In these early years of the 21st century a new vision and vocabulary for discussing America's young people has emerged. Propelled by the increasingly more collaborative contributions of scholars, practitioners, and policy, youth are viewed as resources to be developed [see Benson (2003), Damon and Gregory (2003), and Lerner (2004), for reviews]. The new vocabulary emphasizes the strengths present within all young people and involves concepts such as developmental assets, positive youth development, moral development, civic engagement, well-being, and thriving (see Benson, 2003, Damon & Gregory, 2003; Lerner, 2004, for reviews).
A key theoretical basis of the emergence of this new conceptualization of, and vocabulary about, adolescence may be found in contemporary developmental theories that stress that human development is a product of the systemic relations among variables from the multiple levels of organization-ranging from biology through culture and history-that comprise the ecology of human development (Lerner, 2002). Past concepts of development were predicated on cartesian philosophical ideas about the character of reality that separated, or "split," what was regarded as real from what was relegated to the "unreal" or epiphenomenal (Overton, 1998). In human development, major instances of such splitting involved classic debates about nature versus nurture as the source of development, continuity versus discontinuity as an appropriate depiction of the character of the human developmental trajectory, and stability versus instability as an adequate means to describe developmental change. However, today, most major developmental theories eschew such splits and use concepts drawn from developmental systems theories [e.g., Lerner (2002) and Overton (1998)] to depict the basic developmental process as involving relations- or "fusions" (Tobach & Greenberg, 1984)-among variables from the multiple levels of organization that comprise the ecology of human development [e.g., see Bronfenbrenner (2005)].
In short, in contemporary developmental science, the basic process of development involves mutually influential (that is, bidirectional) relations between levels of organization ranging from biology through individual and social functioning to societal, cultural, physical, ecological, and ultimately, historical levels of organization (Lerner, 2002). The relational character of development means that some degree of change is always possible within the developmental system, as the temporality of history imbues each of the other levels of organization within the developmental system with the potential for change. Temporality means that at least relative plasticity (the potential for systematic change) exists within the integrated (fused) developmental system and that changes in the relations between individuals and their context (which may be represented as changes in individual ?? context relations) may be instituted by entering the ecology of human development at any of its levels of organization. Relative plasticity constitutes a basic strength of the developing individual and provides a theoretical rationale for adopting both an optimistic orientation about enhancing the course of human life and, in reference to the adolescent portion of the life span, for adopting the new, positive, and strength-based vision and vocabulary regarding the potential of youth to thrive (Lerner, 2004). Simply, given the presence of plasticity in human development, a potential for change predicated on bidirectional, individual ?? context relations, it is possible to assert that every young person has the potential for successful, healthy development and that all youth possess the capacity for positive development.
BIDIRECTIONAL INDIVIDUAL ?? CONTEXT RELATIONS AND THE CONCEPT OF TRANSCENDENCE
At the same time, however, the individual ?? context relations instantiating the potential for plasticity in any adolescent requires that the young person act to support the positive functioning of the context that is supporting him or her. Humans' evolutionary heritage established mutually supportive individual ??context relations as integral for human survival (Gould, 1977). At an ontogenetic level, individuals must then transcend complete self-interest or "zero sum game" orientations if they are to contribute to positive structure and change in their proximal and distal settings. Simply, human survival as a species and individual thriving across the life course depend on transcending the self, on making contributions beyond the self in time and place (Lerner, 2004).
In other words, in human development, successful (adaptive, health promoting) regulations at the level of individual functioning involve changing the self to support the context and altering the context to support the self. Such efforts require the individual to remain committed to contributing to the context and to possess, or to strive to develop, the skills for making such contributions. Such a commitment to maintaining the social institutions that, in turn, provide the person with the opportunity to flourish as a healthy individual is the essence of adaptive developmental regulation, that is, of exchanges between individuals and their social worlds that are mutually beneficial. Such regulation provides a developmental basis, one underscored by the neotenous phylogenetic history of humans (Gould, 1977), for postulating that young people develop a sense of self (an identity) that involves the belief that one should contribute to civil society. In other words, in youth who manifest exemplary, positive development, that is, who are thriving, there should be an integration of moral and civic identity that promotes adolescents' contributions to mutually beneficial relations between themselves and their social worlds.