Basic Needs Drive Teen Behavior

Teens satisfying basic needs
Image courtesy of Taliesin /

Teens behave to satisfy their basic needs—just like we all do.

If teens are doing what everyone else does, why are their behaviors judged and scrutinized? Four out of five basic needs are being met with this group of teens rafting (the behavior). The five basic needs are:

Survival: food, clothing, shelter, and overall safety

Belonging: being part of a group and having an identity greater than oneself

Power: having self worth and feeling worthwhile to others.

Freedom: having the liberty to live as you want while respecting common laws and the rights of others

Fun: being able to enjoy the pleasures of life

Clearly the group is having fun. All other needs, except survival are being met too. The more an activity satisfies other basic needs, the more significant that activity becomes. Looking at the remaining three, they feel a sense of freedom as they carelessly and playfully float. Since they are in a group, they belong to the rafting activity. One cannot tell how long they have known each other. They could be long-term friends or could be part of a summer youth camp and have only known each other for several days. The need for power is being fulfilled as well

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. They feel powerful as individuals in a group, having purpose and meaning. They also feel powerful as a group holding on together and having a role in the rafting caravan.

What is typically bothersome to adults is not that teenagers are trying to satisfy their basic needs. Rather, what adults have issues with is how teens go about satisfying those needs by scrutinizing minor details. Is there anything worth complaining about in the picture? No. Imagine four highly excited young people now coming out of the water. Maybe they are laughing loudly, joking,  swearing, kicking up sand as they walk by, and dripping water on blankets as the rafts pass over sunbathers.

Here are some possible thoughts or responses.
“Teenagers are inconsiderate.”

“Teenagers are rude.”

Teenagers are obnoxious.”

Everything they had been doing to satisfy their basic needs is now forgotten and reduced to a five second interaction and judgment. Could the teens have been quieter, respected the personal space of others, or apologized had sand or water fallen on blankets? Yes. Maybe then their complete behavior would have been more appreciated and less scrutinized.

Teens, like adults, behave to satisfy their basic needs. Keep that in mind when you are momentarily bothered by what a teen does.

Adults don’t always do it right from start to finish either. Parents behave in ways that bother teens too! Teens have the courage to go all the way and push their limits, whereas adults may hold back, shortchanging the experience and the benefits they could have reaped from it had they test their boundaries a bit more.

If the teens had bothered some sunbathers, it most likely wasn’t their intent. They were most likely so wrapped up in what they were doing that they were unaware of anything or anyone else outside the scope of their activity. Don’t be so quick to judge. Adults and parents could benefit by copying how teenagers satisfy their basic needs with passion and intent.

For information on my parenting and self help book “What You Can Learn From Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth” please visit:

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