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Concepts of Adolescence

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Evaluates the characteristics, issues, & developmental contribution of adolescence.... More...
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Paper Abstract:
Evaluates the characteristics, issues, & developmental contribution of adolescence.

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Concepts of Adolescence Introduction One of the things that was most interesting to me to read was that adolescence has not always existed as a separate category. During most of human history, children have undergone rites of passage or initiation that made them full-fledged adults in their society, rather than part-children, part-adults, like contemporary adolescents, or teen-agers have become. In the last two centuries, however, adolescence has become a separate category and psychologists and sociologists have attempted to understand the characteristics and developmental contribution of that age. Adolescence is generally considered to start with puberty, about age 12 or 13 and may extend into

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Thus, the drop in self-esteem in girlsseems almost predestined. They are being asked to restrict their physicalexpression of themselves at the time when their bodies are growing andtheir emotions may need even more physical release and expression. It was at thisstage, basically, that children became able to think about principles andvalues and actualize them in their lives. (1995). There are some obvious problems with this developmental stage foryoung girls. For the most part, however, adolescence isthought of as meaning the teen-age years, or the years until age 21. On the other hand, young boys were expected to bemore principled, or rule-governed, and this undergirded their identityformation and decision-making process. (Erikson, 195 , p. (195 ). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Gilligan, C., Lyons, N. (1956). (1986) talked about another aspect of this identity androle confusion issue in discussing the change adolescents undergo from anaive dualism to multiplicity of viewpoints and opinions. If they fulfill their role requirements, oravailable social opportunities, then they are essentially choosing topursue a developmental path that is not esteemed by society as highly asthat offered to boys. The invention of adolescence. During most ofhuman history, children have undergone rites of passage or initiation thatmade them full-fledged adults in their society, rather than part-children,part-adults, like contemporary adolescents, or teen-agers have become. (199 ). Kizziar andHagedorn (1979) note that identity is the necessary component for teen-agers to be able to act on their own values and choose alternatives notsupported by their peers if those alternatives are self-destructive. (1979). Combining psychosocial and moral development for adolescentsin a relational perspective might mean a more complex and interrelated lookat the meaning of identity. While this might be somewhat outdated, it stillseems pertinent since girls are still less likely to participate in sportsand other physical activities than teen-age boys. His focuswas on cognitive development in particular, rather than the psychosocialaspects of development, but they still reinforced the valuing of certainskills and characteristics over others. At the top of thestructure of behaviors was the formal operations and abstract thinking thatthe adolescent was capable of (Piaget, 195 ). In hisstage 6, which is the ultimate stage of moral development, the basicconcern is about maintaining one's own moral principles, rather than onrelationship with others, self, or even with the transcendent (Kohlberg,1984). Children must learn not only to recognize who they are and whatthey think and feel, but learn how to value that identity. The story of psychology. In a different voice: Psychological theory and women's development. Yet for both boys and girls, these are inadequate sources of identity. It seems as though Erikson consideredadolescence as primarily arising because of physical or bodily changes,which he indicated was similar to that of early childhood. At the same time,boys outdoor activities were increasing, or maintaining, while they wereparticipating in sports at a much higher level. One indicator of this is a list ofactivities that boys and girls participate in during the years from 1 -16(Gesell et al., 1956). Norton.Gesell, A., Ilg, F.L., and Ames, L.B. What this has meant has been a sacrifice of selfhood for both men andwomen, although women have been even more limited in regard to thedevelopment of talents. It ishis model that offered the fullest look at human development from birth todeath. Essentially thisrepresents the time that adolescents realize that there are more than twopoints of view and begin to question authority, at least in Westernculture. There are other problems with the prescribed, or expected,developmental pathways for young girls that might lead to decreased self-esteem and problems with identity. Thefirst stage of infancy presented the conflict between basic trust and basicmistrust, with successful resolution represented by a basic stance of trusttoward the world. That kind of identity formation cannot really contribute to intimacy,which is Erikson's next major stage. Psychology Today, 28(1), 66+. Identity may ignore the social opportunitiesoffered to the individual and insist upon the expansion of opportunities.The problem of adolescence, and even more for young girls than for youngboys, perhaps, is the failure to develop a clear, distinct identity becauseof their need for acceptance. During that decade, sports participationfor girls had nearly ended completely by the age of 13. Kagan (1984)noted, however, that this has been disputed and feminist theorists would,again, indicate that this favors a form of development that has generallybeen prescribed for young males in a certain type of society. (1982). Yet at the bottom of the acting out isoften that same drive, or the feeling that acceptance is impossible and,therefore, should be devalued. While they may have had numerous skills and interests inchildhood, these have been expected to be put aside during adolescence,rather than developed into a career or vocation. The bodychanges, including genital maturity, led to almost a redoing of the earlierdevelopmental processes and conflicts. Erikson values intimacy and generativity in hisstage theory, but again, there seems to be a problem in his work with theemphasis on adapting to social roles or social opportunities. In that book, and her previous book, Gilligan contended that younggirls develop differently than young boys. (1984). It involves a profoundform of integration, which he attached primarily to career. Intimacy demands that the individualbe able to share who he or she is in a vulnerable and honest way. For the most part, until the last 2 years, young girls havenot been encouraged to establish their identity in this way. Inlooking at psychosocial development, the focus for adolescence might beless on career than on developing one's skills in the context of one'srelationship to other individuals and to the entire community. The nature of the child. (1993). The problem here is that girls are being deprived both of the physicalpleasure of sports and outdoor actitivies and the opportunity to play withother individuals in team or individual efforts. The intent in the following pagesis to look at a few views of adolescence through a feminist lens in orderto explore their appropriateness and usefulness for contemporary thinkers.Starting with Erikson One of the most famous of the stage theorists is Erik Erikson. That need for acceptance seems to drive adolescents, although somerebel against it by acting out. As Carol Gilligannoted, most of these theories have been created by looking at maleadolescents, this may mean that they are not as applicable to femaleadolescents, if they are valid at all. In some ways, this is a more realistic view of the human beingwho becomes specifically human only in relationship to other human beings. NY: W.W. role confusion.The successful resolution of that conflict means that the adolescent hasestablished a sense of self. Search for acceptance. If, however, they choose to pursue their skills andvocational interests, they are not attending to the requirements of socialroles and opportunities, leading to the kind of "role confusion" thatErikson saw as a problem of this stage. It was at this time thatchildren became able to think abstractly and conceptualize. Erikson's model included eight separate stages, each of them focusingon a basic conflict or task that the individual needed to complete. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.Rutter, V. The psychology of intelligence. Thus, self-esteem is again denied to them unlessthey suppress their true identities in favor of prescribed socialopportunities and roles. (1984). One of the major critiques, however, isthat he chose Western logic as the high point of the child's development,assuming that that was the most important aspect of cognitive developmentand that cognitive development was the most important kind of developmentto ensure the child's adaptation to their everyday life. Others have critiqued Piaget's work on several grounds, including thefact that although he claimed it was a universal process, children actuallymay develop at different speeds. Itis only since Erikson that stage theorists have extended their work intoadulthood and found additional developmental stages, or phases, duringadult life (Hunt, 1993). and Hanmer, T. In other words, role confusion can certainly be a problem for younggirls, but not one that is as easily resolved as Erikson seems to think.Role confusion is inevitable for young girls who seek to establish a trueidentity, unless that identity happens to match the prescribed socialopportunities and established limits. NY: Harper and Brothers, Publishers.Gilligan, C. In a pathway that sees relationality as agood, as well as a common characteristic of girls' socialized development,identity may be seen less as individual than as in-relationship orconnected. Instead, girls may often be scorned forphysical accomplishment and participation and insulted as not being"feminine" or "ladylike". Yet Gilligan and others have also seen relationality as an importantpositive for young girls, with an alternative developmental pathway fromautonomy and individuation. Again, if the prescribeddevelopmental pathway for young girls is successful relationship, then itis less likely that they will be able to develop separate, uniqueidentities without extremely high anxiety levels. Most of the stage theorists, such as Piaget, considered thatdevelopment was primarily completed by adolescence or early adulthood. Again, this may be a problem of self-esteem, with young women lesslikely to believe that their thoughts and feelings are valuable andmeaningful. They claimed their own authority to hold opinionsand different viewpoints and looked ahead to the time when they could claimtheir own expertise. Chicago: Nelson-Hall.Kohlberg, L. There isalso a lack in his work of an explicitly feminist critique of the socialsystem in which young girls try to develop. If relationality is the highest valuefor young women, and their self-esteem, such as it is, rests on that, thenmultiplicity would seem like a threat to both identity and self-esteem. Identity and role are notnecessarily the same thing. According to him, the task of this time is involved with image andappearance, as well as deciding upon occupation. They experienced themselves as isolated and endangered, ratherthan as victorious in relationship to the older generation. Inaddition, they do not gain the appreciation that boys gain from physicalprowess and accomplishment. While Erikson's definition seems to demand that children adapt to socialroles ("with the opportunities offered by social roles") in thisdevelopmental phase, this does not seem to represent true identityformation. They are being limited,not because of physical difficulties, but because of prescribeddevelopmental patterns. NY: Doubleday.Kagan, J. For young women, questioning authority, or disagreeing with it, maynot represent the joys of independence, individuation, and autonomy, butthe dangers of separation and failed relationship. Theyterm it an issue of self-esteem, although it would seem to be even deeperthan that. Identity might not be seen as formed over-and-against authority, or parents, or society, but as the development of theindividual's particular skills, gifts, and desires as a means of enhancingrelationality and community. Many writers since Freud have created developmental schemes or stagetheories in which adolescence plays a particular role. BibliographyErikson, E. Piaget's work was based onobservation of children's behaviors, but it still was based on aninherently hierarchical and value-laden structure. While young boys havebeen expected to develop their identities primarily through attachment to acareer, young girls have been expected to establish their identities byattachment to a man, and to the roles of wife and mother. What is valued in this society, however, has generally been thecharacteristics that are associated with the development of young boys.Career, laws, rules, and achievement seem to have been more the measures ofsocial success than relationality. Careermight not be as separated from relationality and the needs of the communityas a whole. The work of Carol Gilligan and others hasindicated that girls in particular experience a serious drop in self-esteemas they enter adolescence (Gilligan et al, 199 ). NY: Basic Books.Kizziard, J.W. If,however, identity has been formed by fitting into the available socialopportunities, intimacy is only the meeting of two false identities, ratherthan two original and unique persons.Social Opportunities and Young Girls That does seem to be more the danger of adolescence than the roleconfusion that Erikson discussed as the issue. Instead, what he seems to be talking about is a kind ofconformity that enables the child to fit in to the society most smoothly. For many of the young women in their study, however,this multiplicity of viewpoints and authorities was more of a problem thana pleasure. For the young men that the authors noted William Perry worked with inhis study of the change to multiplicity, this movement was one that theyembraced and enjoyed. Concepts of AdolescenceIntroduction One of the things that was most interesting to me to read was thatadolescence has not always existed as a separate category. For Erikson, adolescence was the stage during which the primaryconflict or issue is between establishing an identity vs. 261)What can interfere with this is what Erikson termed "role confusion." Theindividual may be unable to resolve such issues and establish a clearidentity. The counter to that is the development of identity. Most developmental schemes, and certainly much of society, have notsupported this view of appropriate development, however. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Hunt, M. Childhood and society. This is theessence of self-esteem. As he put it: It is the accrued experience of the ego's ability to integrate all identifications with the vicissitudes of the libido, with the aptitudes developed out of endowment, and with the opportunities offered in social roles. While children obviously havegreat imagination earlier in their lives and are able to fantasize and tellstories, it is not until adolescence, Piaget contended, that boys and girlsare able to hypothesize and assess possibilities and probabilities for thefuture. San Francisco: Harper and Row.Piaget, J. For Piaget, the development of formal operations essentiallyrepresented the final stage of development. This, too, can lead to decreasedself-esteem for girls. In looking at moral development,stage 6 behavior might depend upon caring for all people and creatures andacting so as to ensure their well-being, rather than upon upholdinguniversal ethical principles (although these could be identical). For her, the socializationroute of young girls meant that they were primarily relational and thatrelationality undergirded their identity formation as well as theirdecision-making process. A developmental scheme that placed relationality at the center wouldlook very different from some of these. While they perceivethemselves equally valuable as young boys, that changes when they enterpuberty. The sense of ego identity, then, is the accrued confidence that the inner sameness and continuity prepared in the past are matched by the sameness and continuity of one's meaning for others, as evidenced in the tangible promise of a career. (195 ). While relationality is part of the stage theories of severaldevelopmentalists, including Freud, Erikson, and Kohlberg, among others, itis not made the central piece of the developmental framework. For young girls, it is not eitheridentity or role confusion, it is identity and role confusion that gotogether. Starting withFreud, the emphasis has been on adjustment to society psychosocially,rather than establishment of selfhood. He devalued moraldecision-making based on social approval or socially shared viewpoints,while elevating decision-making that was based on values and rights andmaintaining self-respect, rather than maintaining relationship. and Hagedorn, J.W. Youth - the years from 1 to 16. They haveinstead been discouraged from allowing for the continuity that Eriksontalked about. Piaget's work emphasized that aspect of development, too. There is, in other words, no real path for girls tofollow that can clearly and unequivocally lead to a validated identity.This is not the case for young boys. Most adolescents respond to the need foracceptance by their peers and by society at large by attempting to be aslike other teen-agers as possible. For Freud,both love and work at important in appropriate development, but he does notreally seem to see relationality in the same terms as Carol Gilligan andother feminist theorists. Belenky et al. It can also represent that factor of relationality whichGilligan and others have emphasized. For Kohlberg, moraldevelopment was linear, progressive, and based on principles or laws,rather than relationships. Or, rather, selfhood has been seenas primarily shaped by the needs of society and social roles. The psychology of moral development. In the last two centuries, however, adolescence has become a separatecategory and psychologists and sociologists have attempted to understandthe characteristics and developmental contribution of that age.Adolescence is generally considered to start with puberty, about age 12 or13 and may extend into the 2 s. Essentially, the developmental process in hisscheme required abstract thinking and the ability to hypothesize thatPiaget discussed in his cognitive development framework. Making connections: The relational worlds of adolescent girls at Emma Willard School. Gesell noted that girls' outdoor activities started decliningseriously by the age of 13 years.

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