Adolescence is the period between twelve to eighteen years where physical and psychological changes take place. In this stage, the adolescents begin to accept their physique and gender role, establish relationship with age mates, become emotionally independent from their parents and families, develop intellectual and social skills, and prepare for a career and family life.
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Human development is a continuous process. It does not end when a person reaches physical maturity. It continues throughout life. Developmental psychologists seek to describe and analyze the regularities of human development across the entire life span and focuses on those aspects of development that make us similar to one another (Atkinson, 1993).
This paper will focus on the case study of an adolescent in relation to the cognitive, psychosexual, psychosocial, ego, and moral reasoning theories.
Brian, a fifteen year old student was caught bullying his classmates and forcing them to give him their money. In the interview, Brian mentioned that he is involved with a group of teenage boys who has asked him to collect money to defray the hospital bills of one of their group member’s mother who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. When he was caught by school authorities, Brian blamed the society’s failure to meet the medical and health care needs of the poor and he is only doing what is best for the sick and dying person. Brian is performing well in his studies and attends classes regularly. He is a basketball varsity player and has no record of using prohibited drugs.
He however expresses his desire to live independently apart from his parents when he graduates from high school as they resent his relationship with his girlfriend. While in college, he aims to get a college varsity scholarship and a part-time job. When asked if he thinks it is right to rob money from others, he felt that what he did was wrong but he wants to be fully accepted by his friends. He also mentioned that his friend’s mother is going to die soon and he could not stand to see her suffer.
The progress in the cognitive areas for the adolescents usually accompanies the changes in physical development. Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development describes how people perceive, think and acquire understanding of their world through the interaction and influence of genetic and learning factors. Piaget believes that all people go through the same four stages, e.g. sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operational stages (Santrock, 1990). Each of these stages is more advanced than the preceding stage because it involves new reasoning and thinking abilities.
From twelve years old through adulthood, a person is in the formal operational stage which is Piaget’s fourth cognitive stage. In this stage, an adolescent like Brian develop thinking and reasoning similar to typical adults. Brian encounters new worlds of abstract concepts and discusses hypothetical situations and problems. He discusses ideas such as freedom, unity and love, and become more adept at solving verbal problems and examining hypothetical situations such as “What will happen if everyone will rob other people’s money?”
Sigmund Freud hypothesized that each of us goes through five psychosexual stages, e.g. oral, anal, phallic, latency and genital stages during which the inpidual seeks pleasure from different areas of the body associated with sexual feelings (Freud, 1990). For the Freudian perspectives, a person’s personality is determined by ways in which he or she resolves the psychological conflicts during the psychosexual stages of childhood and adolescence.
The genital stage is the period from puberty through adulthood when the person has renewed sexual desire that is fulfilled through heterosexual pleasure such as having relationships with members of the opposite sex. Brian has established a relationship with a girl even without the approval of his parents. If Brian successfully resolves the conflicts in each psychosexual stage, he would develop a loving, healthy and mature adult personality.
Erik Erikson gave us eight psychosocial stages, e.g. trust versus mistrust, autonomy versus shame and doubt, initiative versus guilt, industry versus inferiority, identity versus confusion, intimacy versus isolation, generativity versus stagnation, and integrity versus despair (Erikson 1991). These theories are based on the hypothesis that inpiduals pass through stages in which specific types of conflicts are to be resolved and the way they resolve these conflicts will influence their adult personalities. In the period of identity versus confusion, the adolescent acquires a variety of new developmental skills. Brian has a realistic perspective of life as manifested in the plans that he has expressed when he goes to college.
He is aware of the conflict between his parents and his desire to have a relationship with his girlfriend and resolves the issue by considering living independently apart from his parents. Brian is behaving recklessly as he bullies other schoolmates in order to be accepted by his group. Brian’s inner conflict is highlighted by his desire to please his friends and to help the sick and dying person. Brian has not left behind the carefree, irresponsibility and impulsive behaviors of childhood and he has not developed the more purposeful, responsible, planned behaviors of an adult. If Brian is unsuccessful in making changes, he will not develop a sense of confidence, values and a positive identity. He will also experience role confusion, which will result in low self-esteem and will become socially withdrawn.
Jane Loevinger has described seven stages of ego development, e.g. pre-social or symbiotic, impulsive, self-protective, conformist, conscientious, and integrated wholeness (Loevinger 1976). Loevinger claimed that some adolescents’ personalities reflect more advanced stages of ego development than some adults. The first two stages, pre-social and impulsive, are observed in childhood. The next stage, self-protective, is present in adolescents. These inpiduals tend to be manipulative, desire to protect themselves and follow rules only when it is to their advantage. In the fourth stage, the adolescent manifest a conformist character which is characterized by a desire to obey rules, to be accepted and to be happy.
Those who have reached the fifth stage have the conscientious character. They are self-conscious, reflective, concern with self-respect and have their own standards of excellence. At the sixth stage, the person has an autonomous character, a strong sense of inpiduality and a desire to deal with inner conflict. At the integrated wholeness level, the person has reconciled inner conflicts, renounced unattainable goals and has a deep regard for inpiduality. Brian is in the self-protective stage as he blames the society’s failure to offer proper medical and health care needs to the poor when he was caught bullying other students. He is also manipulative as he claimed to be doing what is best for the sick and dying person. He has not shown any ego traits that are expected in a higher level of ego development.
Moral Reasoning Development
Lawrence Kohlberg (1984) has classified moral reasoning into a three level, six-stage theory, e.g. preconventional, conventional, and postconventional. Kohlberg claimed that everyone progresses through the levels in order, from lowest to highest, and not everyone reaches the highest level of moral development. Most adolescents are at the intermediate level which is known as the conventional level of moral reasoning. At this stage, the adolescent desires to live up to others’ expectation, to internalize society’s standards and to fulfill their duties and responsibilities. In addition, they are more concerned with concepts like fairness and are able to empathize with other people.
Before passing any judgment, they examine other people’s perspectives and are more concern with the welfare of the group instead of focusing on their personal gain. In the case of Brian, he is trying to live up to his friends’ expectations and fulfill his duties to his friends. He has shown concern with the welfare of other people but he has not thought about the consequences of his actions.
At stage 3 in the conventional level, moral decisions are guided by conforming to the standards of others we value. At stage 4, moral reasoning is determined mostly by conforming to the laws of society. Currently, Brian is at stage 3 since he has bullied his schoolmates and got their money because that is what his friends expected him to do. If he is at stage 4, he might say that he should not steal the money because he would carefully thought of what would happen to society if everybody took what they needed.
Cognitively, Brian’s thinking and reasoning ability is similar to a typical adult. His relationship with his girlfriend and his ability to resolve conflicts in each of Freud’s psychosexual stage will lead to the development of a mature personality. Brian lacks the psychosocial development that is expected of an adolescent as he remains attached to his peers and could not resolve the conflict between pleasing his friends and doing what is right. This is a manifestation of a low self-esteem and a carefree and impulsive behavior. However, he has taken the issue of the conflict between his parents and his desire to have a relationship with his girlfriend seriously as he plans to live independently after high school.
When Brian was caught bullying his schoolmates, he did not confront his action and face its consequence. Instead, he blamed society’s failure to offer proper medical and health care needs to the poor, a typical manipulative behavior in the self-protective stage of the ego development. Brian’s moral decisions are guided by his desire to please his friends and meet their expectations. He has not thought about the result of his actions and its negative effect to himself, to others and to the society.
- Atkinson, R.L., R.C. Atkinson, E.E. Smith, D.J. Bem, and S. Nolen-Hoeksema (1993). Introduction to psychology. Orlando, FL: Hancourt Brace and Company.
- Erikson, E.H. (1991). Children and society. New York:W.W. Norton and Company.
- Freud, S. (1990). The psychopathology of everyday life. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc.
- Kohlberg, L. (1984). The psychology of moral development: Essay on moral development. Vol.11. San Francisco: Harper and Row.
- Loevinger, J. (1976). Ego development: Conceptions and theories. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
- Santrock, J.W. (1990). Children. 2nd ed. Dubuque, Iowa: Wm. C. Brown Communication, Inc.
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