Personality and Human Development


Buddhi Maharjan 👤 3 Personality and Human Development / Page 3.6 Social Development in Adolescence On this page: 1 of 1 attempted (100%) | 1 of 1 correct (100%)

Social Development in Adolescence

What are the social tasks and challenges of adolescence?

Theorist Erik Erikson (1963) contended that each stage of life has its own psychosocial task, a crisis that needs resolution. Young children wrestle with issues of trust, then autonomy (independence), then initiative. School-age children strive for competence, feeling able and productive. The adolescent’s task is to synthesize past, present, and future possibilities into a clearer sense of self (Table 3). Adolescents wonder, “Who am I as an individual? What do I want to do with my life? What values should I live by? What do I believe in?” Erikson called this quest the adolescent’s search for identity.

Table 3

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Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development Stage

(Approximate Age)

Issue Description of Task

Infancy (to 1 year)

Trust vs. mistrust

If needs are dependably met, infants develop a sense of basic trust.

Toddlerhood (1 to 3 years)

Autonomy vs. shame and doubt

Toddlers learn to exercise their will and do things for themselves, or they doubt their abilities.

Preschool (3 to 6 years)

Initiative vs. guilt

Preschoolers learn to initiate tasks and carry out plans, or they feel guilty about their efforts to be independent.

Elementary school (6 years to puberty)

Competence vs. inferiority

Children learn the pleasure of applying themselves to tasks, or they feel inferior.

Adolescence (teen years into 20s)

Identity vs. role confusion

Teenagers work at refining a sense of self by testing roles and then integrating them to form a single identity, or they become confused about who they are.

Young adulthood (20s to early 40s)

Intimacy vs. isolation

Young adults struggle to form close relationships and to gain the capacity for intimate love, or they feel socially isolated.

Middle adulthood (40s to 60s)

Generativity vs. stagnation

In middle age, people discover a sense of contributing to the world, usually through family and work, or they may feel a lack of purpose.

Late adulthood (late 60s and up)

Integrity vs. despair

Reflecting on their lives, older adults may feel a sense of satisfaction or failure.

Multiple-Choice Question

Jeremy is 16 years old and is trying different clothes and hairstyles. His father is confused and sometimes shocked by the earrings, chains, hair colors, and fashion choices. His mother, on the other hand, just laughs because she knows that Jeremy is in which stage of development?

intimacy vs. isolation generativity vs. stagnation identity vs. role confusion initiative vs. guilt

Correct. In this stage, teenagers try to define and hone their identity by “trying on” many different roles or styles. Sometimes they are confused about who they are, but this is a totally normal stage of development.

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Forming an Identity

To refine their sense of identity, adolescents in individualist cultures usually try out different “selves” in different situations. They may act out one self at home, another with friends, and still another at school or online. If two situations overlap—as when a teenager brings new friends home—the discomfort can be considerable (Klimstra et al., 2015). The teen asks, “Which self should I be? Which is the real me?” The resolution is a self-definition that unifies the various selves into a consistent and comfortable sense of who one is—an identity.

For both adolescents and adults, group identities are often formed by how we differ from those around us. When living in Britain, I [DM] become conscious of my Americanness. When spending time with collaborators in Hong Kong, I [ND] become conscious of my minority White race. When surrounded by women, we are both mindful of our male gender identity. For international students, for those of a minority ethnic group, for gay and transgender people, or for people with a disability, a social identity often forms around their distinctiveness.

Erikson noticed that some adolescents forge their identity early, simply by adopting their parents’ values and expectations. (Traditional, less individualist cultures teach adolescents who they are, rather than encouraging them to decide on their own.) Other adolescents may adopt the identity of a particular peer group—jocks, preps, geeks, band kids, debaters.

Most young people do develop a sense of contentment with their lives. A question: Which statement best describes you? “I would choose my life the way it is right now” or, “I wish I were somebody else”? When American teens answered, 81 percent picked the first, and 19 percent the second (Lyons, 2004). Reflecting on their existence, 75 percent of American collegians say they “discuss religion/spirituality” with friends, “pray,” and agree that “we are all spiritual beings” and “search for meaning/purpose in life” (Astin et al., 2004; Bryant & Astin, 2008). This would not surprise Stanford psychologist William Damon and his colleagues (2003), who have contended that a key task of adolescence is to achieve a purpose—a desire to accomplish something personally meaningful that makes a difference to the world beyond oneself.

Several nationwide studies indicate that young Americans’ self-esteem falls during the early to mid-teen years, and, for girls, depression scores often increase. But then self- image rebounds during the late teens and twenties (Chung et al., 2014; Orth et al., 2015; Wagner et al., 2013). Late adolescence is also a time when agreeableness and emotional stability scores increase (Klimstra et al., 2009).

These are the years when many people in industrialized countries begin exploring new opportunities by attending college or working full time. Many college seniors have achieved a clearer identity and a more positive self-concept than they had as first-year students (Waterman, 1988). Collegians who have achieved a clear sense of identity are less prone to alcohol misuse (Bishop et al., 2005).

Erikson contended that adolescent identity formation (which continues into adulthood) is followed in young adulthood by a developing capacity for intimacy, the ability to form emotionally close relationships. When Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi [chick-SENT-me-hi] and Jeremy Hunter (2003) used a beeper to sample the daily experiences of American teens, they found them unhappiest when alone and happiest when with friends. Romantic relationships, which tend to be emotionally intense, are reported by some two in three North American 17-year-olds, but fewer among those in collectivist countries such as China (Collins et al., 2009; Li et al., 2010). Those who enjoy high-quality (intimate, supportive) relationships with family and friends tend also to enjoy similarly high-quality romantic relationships in adolescence, which set the stage for healthy adult relationships. Such relationships are, for most of us, a source of great pleasure.


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