Reflective report of adolescent developmental psychology

In this essay, I will be discussing the adolescence stage of my life when I had to move from Singapore to UK. Development theories explain how children develop their personality from the experiences they go through and how they also learn how to relate with others from their past experiences. Jean Piaget (1896 – 1980) and Erik Erikson (1902 – 1994), had considerable studies in the developmental theory. According to their theories, children develop in stages, each of which has a significant contribution to the development process for example, if a child successfully completes a stage in the development process, he/she develops a better personality and it also contributes to his/her ability to develop healthy relationships with others. On the other hand, if a child does not successfully complete a stage, his/her personality and relationship with others are compromised (Siegel & Rider, 2009, p. 23).

Piaget developed a cognitive developmental approach to development. He believed that cognitive schemes are developed to assist us to work within the world. He believed that a 7 to 11 year old child’s logic takes a great leap forward with the development of new internal operations, such as conservation and class inclusion, but is still tied to the known world; by the end of the period, he can reason about simple ‘what if’ questions. Personally I can relate to this, as I was 10 years old when I moved from Singapore to London. I began school within 2 months of my arrival in London, and I was not expecting major changes being that I was no different to any of the other 10-year old boys. I did not see them differently however my classmates noticed that I was. Their crude remarks that I had a different accent made me aware that I was different. This stage of development is influenced by the widening world experience of the child. As friends, teachers, social contacts and the like express their versions of the world reality, the child responds by opening up their thinking and creating new schemes about the world. This leads to a decrease in both egocentrism and appearances being mistaken for reality. Reverse thinking now occurs through mental operations i.e. ‘actions that are performed on objects or ideas and that consistently yield a result’ (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2000, p205). I would agree to this as I became very conscious of my accent and how I spoke. Fortunately for me, by nature I was a relatively quiet child and avoided speaking as much as possible. This, of course, let to another set of problems as the school- teachers thought I was not interacting enough in class. It did not help when the teachers themselves made comments about my accent. Some would call this bullying and according to Randall, this ‘could have substantially contributed to building the perseverance’ (Randall, 2001, p. 57).

By the time I was reached my 13th birthday, I was attending my third school and fortunately managed to settle in. In Piaget’s model, I was in what is termed ‘Formal Operations’, where a child at this stage can not only attend to the concrete and the real, but also can also think hypothetically and reason in an abstract way. Another aspect of this stage is the use of deductive reasoning i.e. ‘the ability to make appropriate conclusions from facts’ (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2000, p206). Problem solving now begins to be more systematic and scientific than the previous trial and error approach of concrete operations hence I could now hypothesis and work out what was happening and thinking through possible explanations for certain events rather than testing the situation to see the result and effect.

Erikson suggests that development results from conflicts driven ‘from the interaction between internal drives and cultural demands’ (Bee & Boyd, 2002, p28). An individual needs to resolve the psychosocial crisis at each of the eight stages throughout life in order to develop a healthy personality. Erikson viewed the crises as opposing possibilities. I would agree to this as I completed my final two years of education in a UK boarding school and I was happiest in this school. This is because I had learned to adapt to the different cultures and as the “Learning theorists like Skinner, suggest that experience leads to development”. The repetitive nature of behaviour is founded on the individual gaining some desired outcome from that behaviour. However in some cases, an undesirable outcome is the result and the individual learns to decrease or eradicate that behaviour. In my case, there was no undesirable outcome. I believe my sense of self, consideration of future choices, and the understanding of other’s values help me to adapt and grow in a foreign environment. So fortunately, as opposed to Foos and Clark study in 2004, I did not develop any unacceptable behaviour in order to be recognized by my peers (Foos & Clark 2003, p. 34). Erikson referred to this period as the ‘who am I?’ stage, whereby in early teenage, adolescents are preoccupied with the establishment of a personal identity and setting of goals defining what their future will be. According to Erikson, adolescents must develop an appropriate and stable self concept failure to which an identity crisis occurs. Consequently, the adolescent will not be aware of the roles he/she is supposed to play in the society and thus he/she does not establish a stable life ism. This will affect his/her development socially and career wise. Thus the bullying and isolation of the child could be explained by lack of self identity of the perpetrators (Foos & Clark, 2003, p. 62).

One of the main criticisms of Piaget’s theory is that there may well be a thinking stage beyond formal operations. In other words, we do not peak at 12 or 13 in the development of our thinking, reasoning, logic, or other cognitive skills. In fact Klaczynski (2000, 2001: Sigelman & Rider, 2003, p178) suggests that two forms of reasoning, i.e. intuitive and scientific, seem to coexist rather than the Piagetian notion that scientific replaces intuitive. If Piaget is correct, then individuals develop a coherent thinking pattern. This pattern is then used in all situations. The truth is more likely to be that our thinking does not develop coherently but develops in some areas and styles whilst not developing in others. I would tend to agree with this reason as I think part of my earlier problems was the fact that my classmates were ignorant due to the lack of familiarity and general knowledge gained through their specific and different life experience. Vygotsky adds that the child’s cognitive development is directly affected by the use of language. Not only is language expanded through social interaction but so too are cognitive skills. The cultural interactions teach the child how to respond to certain situations and develop the culturally appropriate thinking skills. Observational learning is a critical aspect of social learning theory. ‘People learn much by simply watching those around them, which is known as imitation or observational learning’ (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2000, p19). Learning involves both the processes of observation as well as a cognitive process. This process leads the person observing the behaviour to make decisions about taking on the behaviour they observe or avoiding that behaviour. Buhler suggests that a successful life would involve the realistic selection of a range of goals that are consistent with the individual’s creative potential, personal values and possibilities; an honest and hard-working endeavour to meet these goals and the monitoring and modification of goal direction to suit the current life phase and its biological and social circumstances (Peterson, 2004, pp63-64)

As biological growth combines with the family and school environment to foster skills and interests, children and adolescents gain the necessary preparation for goal setting by becoming increasingly aware of their own talents and limitations. The concept of self is a sense of who we are and what makes us different from other people. This sense of self begins to form early in our lives and continues to develop throughout it. The ideal self is likened to the superego part of Freud’s model. It is based on the internalised expectations of others and our own expectations of our self. The real self is how we actually are in life. It is often not a match to the ideal and this can cause concern for individuals. The behaviour characteristics of adolescents can be explained in neurodevelopment studies (Breyer & Winters, 2002, p 2) such as misreading facial expressions and therefore reacting negatively as it happened during my first year in UK.

Adolescence is a transition period from being a child into being an adult. It provides a variety of physical changes as the basis of this transition. So not only was I going through social changes, my physical being was changing too. For me, my growth spurt started around 13 when I was in my third school and I was more or less in the average group and no longer the smallest in size in class. I continued to grow till I was 18 when I entered National Service in Singapore. Back in Singapore, I was no different in height and size from the next male in the street and I was not aware that within the physical realm, there is asynchronous development as Peterson (2004, p330) points out. It will be sometime before I reach 35 where the peak ends and we start to decline physically in various ways. The way people conceptualise and describe him- or her- self varies over time. Physical appearance, possessions and activities characterise descriptions of significant others from younger children using words such as ‘nice’ or ‘mean’ to describe their friends. At adolescence, the person is more likely to not only describes someone as ‘mean’ but also to explain their behaviour because they are ‘mean’. Eventually the complexity of the descriptions combines with the analysis of the individual’s behaviour to give a more coherent description of another person. The more mature the individual, the more likely they are to be able to accommodate contradictions in behaviour into their view of the other person.

As I reflect on my adolescent years, I can see the existence of differences in my development for a capacity for entertaining contradictions and being able to see a variety of angles to a situation simultaneously. Whether this continues in my adulthood or not is more dependent on the amount of social involvement than purely an age-related issue. Sigelman and Rider (2003) identified the following factors from a variety of research studies that affect the maintenance of higher-level social-cognitive skills including being socially active, being deeply involved in meaningful social roles, have opportunities to talk to other people about problems they are experiencing, tend to be well educated and tend to be in good health (Sigelman & Rider, 2003 p346). Peterson (2004) suggests there are four hallmarks of the lifespan approach which includes lifelong development, continuity and change, biology and culture and normative transition events that occur throughout the lifespan (Peterson, 2004, p5-6). And Sigelman and Rider (2006) added development is multidirectional i.e. growth in one area, whilst decline in another, with no change at all in yet another so it involves both gain and loss and is influenced by interacting causes both inside and out of the individual (Sigelman & Rider, 2006, p371)

In conclusion, development is a complex interplay of many factors throughout all times in our life. In this essay of a reflection of my adolescent years, I can relate to the developmental theories of Piaget and Erikson. The studies by Peterson on the four hallmarks of the lifespan approach especially in “continuity and change” and “biology and culture” and that of Sigelman & Rider that “development is multiply influenced” supports the theories.

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