Lifespan Development and Personality Theories

Physical Development

Adolescence is usually described as the age between 12 and 18 years old. It starts with puberty, which is characterized by a number of physical changes connected to a human body becoming capable of reproducing. At this stage, primary sexual characteristics and secondary sexual characteristics are developed (Spielman, Jenkins, Dumper, Lovett, & Perlmutter, 2018). Important milestones of physical development at this age are menarche in girls (the beginning of the menstrual cycle) and sphermarhce in boys (the first ejaculation). During puberty, adolescents also tend to rapidly increase in height (Spielman et al., 2018). While these changes happen to every teenager, their pace and extent vary. Physical development of teenagers is influenced by many factors, including genetics and nutrition (“Unique issues in physical development,” n.d.). For example, even a child of tall parents can be short if malnourished because a lack of nourishment will prevent them from reaching their potential height.

Puberty is a difficult period for young adults since it requires much adaptation to these new physical characteristics. For example, girls who start menstruating later than their peers may feel excluded and become concerned that something is wrong with them. It can lead to the development of various complexes. Some girls gain significant amounts of weight during puberty and may experience negative comments from their peers or even family members. This kind of negative body image can sometimes lead to self-harm or the development of eating disorders. Teenagers who struggle with acne (which can often occur among adolescents during puberty) may also become considerably self-conscious. Their social environment is, therefore, highly important at this stage. The process of puberty can be less stressful and traumatizing if peers do not make any negative comments regarding an individual’s appearance. Parents should also be supportive and explain that the process their child is going through is natural.

Cognitive Development

Many cognitive changes appear during adolescence. It is the time when people form abilities to consider multiple points of view and operate abstract ideas (“Cognitive development in the teen years,” n.d.). The process of thinking itself becomes more complicated, but, as some scientists point out, not due to the formation of new skills, but thanks to the increasing speed and efficiency of cognitive processes (Bjorkland, 1987, as cited in Spielman et al., 2018). Caregivers can foster abilities to reason by encouraging discussions (“Cognitive development in teen years,” n.d.). This can help an adolescent to consider various points of view and talk about a broad range of topics.

Genes play an important important role in conginitive development. Some studies indicate, for example, that neurocognitive measures are to a large extent inherited (Mollon et al., 2018). However, there is research that claims that the social environment and income level can affect the development of cognitive skills in teenagers (Spielman et al., 2018). For example, it is often the case that children from low-income families show poorer academic achievements than their peers. However, it may be connected to the fact that they are often neglected by teachers or have less time for studying. Yet, it is established that there is a correlation between academic achievements and parents’ level of involvement in a child’s education (Morawska & Mitchell, 2018). Therefore, it is advisable that they actively participate in their childs school life.

Stress can also affect an adolescenent’s cognitive abilities. They may experience difficulties thinking logically when emotions are involved (“Cognitive development in teen years,” n.d.). For example, a teenager who can reason well while discussing some general topics may lose the ability to think logically when they feel pressured or get angry. However, the extent of this phenomenon may vary from person to person, depending on their temperament. Therefore, parents must try to limit stressful situations since they can push adolescents to make reckless decisions.

Two Theoretical Perspectives on Social, Moral, and Personality Development

While their abilities for critical thinking and operating abstract ideas increase, adolescents face the necessity to form moral guidelines. An American psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg created a theory of moral development which, he believed, occurs by a series of stages (Spielman et al., 2018). Preconditional morality is common among children and is characterized by judging the moral admissibility of an action by its direct consequences (Spielman et al., 2018). Conventional morality involves more regard for social norms and expectations, while post-conventional morality seen in adults implies paying more attention to an individual’s perspective, their rights, and values (Speilman et al., 2018). Kohlberg believed that, during adolescence, people commonly transit to conventional morality from preconditional morality (Speilman et al., 2018). At this stage, adolescents are particularly concerned with living according to other people’s expectations.

Hence, during this period their social environment plays a crucial role. For instance, in religious families, children often pursue their moral reasoning based on religious dogmas. A teenager whose father often expresses negative comments towards gay people may engage in bullying towards their homosexual classmate, thus, consciously or subconsciously seeking praise from his parent. Hoping for acceptance, adolescents may also participate in bullying if biases towards certain minorities are common among their peers.

While discussing the formation of a teenager’s personality, it might be useful to look into Erik Erikson’s model of psychological development. His theory implies that at each stage of their growth, an individual faces a particular conflict they should resolve (Spielman et al, 2018). Erikson also claimed that the way humans interact with others “affects their sense of self” (Spielman et al., 2018, p. 291). According to Erikson’s ideas, the main challenge of adolescence is forming an identity. During their teenage years, people should determine their views and ideas, independently from their parents or peers positions.

During this period they select and learn the role models they are going to perform when they become adults. If at the stage of identity formation adolescents experience external pressure, it may lead to the development of a negative identity (McLeod, 2018). On the other hand, they may also submit to others’ expectations since, as Kohlberg’s theory suggests, conventional reasoning is particularly high at this stage. This may lead to frustration and long-lasting feeling of unhappiness. Social determinants undoubtfully matter, but the strategy which an adolescent employs when dealing with this kind of pressure may also depend on factors considered hereditary, such as resistance to stress and obedience to authority (Spielman et al., 2018). Such traits constitute temperament – biologically determined characteristics that affect a human’s behavior (Kagan, 2018). For instance, teenagers who are prone to strong emotions are more likely to respond in emotional ways to external pressure and rebel by creating a negative personality. At the same time, more phlegmatic people would often submit to imposed roles. However, even teenagers who are more predisposed to conformity can form their identities based on their own ideas and values if their social environment allows. Therefore, both hereditary traits and social factors matter in the development of personality.


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