Monday, July 16, 2012

Adolescence: Psychosocial Milestones

As baby nears adulthood, she goes through a crisis of self. The question on her mind will be, "Who am I?" Erikson called this stage identity versus role confusion. This complex search for self becomes the primary focus of adolescence, contributing at least in part to almost everything she does. The ultimate goal of adolescence and this psychosocial crisis is identity achievement - the understanding of self as a unique individual. The opposite is role confusion, the adolescent simply does not know or sometimes even care what her identity is, and it is characterized by apathy. The adolescent in role confusion has trouble getting homework done, putting clothes away, and thinking about the future. The only response you'll ever hear from such a teen is, "Whatever."

Two additional ways postulated by James Marcia to deal with this crisis are called foreclosure and moratorium. Foreclosure occurs when adolescents, sick of dealing with their confusion, accept traditional values (either of their parents or society) without question. For example, if a boy's father is a doctor, he may start taking advanced biology in high school and shut out many other options. Moratorium is a more mature response, it is a time-out to postpone identity achievement. Going to college (and taking general education courses) is a very common moratorium in the US. Military service, missionary work, internships, etc. can all assist the adolescent in postponing identity achievement.

Erikson suggested four different areas of potential identity achievement for baby. Religious identity is one that few teens reach. Some teens question their faith, others become devoted to it. A 2005 survey showed that only 8% of teenagers were firm believers. Gender identity (Erikson called it sexual identity) is a person's acceptance of the roles and behaviors generally assigned to their sex. Political or ethnic identity refers to identifying with a group, either a political party or with country of origin. Ethnic identity is the more common today as African Americans, Latinos and others struggle to deal with the struggle between their modern self and their history. The last, vocational identity, is rarely achieved in adolescence nowadays until age 25 or so. Many adolescents simply have no idea of what they plan to do or be, and exciting, creative jobs generally aren't open to 16-year-olds.

For many adolescents, adults seem to be the last thing that matters, but when baby feels valued by the community, she is less likely to abuse drugs, drop out of school, or take many risks. Parents, extended family, teachers, and church leaders can all be part of her support network. The parental relationship is very important and disputes arise causing contention. Bickering can become the order of the day - seemingly endless, mindless fighting about day-to-day routines. Part of it is caused by the parents' notice of resistance and carelessness. They will express concern but a stubborn adolescent and a fearful parent do not make for a great combination. A healthy relationship involves some conflict, and eventually the teen should grow to appreciate her parents. However, if the teen feels continued hostility, the relationship may worsen over the years. Neglectful parenting may be the easy way to deal with an adolescent, but the lack of attention can only worsen things.

To improve closeness there should be more than conflict in your relationship with baby. There should be open communication, support, emotional connection and control. Positive parents provide a buffer against the rough times and turbulence of adolescence. You should monitor baby, but you should be warm and loving rather than cold and controlling.

Peer influence comes heavily into play in the teen years. Teens admit their disinterest in school but they keep going because friends will be there. Cliques form - small groups of close friends who are fiercely loyal to each other. Crowds also form - larger groups of adolescents with common interests (though not all have to be friends). Style becomes the most important thing in life. Peers become more than friends to other adolescents, they become family. Having a close friend can keep baby's emotions in check, calming her down when she feels like she might snap. Peer pressure may be your biggest fear, but baby not only needs friends, but often peer pressure can be positive.

They negative type of peer pressure is hard to anticipate or prepare for. You can't just tell her that people will try to get her to drink at a party, because the chances of that actually happening are slim. What really happens is baby will go to a party, everyone will be drinking, and she'll feel embarrassed that everyone but her seems to be drinking and having fun.

Influences of parents, peers, and community come together in baby's emerging sexuality. Adolescents have strong sexual urges - it's their nature. Some repress these urges and other obsess over them. If a teen becomes exclusive with a partner early on, it is a sign of social trouble and not maturity. Long lasting relationships generally do not come along until age 25 or so. Teens often have friends of the opposite sex, but this is nothing to fear. Break-ups and unreciprocated crushes start coming along in high school; love is a part of daily life for baby who will probably fall in love a time or two in high school. Gay youth often hide their sexuality to avoid social problems and date members of the opposite sex to keep their orientation a secret. Many homosexual men have reported discovering their orientation around age 11 but not telling anyone until age 17. There are many more who experiment with same-sex sexuality, possibly as a part of sexual awakening.

Cultures vary greatly in the way they treat sexual desires of adolescents. From child weddings in some cultures to chastity belts to shotgun weddings, some places consider these desirable while others reject them as options. What they need most - consistent guidance regarding the joys and hazards of sex - is hard to come by for adolescents. Their behavior ends up being influenced mostly by their peers, often a clique is made up of all virgins or all sexually experienced teens. The risks of infection for teens are high, but rarely in the heat of the moment will adolescents stop to discuss the risks of pregnancy or the chance that one of them already has an STI.

Parents often wait to educate their children about sex until they are already in the throes of a romantic relationship. One study showed that while 38% of 12-year-old girls admitted to having kissed boys or hanging out with older boys, while only 5% of parents thought their daughters had done so. Parents underestimate adolescents' ability to engage in responsible sex. The best thing you can do is talk to baby about sex instead of pretending she's not like the other girls her age. Sex education varies greatly in schools and communities.

Of course, not all teenagers have sex. The norms vary greatly, but in the US more than half of all teens had had intercourse by age 16. However, teen birth rates worldwide have decreased, as well as rates of teenage abortion.

While most adolescents are enjoying this time in life, about 20% have serious troubles such as depression and pathological disorders. Low self-esteem can cause problems throughout adolescence, leaving teens to turn to drugs, sex, and eating disorders. Clinical depression is depression that disrupts regular activities and has various causes, such as genetic vulnerability, depressed caregivers, and puberty can push teens, especially girls, into despair. It has been theorized that girls fall into depression more easily because they are more likely to ruminate and reminisce over past experiences. Suicide ideation, or thinking about killing oneself, becomes a serious problem especially around age 15. Statistics show that 19% of girls and 10% of boys seriously contemplate suicide. Even with these high numbers, teens are less likely to kill themselves than adults. Cluster suicides, multiple suicides within a group over a short period of time, can happen whenever a successful suicide is sentimentalized. In other words, if one of baby's friends commit suicide, she is at a higher risk. Parasuicide is the correct term for an attempted but unsuccessful suicide. The parasuicide rate can range between 6 and 20% whereas the rate of completed suicide is only about 0.008%.

Less sobering but still a major negative part of life for adolescents is anger. Baby will act out in ways you never thought possible. Many teens - boys in particular - steal, damage property, or injure others. This behavior, while strange to you, is normal. Anna Freud (Sigmund's daughter) said that "good" teens have stopped in their psychosocial development, not progressing past the latency of middle childhood. Adolescents vary and many do not break the law. Studies show that increased anger is normal, but most express their anger in acceptable ways. While boys are more likely to get arrested for their crimes, data shows that girls are more likely to break the law - but they are more discreet in their law-breaking and more likely to talk themselves out of an arrest if need be. Mothers abuse children twice as often as fathers do, and in heterosexual relationships, women are more likely to abuse their husbands than the other way around. But women hurt with words, not knives. In school they use relational aggression, the exclusion of others and gossiping, making them perhaps the more poisonous sex.

The best way to prevent any of this behavior is to have a relationship with baby. Adolescents who have healthy relationships with parents, are connected to their teachers, active in church, or involved in after-school sports are not as likely to break the law.

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