Biographical Analysis Of Adolescent Development
Adolescent development is what psychologists define as changes that occur during a person’s transition from childhood to adulthood. There are numerous factors that play into how a person will develop and these include: biological, cognitive, social, and emotional factors. All of these factors, along with the effects of family, peers, school, and cultural contexts allow psychologists to develop an insight as to how adolescents develop into adults.
Bruce* is a 20 year-old male who describes his adolescence as, “Confusing, yet exciting. I went from playing with hot wheels with my friends, to picking up my girlfriend in my new car.”
The most common sign of adolescence is puberty; although many people misinterpret this sign and view puberty as the beginning of adolescence. Puberty is the physical transformation into adulthood, whereas adolescence is the bridge between being a child and being an adult. Erikson, Freud, and Hall all view the onset of menstruation as a “main event,” but in today’s society, girls and boys begin to develop at an even younger age. When Bruce was growing up he noticed a lot about the world around him, “Everyone has something that makes them unique.” That is what he stated at the beginning of the interview. Like most boys, Bruce began to notice the physical aspects
*- Name has been changed.
of adolescence, and puberty around age 13. He noticed he had lost some weight and that he needed new sneakers and pants more often. All of these signs pointed to the fact that Bruce was becoming an adolescent. But “being a male and being a man are different things,” Bruce said. Already through adolescence, Bruce became more focused on himself psychologically than when he was as an adolescent.
Biologically, adolescence is the most fascinating stage to explore and discover. During his entrance into adolescence, Bruce noticed that his hand eye coordination was improving, he could judge how far away the next highway exit was going to be, or he could snatch a piece of paper right out of your hand before you knew it. These are perfect examples of motor skills. Adolescents, especially during puberty learn how to use their bodies, and explore areas both physically and mentally in ways that they never have before. Your biology is also what makes you who you are; there isn’t any other person in the world just like you. Most of our biology is pre-determined, by the genes given to us by our parents. Developing into young adults comes with many other mental and physical properties that we must look at further. The biopsychosocial approach emphasizes that biological, psychological, and social factors interact to produce the problems that adolescents and people other ages develop.
Cognitive processes are the ways of thinking and emphasizing conscious thoughts. Piaget’s theory on cognitive development was followed almost perfectly by Bruce when he described his earlier years. At the age of 18 Bruce realized that his thought processes had changed. He was career driven and goal oriented and could look back and see the progress he’d made. Early childhood taught him independence and self-sufficient ness. He grew up with 3 older brothers, and the attention was not always on him. After his parents divorce, things at home became different leading into his middle to late childhood. These years were of intense learning Bruce mastered the guitar, writing, played sports and learned the basic fundamentals of schooling. He also began absorbing knowledge in school rapidly, and gaining interests in subjects that weren’t necessarily covered on the curriculum. Throughout these years, Bruce became moody and would often talk back to his parents. “Sometimes, I would yell, and scream and after realize I had no idea why I was doing it.” “I wasn’t mad at them directly, they just got in the way of my emotions.” He would also build aggression towards his peers, when Bruce became stressed out, he would take out his frustration on the next person or thing that came his way. This resulted in tension between friends, teachers, family, and even the family pets. He enjoyed social events, places where he could hang out with his friends like parties, sometimes being pressured into drinking alcohol and taking drugs. School functions like dances, clubs, trips, and the prom were avoided by Bruce because none of his friends that he hung around with went, so he didn’t go. Now he feels a slight regret for missing out on those things. During adolescence Bruce’s relationship with his mom took many turns, “she took the brunt of most of my aggressions, my father wasn’t always around, and I give her credit for her patience; raising three boys is tough.”
Piaget’s formal operational thought is a good description of how adolescents think. In early formal operational thought adolescents think in hypothetical ways to produce thought with endless possibilities, thinking about the world but not truly understanding it. Late formal operational thought is when adolescents test their reasoning against experience, thinking about the world, and asking why. When Bruce entered junior high he was scared like most kids. Gender roles and stereotypes taught him not to show his emotions, because he was a boy. What does it mean to be a male? Bruce replied with, “chopping down trees and drinking black coffee.” Through the social cognitive theory of gender, adolescents learn gender roles through observation and imitation of gender behavior. Being rewarded or punished according to how they act teaches gender appropriate and inappropriate behavior. Since Bruce’s parents were divorced, he imitated his older brothers to learn the correct gender behavior. “They wrestled, so I wrestled etc…” It was in junior high when Bruce saw the beginning of his pubertal change, as well as the gender intensification hypothesis. In early adolescence behavioral differences between boys and girls are increased due to mounting socialization pressure to conform to masculine and feminine gender roles. Physically he didn’t look much different, and mentally he felt the same but this is most likely because boys and girls mature at different rates of speed. Bruce didn’t feel any different in the eyes of his peers either. All or most of them had come from the same elementary school, so there was no “culture shock.”
In high school is when Bruce began noticing big changes in his body and his mind. “I was getting taller, talking deeper, and getting hairier. But aside from all that I was growing up in my mind.” During late adolescence teens focus on many more different things than they did in early adolescence. Career interests, dating, sex, and identity exploration are only a few on the list of things that flow in and out of a young adult’s mind. As Bruce entered into the later stages of adolescence his focus turned from building tree forts to building a future, he also became more romantically involved with members of the opposite sex, not only for pleasure physically, but mentally, and emotionally as well.
Hormonal changes are often what we see most in adolescents, mood swings, rebellion, and sexual promiscuity are all seen among teens. Most adolescents may appear physically developed to handle a sexual situation. When in reality, the majority of adolescents are simply not mentally or emotionally ready for those kinds of situations. In most instances, it is the female who feels the most regret after a sexual encounter. Usually the male feels a sense of “relief,” and that was not the case with Bruce. His first sexual encounter was at age 15, and at that time he thought he was mature and ready for the experience. It wasn’t until two years later when he found someone he wanted to share the experience with when he realized that he wasn’t ready during his first encounter, and that has affected his life. Some effects he has experienced since that time was increased peer pressure, aggression, and stress.
Peer relations both positive and negative can greatly influence an adolescent. In early adolescence, the mind is more elastic and easily moldable than it is in later adolescence. Spending time with peers teaches negotiation, compromise, and problem solving techniques. These coupled with intimacy skills enable adolescents to carry this knowledge forward into dating and marital relationships.
Peer conformity is a false sense of acceptance; when individuals adopt the attitudes or behaviors of others to fit in. When Bruce first entered high school, he felt awkward, like a little fish in a big pond. He said he would dress like his friends, talk like his friends, and become interested in the same things as them, even if he truly didn’t like them just to fit in. Some adolescents may also do these things or worse, like steal, take drugs, and make fun of other people. Sociometric statuses are used to describe the extent to which children are liked or disliked by their peer group (popular, average, neglected, rejected, and controversial children). Bruce described himself as an average child and stated that “most popular children were disliked by most everyone but the other popular children.” Finding your identity and personality is hard enough to do alone, but when you start adding in peer pressure, conformity, and peer statuses, it makes it that much harder.
Peer groups greatly influence the minds of adolescents’, because they are the people that an adolescent will come in contact with every day. Dealing with life situations in a peer group can help when an adolescent has trouble at home or outside of their peer group. Peer groups can teach adolescents how to handle certain situations, having both positive and negative effects. For example, Bruce often said that he and his mother had their fights, but if it weren’t for his peer group, he would have never learned how to work through a fight, or have a meaningful conversation. Adolescent friendships was stressed in importance by Harry Stack Sullivan, in adolescence, people have a number of basic social needs, including tenderness, companionship, acceptance, intimacy, and sexual relations. If any one of these feelings are left unmet, the result could be boredom, depression, and low self-esteem.
Developing an identity as an adolescent is a difficult task because you really don’t know who you are, you are just who people tell you to be. Bruce has similar ideas to those of James Marcia (four statuses of identity) identity achievement is reached by undergoing a crisis and making a commitment (stage 4). When Bruce’s parents divorced, he experienced a crisis, and being an early adolescent did not make it any easier. He then made a commitment to do certain things better, and to not let his personal life ever fall apart the way his parents’ did. (crisis, and commitment) He then could identify himself as strong willed, understanding, loving, and loyal among so many other things. All of these traits he learned as he coped with stress. They not only became part of his identity, but part of his personality too. Personality traits are the “quirks” that make up your identity. Openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (OCEAN), are the big five factors of personality.
Personality and moral development are intertwined in the fact that they directly reflect one another. Moral development involves thoughts, behaviors and feelings regarding right and wrong. Bruce’s sense of self is based on basic values, “do onto you as you would want others to do onto you.” What adolescents say and how they actually act in moral circumstances can show deep insight into the personal morality of a person. Unlike Bruce, Lawrence Kohlberg believes that morality unfolds in a series of 6 stages and 3 levels. Level 1 Preconventional Reasoning: Stage 1 Heteronomous morality, Stage 2 Individualism, instrumental purpose and exchange. Level 2 Conventional Reasoning: Stage 3 Mutual interpersonal expectations, relationships, and interpersonal conformity Stage 4 Social systems morality. Level 3 Postconventional Reasoning: Stage 5 Social contract or utility and individual rights, Stage 6 Universal ethical principles. Bruce believes that an adolescent’s morality changes depending on who is around and who is watching them; this theory is probably true with most people. During adolescence, morality comes into question many times. For example, to cheat on a test or not to cheat on a test, what is right and what is wrong. If you see one of your friends stealing from a store, do you steal too? The answer to these questions is your own, but that is what makes up your morality and what you believe is ethical or not.
Religion plays an important role in morality as well as in personality and identity development. Believing in god or a higher spirit keeps people’s morals “in check,” and acts as a third conscious in their minds. Religion has also been shown to have a positive influence in adolescent’s lives. It has been linked to better grades in low-income areas, more socially acceptable behavior, and an increase of participation in extracurricular activities. It is also said to be a positive influence on the adolescent pregnancy rate. Religion also provides positive role models for youth, steering them away from alcohol, drugs, and risky behavior. Many adolescents who practice a faith show a genuine concern and caring for others and in most cases help those who are less fortunate than they are. Religion among adolescents goes hand in hand with moral behavior, teaching right from wrong with rewards and punishments for their actions. Bruce is an atheist and does not believe in a god. His theories lay within the universe and how it was formed. Although he is not religious, Bruce believes that religion is an identity basis for most adolescents, acting as a stepping stone to become more than you already are.
Entering the later stages of adolescence means planning for the future “looking back on my years in school, my academic achievements have definitely shaped who I am as a person, and who I associate myself with when it comes to choosing friends. In school I always had good grades, and perfect attendance.” “If it hadn’t been for my interest in learning, my peer group would have been dramatically different, I never gave up.” Bruce is demonstrating intrinsic motivation, where you motivate yourself through self-determination, curiosity, challenge and effort. Extrinsic motivation includes factors such as rewards and punishments. Academic achievement in adolescence does determine peer group, and sociometric status.
Exploring culture is extremely relevant to studying adolescent development. With the world growing so rapidly, we are seeing more and more diversity in our schools, communities, and churches. Many different ethnic backgrounds make their way into the US everyday and settle in our communities. It is here where they assimilate and lose some of the values and traditions. It is not uncommon to see in the workplace or in schools today people of different nationalities and religions practicing their faith and traditions just as Americans have for years. Bruce comes from a family predominately French, but since he is many generations away from his ancestors, assimilation has “Americanized” his way of life. Acculturation is when people eventually become full members of the majority society while still being identified as members of a minor society. An example would be Muslim business men dressed like everyone else, except for a turban, or praying to Mecca at their specified times throughout the day. Adopting different cultures, and understanding them during adolescence will give teens a better idea of the world, and a better understanding of their own personal heritage and identity.
Practicing good health isn’t always as easy as it seems, especially during adolescence. During this time boys and girls are going through puberty and need essential vitamins and minerals to grow and maintain a healthy mind and body. The youth living in America today have easy access to “garbage food” such as fast food, and candy. Only recently have people become concerned with the obesity problem that plagues the US. Adolescents need food to help them grow and fuel their minds, it is also dangerous because now that they are getting older they are making choices for themselves and this could be harmful, even deadly leading to obesity or another eating disorder. Adolescent health isn’t just about eating right; it’s about making health decisions. Engaging in risk taking behavior is unhealthy for anyone, risk taking behavior could be smoking, taking drugs, drinking alcohol, stealing cars, or doing something else immoral and unethical. Bruce admits that he has tried drugs, and drinks while out with friends, but he also smokes cigarettes even though he knows that they are directly linked to cancer. He does not exercise, and rarely gets a full 8 hours of sleep a night. Over time these factors will severely hinder your performance in your everyday life. Living a healthy lifestyle means eating right, exercising, seeing your doctor and dentist regularly, and sleeping 8 hours a night, and admitting if you have a problem (whether its an eating disorder or a drug addiction). However, Bruce mentioned another unhealthy habit he has, and that is stress. Stress is an issue with everyone today; it can come on subtly or make you have an anxiety attack. The world is so fast paced today that adolescents and everyone are struggling to keep up. “There just aren’t enough hours in the day,” Bruce. Time management is one way to relieve stress, don’t wait until the last minute to do something, plan it out accordingly and you will be less stressed out. Learning how to cope with stress is also a great way to beat it and stay healthy. Coping with stress can be done alone or with the help of a friend, mentor, teacher, parent, or doctor. Putting life into perspective to solve problems and reduce stress can be done by problem-focused coping or emotion-focused coping. Either way, keeping healthy and active leads to a better lifestyle and the best time to start is during adolescence, when endurance can be built faster, and you have people around you going through the same thing to help.
Adolescent development is what happens as children grow from infants to toddlers to children to teens and then into adults. There are many factors that are taken into consideration when a person is developing into an adult. Psychologists use these factors to develop a better understanding as to how adolescents develop into mature adults.