Adolescence is one of the main developmental stages that is widely defined as the period between 13 and 18 years. This life stage is a transition from childhood into adulthood, which is why many psychologists consider it to be one of the critical periods in people’s life. This transitional stage can be challenging due to the increasing responsibility, changes in the family and lifestyle, and more. Indeed, it is a prevailing view that, although adolescents are no longer considered children, they differ from adults in their cognition, physiology, and behavior (Cleary, 2017). Thus, the period of adolescence is the time when teenagers experience a lot of new things and develop skills that will be useful for their further growth. Using developmental theory to develop a thorough understanding of adolescence as a major life stage can help to underline some of the fundamental conflicts and changes faced by teenagers at this age.
The principal physical features of adolescence are the hormonal changes that occur in the body. Although some boys and girls enter puberty in late childhood, the vast part of the sexual maturation happens between 13 and 16 years of age. Changes in the body are closely linked with new physical, emotional, and social experiences. Hormonal changes may affect the behavior of both boys and girls by inspiring mood swings, aggression, or depressive symptoms. A significant share of teenagers experience first love and become sexually active during adolescence.
Moreover, towards the end of adolescence, many teenagers go to college, moving out from their family home and entering an entirely new social structure along with other adolescents. Adolescence is also widely associated with developing a sense of purpose and setting future goals, which can also impact the way teenagers cope with their experiences (Malin, Reilly, Quinn, & Moran, 2014). Cognitive development in adolescence focuses on building up knowledge and developing complex thinking patterns that characterize adult thinking. Some examples of cognitive development in adolescence include abstract thinking, logical reasoning, and creative problem-solving. Moving through adolescence successfully is a somewhat challenging task that requires a lot of social support; however, it can also be an exciting opportunity to gain valuable knowledge for adult life.
The richness of experiences that happen in adolescence has lead to multiple developmental theorists offering different views on this life stage. For example, Jean Piaget viewed adolescence as the formal operational stage beginning at around 11 years of age (Burman, 2016). Piaget’s theory is mostly focused on the cognitive development of teenagers at this stage and stresses the evolution of abstract thinking and logical thought (Burman, 2016). Freud’s theory, on the other hand, views adolescence as a psychosexual stage. According to Freud, adolescence can be categorized as the genital stage, lasting from puberty to adulthood. During this period, teenagers explore their newly discovered sexual instincts with members of the opposite sex (Thurschwell, 2014). Successful development through the genital stage allows them to build a loving and trustful heterosexual relationship in adulthood.
Another notable theorist in the field of developmental psychology is Erik Erikson. Although his work was largely built on Freud’s theory of psychosexual development, Erikson moved further to explain the impact of social interactions on behavior and identity during the entire lifespan. Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development follows the growth of a person from birth to old age, describing each stage of life as a particular conflict to be resolved and a task to be fulfilled. Similarly to Freud, Erikson differentiated five separate developmental stages from birth to 18 years of age, each focused on a different conflict. For instance, infancy (0-12 months) is characterized by a psychosocial crisis of trust. The goal of the infant at this time is to develop trust by receiving appropriate care from parents or caregivers (Rathus, 2013). The fundamental developmental task for infants is to build trust and hope in the primary caregivers. Between 6 and 12 years, on the other hand, children experience a crisis of industry, where their primary task is to become motivated for learning and acquiring new skills (Rathus, 2013).
Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development explains adolescence in a more comprehensive manner, combining the physical and sexual aspects of maturity with the social development that mainly characterizes this life stage. According to Erikson, adolescence is focused on the identity crisis, or the conflict between identity and role diffusion (Rathus, 2013). Each of the Erikson’s psychosocial stages is also designed to fulfill a particular developmental task. For adolescents, the mission is to “associate one’s skills and social roles with the development of career goals” (Rathus, 2013, p. 11). Thus, Erikson’s theory takes into account all the various changes that occur in teenagers’ lives during their progression into adulthood rather than focusing on a single aspect of growth. By resolving the conflict of identity and fulfilling the developmental task, adolescents build a sense of self that shapes their adult life and future growth.
Overall, adolescence is a critical life stage that enables youths to succeed in their further life. Out of the three developmental theorists identified in the paper, Erikson explains adolescence most thoroughly, linking together all the different changes that occur to teenagers at the time. Viewing adolescence from the perspective of psychosocial development allows taking into account the full variety cognitive, physical, social, and emotional factors that usually have an impact on young people during this stage. Furthermore, Erikson provides a clear vision of successful growth in adolescence and shows how it impacts further life stages.
Burman, E. (2016). Deconstructing developmental psychology. Oxford, UK: Taylor & Francis.
Cleary, H. (2017). Applying the lessons of developmental psychology to the study of juvenile interrogations: New directions for research, policy, and practice. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 23(1), 118-130.
Malin, H., Reilly, T. S., Quinn, B., & Moran, S. (2014). Adolescent purpose development: Exploring empathy, discovering roles, shifting priorities, and creating pathways. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 24(1), 186-199.
Rathus, S. A. (2013). Childhood and adolescence: Voyages in development. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
Thurschwell, P. (2014). Psychoanalysis, literature, and the “case” of adolescence. In L. Marcus (Ed.), A concise companion to psychoanalysis, literature, and culture (pp. 167-189). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.