrenner (1986), situations in life can be either imposed on the child or be the result of the child's own activity. As children get older, they change their environment and rethink their experiences. But even here interdependencies continue to work, since how children do this depends not only on their physical, intellectual and personal traits, but also on how they were brought up, what they managed to absorb from the environment. Ceci and Liker (1986) also demonstrated that the success of predictions depends not so much on a person's intelligence as on his involvement in the corresponding cultural space.

Uri Bronfenbrenner (1986) argued that human development is due to the interaction of four main factors: his personality traits, ecological environment, activities in which he is involved, and time, which leaves its mark on the further course of the formation of the subject.

Werner and Smith (1992) attempted to define a “good ecological environment” that promotes positive personal development. The main factors that allowed them to overcome difficulties (in contrast to their peers who were next to them) are the following: a relatively small family size, a longer time interval between the birth of children, the constant employment of the mother, the presence of an extensive network of friends and acquaintances throughout adolescence. At the same time, the positive assessment of their future in boys and girls turns upside down with the onset of biological maturation, as girls begin to experience strong social pressure for marriage and the birth of children.

According to Kramer et al. (2021), the likelihood of subjects' faces falls when assessing the faces of characters aged 6-10 years. This may indirectly indicate the unconscious pressure of not accepting the child during this period. It turns out that the younger teenager, entering the difficult experience of his bodily changes, is already saturated with the experience of experiencing rejection by others.

It is necessary to take into account the subjective side of the adolescent's environment perception when considering the factors influencing the adolescent's development and his ideas about the future. Goodman et al. (2001) established a relationship between the measure of subjective social status (ССС) of 10843 adolescents and their physical and psychological health of adolescents (depressive symptoms and obesity) and found an association of CCC with depressive symptoms in adolescents. Goodman et al. (2015) clarify that CCC is relatively stable during adolescence and adulthood, and in general it reflects objective markers of social advantage. However, socially disadvantaged young people with high CCC levels in early adolescence may be at increased health risk.

Education and Parents: Role in adolescents' perceptions and expectations of their adulthood and future

Winding and Anderson (2015) conclude that the social factor dominates the completion of secondary education. While poor social relationships at ages 15 and 18 were associated with dropouts at age 21, social relationships with family and friends account for only a small portion of the socioeconomic dropout differences. Poor social relations with teachers and classmates have a much greater influence. The image of the future adolescent is influenced by the images of adults available to him from the family, school and close social environment; he also counts on the material and non-material support of those close to him.

Gniewosz et al. (2018), based on a theoretical review, show the importance of the social effects of education as an opportunity to advance the career and social ladder. Bask et al. (2014) clarify the impact of parental expectations and adolescent gender on further education.

Maciejewski et al. (2015), studying online diaries of boys and girls, show that the variability of happiness, anger and sadness continuously decreased during adolescence, while the variability of anxiety first increased, then decreased, and then increased. late adolescence Expectations of future education can be clouded not only by economic barriers and the complexity of preliminary preparation, but also by fear of future aggression by the new community.

Brumley, et al. (2017) examine the expectations of about 15,000 teens 11-17 years old and established their fatalistic expectations of violence during their upcoming college years. Adverse childhood experiences and pessimistic future expectations of college attendance or mortality are established risk factors for problem behaviors among young people. By studying their college behavior between the ages of 24 and 32, the researchers confirmed the relationship between expectations and violent behavior. College teens' expectations and fatalistic expectations mediated the impact of childhood adversity on violent behavior at a young age. Neither college nor fatalistic expectations were significant mediators in predictive models of substance use and nonviolent antisocial behavior.

To discover and develop his identity and self-determination, a teenager needs psychological separation from his parents. Miljkovitch et al. (2021) consider alienation from parents as a predictor of relationships with peers and clarify gender differences in assessments of connections with parents and peers on the scales of connection, alienation-trust, and safety. It turned out that in adolescence, boys feel more secure in relationships with their parents than with their peers; in contrast to girls, who receive higher overarching scores in peer relationships.

Longitudinal studies show that the degree of estrangement in relationships with parents is the best predictor of the quality of friendship in early adulthood. Koepke and Denissen (2012) discuss the dynamics and relationship of adolescent identity development and separation from parents. They paid attention to how the role of parents is covered by approaches to identity development and how general mechanisms of identity change can be filled with the content of separation-individualization processes. In particular, they showed how interpersonal differences in long-term changes in identity formation, personality assessment, and autonomy are associated with changes in relationships with parents.

At the same time, it is very important for a teenager in the period of his psychological instability to continue to receive a sense of stability and support from his parents. Dykas and Cassidy (2011) examine the lifelong relationship between attachment and social information processing, drawing on the theory of J. Bowlby. In their view, individuals with safe internal working models of attachment, based on experience, will relatively openly process a wide range of positive and negative social information associated with attachment. In addition, safe individuals will rely on their knowledge of positive attachment to process this information in a positively biased scheme. In contrast, individuals with unsafe internal work patterns of attachment will either exclude traumatic information from further processing or interpret it in a negative light consistent with their experience.

Cater and Majdic (2021), in their review of studies on the impact of maternal deprivation on the development of the child's brain, once again clime the topic of negative consequences, in particular, the formation of early chemical addictions, negative effects on learning and cognition, the development of mental disorders, and aggression. Hill et al. (2019) describe the perception of conflict with the mother in childhood and early adolescence as a unique potential action on goals in adulthood: higher levels of conflict between parents and children were associated with lower levels of goal in adulthood.

Tereshkina and Shlyakhto (2017) study the image of the future of Russian orphans. Scientists have found that such children are characterized by ambivalence, semantic inconsistency, the prevalence of the need for material well-being over the need for self-realization, the lack of time binding for basic needs, low event intensity, distorted ideas about their own family and future personal life. At an unconscious level, attitudes toward the future have a negative emotional connotation, are associated with loneliness, resentment, longing, helplessness, and generally cause fear and confusion.

Our research also show that orphans have very low life productivity (the number of significant events), a short trans-perspective (retrospective - on average 3 years, perspective - 4.5 years), an unrealistically positive future and an extremely negative assessment of the past (Lukina & Chupakhina, 2013).

Thus, relationships with parents remain an important factor that can reduce the general anxiety of a teenager in a rapidly changing world about the future, give a feeling of security and openness to explore new things, and become a field of contractual experience in relationships. Crandall et al. (2020) argue that positive experiences in adolescence significantly reduce the risk of developing negative consequences of childhood trauma. Positive childhood experiences have an impact on five critical health indicators in adulthood: depression, anxiety, sexual risk behavior, substance abuse, and a positive body image.

What to Do: Support Practices for Adolescent Positive Visions of the Future

Currently, most government agencies lack support for a teenager's work on future. This can hinder cognitive and emotional maturation, and lead to many of the familiar problems of immature young people seen in the current generation (Settersten, 2007, 2008).

Direct vocational guidance is not consistent with the age-related psychological tasks of the younger adolescent. Early and middle adolescence is more focused on themselves in general than on the profession in particular. This is shown in a meta-analysis by Low et al. (2005), which also clarifies that it is only at 18-19 years of age that a genuine professional interest is formed, which persists until middle adulthood.

Zietz et al. (2018) show that inclusion in real productive labor for adolescents from poor regions is a source of pride and a guarantor of future well-being in more degree, rather than education, which is consistent with the conclusions of I. Illich, & P. McLaren and other representatives of critical pedagogy.

Volodina and Nagy (2016), Volodina et al. (2015) also note that early vocational training has a positive effect on the early career of young people. On the other hand, Mortimer and Staff (2004), studying adolescent part-time work, show that it negatively affects adolescent social development because it limits participation in more developmentally beneficial activities. As a result, early work experience can interfere with proper preparation for adulthood. The findings of the review by Neyt et al. (2019) show that part-time work of students has little effect on their academic performance, but negatively affects educational plans and decisions. A more optimistic perspective is to employ a young person means progress towards adulthood and facilitates adaptation. These processes will contribute to resilience and psychological well-being in early adulthood.

Barnert et al. (2021) conclude that education has a more pronounced effect of preventing deviant behavior and provides guarantees of continuing education in college.

Just-Noerregaard et al. (2021) examine the links between community involvement, as measured by leisure and part-time activity in middle and late adolescence, and education and employment in early adulthood. The study found that community participation by adolescents has positive associations with later levels of education and employment, with a stronger impact of part-time employment versus leisure. Education and employment are essential for young people to develop skills that enable them to participate in society and maintain a stable connection with the labor market in adulthood.

Bailey et al. (2017) show that many activities focused on the development of cognitive or socio-emotional skills and behavior show initially promising but then rapidly disappearing consequences. They are only effective when they are “soft-scills” applicable in a variety of situations, delivered at the right time (kick-in-the-door trick), and supported by an appropriate external environment.

Conradty and Bogner (2020) built their program of developing a positive attitude towards the future through the development of awareness of 12-year-old adolescents about adulthood. empathic conflict management and communication. During the learning process, students act out a thought experiment, during which they were asked to study the consequences of various options for their future. As a result of the increased awareness, adolescents received a higher appreciation of adulthood. If in the preliminary test childhood was perceived as easy and fun, then after completing the training, childhood became less attractive, and playing a fool is no longer so desirable. On the contrary, the stereotype of adult life as exhausting, boring, and serious has turned into a more subtle picture in which fun and relaxation have become more visible, and apparent freedom has become accompanied by responsibility.

Hoff et al. (2021) assess the long-term predictive potential of adolescent interest levels and the growth of interest in five career outcomes: degree attainment, occupational prestige, income, and career- and job -satisfaction). They show that adolescents who showed a better interest in their ultimate calling were more satisfied with their jobs over a decade later. Second, the interests of adolescents predicted objective career outcomes (i.e., degree achievement, professional prestige, and income). Third, changes in interests tend to be unrelated to career outcomes, suggesting that interest levels in adolescents are more important.


After reviewing studies on the traits of contemporary adolescents' ideas about adulthood, we found:

  • scholars notice changes in the perceptions of adulthood among adolescents over the past 30 years;
  • most works on the image of adolescent adulthood postulate the priority of personal traits over social roles in adolescents' ideas about adulthood;
  • a sufficient number of studies argue that the image of adulthood of modern adolescents is becoming universal and weakly dependent on an ethnic group or country;
  • at the same time, part of the researchers suggests the dependence of the adolescents' adulthood image on the micro- and meso-level environment: the influence of family pressure and the educational environment is noticeable

Analysis of scholars papers from different countries about the adolescents` conceptions of the future showed:

  • modern adolescents worry about the future in the same way as 30-40 years ago;
  • parental support and formed attachment have a positive effect on positive expectations from the future in adolescents;
  • future education can be perceived by adolescents both as a strong stressor and as future success;
  • the image of the future of today's adolescents does not include specific ideas about their profession until the age of 19-20 and therefore work with 11-12 year olds can be built around their ideas and future life and, at the same time, an analysis of their present;
  • teenagers aged 11-13 describe their future in more detail than those aged 13-15;
  • the involvement of adolescents in activity and work helps optimism.


Thus, we can conclude that there are methods that allow a growing up person to build positive images of the future and strive to bring it closer. The most productive of them include the inclusion of adolescents in joint socially significant useful activities (reliance on leading activities, in Vygotsky's concept), as well as specially organized training, supported by appropriate changes in the external environment.

Research into the image of the future of the younger generations is an important scientific task, it is carried out in different countries and everywhere shows similar trends: a slowdown in growing up, a change in ideas about adulthood, and the reluctance of young people to quickly become adults, which was characteristic of the last century.


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Economics, social trends, sustainability, modern society, behavioural sciences, education

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Lukina, A. K., & Volkova, M. A. (2021). How Adolescents Today Imagine Adulthood And Their Future: Research Review. In I. V. Kovalev, A. A. Voroshilova, & A. S. Budagov (Eds.), Economic and Social Trends for Sustainability of Modern Society (ICEST-II 2021), vol 116. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 1602-1613). European Publisher.