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Adolescence, also known as “teenage years” is a time of dramatic change. This phase of life marks a developmental period that follows childhood and comes before adulthood. Adolescence is closely associated with puberty, which is also considered as a developmental milestone, particularly in the western countries. Puberty refers to the period of adolescence when a person becomes capable of reproduction (Carpenter, S. & Huffman, K., 2008). In this paper, I will discuss the various factors that affect the physical, cognitive, social, moral, and personality development of adolescents.
Adolescence is a time of rapid physical growth which is illustrated by the drastic growth spurt in the height, weight and skeletal muscles. In this phase, rapid development of tests, scrotim and penis develops in adolescent boys whereas development of ovaries, uterus, and vagina occurs in adolescent girls. I believe some of the factors that lead to this rapid physical development can be held responsible to both hereditary and environmental influences. Hereditary influences are also referred to as “inherited” qualities which are passed on from the parents to the offspring. Therefore, these are also known as “nature” influences. On the contrary, environmental influences are those experiences that one gets from their surrounding environment as one grows and matures. Such influences are also referred to as “nurture”.
Genetics play an important role in the physical development of an adolescent. For instance, if the parents of a child are extremely hairy, then there is a high probability that the child will also become hairy earlier in life. Also, if both the parents are tall, then there is a high probability that the child will also become taller in their puberty years. Moreover, environment also plays a major role in one’s physical development. Environment encompasses family surroundings, media influences, culture and so on. For instance, one of the Asian countries requires girls to wear metal bands around their necks from early age so that when they get into the puberty years, they can develop long and slender necks. This is so because it is considered beautiful in their culture for girls to have long and slender necks; it is a part of their culture. In addition, environmental and cultural factors such as television, internet, and media amongst others can play a major role to influence development in adolescence.
Adolescence is also a time of changes occurring in the development of cognition. Piaget developed a theory of cognitive development which emphasize on the four stages that children must go through. The four stages of Piaget’s stages of cognitive development are as follows: sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operational stage. Since the focus of this paper is adolescence, I would discuss the formal operational stage in depth as it is developed in ages of 11 and up. Formal Operational stage can be characterized by abstract thinking, logical thought and hypothetical reasoning. In Piaget’s Formal operational stage, the children acquire the ability to think abstractly and hypothetically. In other words, children can ask themselves “what if” type of hypothetical questions, which further illustrates their ability to create and test concepts. In addition, Formal operational thinking also allows the adolescent to construct a well-reasoned argument based on hypothetical concepts and logical processes (Carpenter & Huffman, 2008).
In addition to attaining the ability to think abstractly, children in this phase have very egocentric way of thinking. In other words, they cannot differentiate between what they are thinking and what others are thinking. This egocentric thought may be characterized into two ways: personal fable and imaginative audience. The factors that influence cognitive development in adolescents can be held responsible to both genetics and environmental influences. In terms of hereditary influences, if either of the two parents (biological) of the child is suffering from mental health disorder such as schizophrenia, then it is very likely that the offspring will also develop this disorder. Hence, this will in turn disrupt the development of cognitive processes such as formal operational stage in the child.
Moreover, environment can also play a vital role in the cognitive development of an adolescent. For instance, if a child has grown up in a happy and a healthy environment where parents practice an authoritative parenting style then the child is more likely to reach the formal operational stage earlier and successfully in the adolescence years. Also, such an authoritative style of parenting facilitates good decision making in children. In other words, when given a choice between healthy and unhealthy behaviors such as having unprotected sex, driving experimenting with drugs and alcohol; these children are less likely to take such decisions and act on it. This is because they have attained the formal operational stage and hence, gained the ability to think abstractly, hypothetically and logically about their decisions.
Social development is studied by reflecting on the significance of attachment in ones life. Adolescent’s tend to develop strong attachments with people who are not their primary caregivers, particularly peers, teachers, social clubs, sports clubs and so on. Adolescence is a time when individuals tend to spend more time with peers than the primary caregivers. Not only that, adolescence is also a time when children group together to form cliques, intimate relationships and experiment with sexuality. The factor that affects social development is attachment. Vast amount of research has been done on the relationship between the type of attachment style formed in the younger years and the relationships formed later in the adolescent and adult life.
Researchers found that an average, adolescents’ perceptions of the quality of the parent-child relationship declined consistently and moderately between age 11 and age 14. Furthermore, conflicts with parents increased and this was particularly true for girls than boys (McGue et. al, 2005).
Morality can be explained as the ability to differentiate between right and wrong. Moral development also begins to develop in the adolescent years. Kohlberg, one of the most influential researchers in psychology has developed a model of moral development. His stages of development include Pre-conventional level, Conventional level and Post- conventional level. Since the focus of our paper is on adolescence, I will investigate conventional level in detail as it is developed in this age. Conventional level consist of stage 3 (good child orientation) and 4(law-and-order orientation).
In Stage 3, the primary moral concern is with being nice and gaining approval. In stage 4, the individual takes into account a larger perspective-societal laws. Stage 4 individuals understand that if everyone violated laws, even with good intentions, there would be chaos. Thus, doing one’s duty and respecting law and order are highly valued (Carpenter, S. & Huffman, K., 2008).
Personality development is studied mainly with Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory of development. Erikson’s theory consists of eight stages of psychosocial development; these theories are in the following order:Stage 1 – Trust vs. MistrustStage 2 – Autonomy vs. Shame and DoubtStage 3 – Initiative vs. GuiltStage 4 – Industry vs. InferiorityStage 5 – Identity vs. Confusion (Adolescence: ages 12-20)Stage 6 – Intimacy vs. IsolationStage 7 – Generativity vs. StagnationStage 8 – Integrity vs. DespairThe stage 5 of Erikson’s theory reflects the adolescence period. Erikson claims that during this period, the individual questions and searches for their own identity and their role in society. Furthermore, he mentioned that those individuals who do not overcome the identity crisis do not form a stable identity, indulge into delinquent acts and behaviors, and have difficulty in forming and maintaining close relationships in life.
Klimstra et. al (2009) examined adolescent personality maturation on the Big Five personality trait model and found that agreeableness and Emotional Stability increased during adolescence. In addition, mixed evidence was found for the increase in traits such as Extraversion and Openness. Furthermore, it was found that in terms of gender differences in the timing of adolescent personality maturation, girls tend to mature earlier than boys.
Adolescence is a stage of development which occurs before adulthood and after childhood. In this stage of development, a drastic growth spurts in height, weight, and skeletal muscles. This paper mainly focused on the various aspects of the human development in adolescence. The various factors affecting physical, cognitive, social, moral, and personality development of adolescents were also discussed in this paper.
Carpenter, S. & Huffman, K. (2008). Visualizing Psychology. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Klimstra, T., Hale, W., Raaijmakers, Q., Branje, S., & Meeus, W. (2009, April). Maturation of personality in adolescence.Journal of Personality and
Social Psychology, 96(4), 898-912. Retrieved April 19, 2009, doi:10.1037/a0014746McGue, M., Elkins, I., Walden, B., & Iacono, W. (2005, November). Perceptions of the Parent-Adolescent Relationship: A Longitudinal Investigation. Developmental Psychology, 41(6), 971-984. Retrieved April 19, 2009, doi:10.1037/0012-16184.108.40.2061