As childhood fades and adulthood approaches; children go through many significant and sometimes dramatic changes in their psychology. Adolescence is very much a formative time. Cognitive and physical changes occur which shape the way the person will think as an adult.
Adolescence is a time of increased awareness off personal identity and individual characteristics.
In recent years there has been a greater emphasis on adolescence as being a period of role transitions. For example transitioning from school to work requires the adolescent to learn different role behaviours.
Elder (1968) identified 2 types of role change: those that affect their existing roles as a result of the expectations of others around them, and new roles that need to be adopted. Part of adolescence involves balancing out the different roles presented to the different reference groups.
One of the more mysterious phenomena in human development is the loss of self-esteem in girls during puberty. Several changes are occurring at this time, such as bodily developments in both sexes, sex hormones surging in boys, sudden intense attractions to boys, looks and popularity become much more important than intelligence and careers, and self-confidence or self-esteem plummets.
In middle childhood, the child developed a capacity for abstract thought, and altruistic behaviour, and some skill at verbalising her thoughts and feelings in conflict situations. The adolescent develops these skills even further, and uses them to help her meet the challenge of developing a sense of identity. A crucial aspect of this personal identity is a search for acceptable moral principles.
Moral thinking is complicated at this stage by the conflict between the urge to create a strong sense of personal identify, a tendency to question or rebel against previously held ideas as the person begins turning inward for meaning, and the conflicting feelings caused by obvious and unobvious body changes.
The adolescent task is to achieve ego identity and avoid role confusion. Ego identity means you know who you are and how you fit into the rest of society. You mould yourself into a unified self-image that is meaningful to your community also. Good adult role models, open lines of communication and a mainstream adult culture that the adolescent respects are important for this.
A society should also provide rights of passage, accomplishments and rituals that allow us to distinguish between a child and an adult. For example, in more traditional societies, an adolescent boy may be required to leave his village for a whole or seek an inspirational vision. In other societies, there may be symbolic ceremonies or educational events e.g. Leaving school. Without this, a child can have role confusion about their place in society and the world.
Too much ego identity can mean that a person is so involved with a particular role that there is no room left for tolerance. Erikson calls this the maladaptive tendency of fanaticism. A fanatic will think their way is the only way. A lack of identity may be even more difficult. Erikson called this the malignant tendency repudiation. The adolescent will repudiate their membership in the adult world or the need for an identity. They may join groups that are eager to provide details of your identity, for example, religious cults, militaristic organizations, groups founded on hate and so on. The adolescent may become involved in destructive activities, such as taking drugs or alcohol or withdraw into psychotic fantasies.
Successful negotiation of this stage gives people the virtue of fidelity. This means the ability to live by the standards set by society and loyalty. This doesn’t mean blind loyalty, but loving the community you live in and wanting it to be the best it can be. Fidelity also means you have found a place in the community and will contribute towards that community.
RELATIONSHIPS WITH FAMILY AND PEERS
Many early theories have emphasised the ‘storm and stress’ of adolescence. However, Bandura (1972) investigated ‘normal’ adolescents and their families and found that for many of them, there was no particular opposition to their parents' values, nor were they rebellious or hostile. Many actually developed greater trust and a better relationship with their parents. Where stress is prevalent, other factors could be at play, such as the adolescent’s developing personal morality, which might conflict with the values of his parents, or family disharmony and the adolescent’s refusal to either be part of it, or to accept adult perspectives. Substance abuse can be a major cause of strained relationships with family, causing even the most good natured adolescent to behave out of character.
Lifespan psychology insists that in order to properly understand people we need to see them in terms of their social and personal contexts. A multi-disciplinary framework is employed to study changes in adolescence. Coleman (1974) adopted a ‘focal theory’ of adolescence which took into account all the variations of experiences and expectations in adolescence. He stated that as individuals pass through adolescence they do so with their attention focused on different aspects of change at different times. As such the transitions into and out of adolescence are not sequential, and the issues, problems and ambiguities of adolescence are present at all times but are not all equally important at all times.
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