Human development is marked by different stages and milestones over the lifespan. It is expressed over three domains: physical, cognitive and socio/emotional. While human physical and cognitive development is universal, socio/emotional definitions and development vary from culture to culture. Gaining a basic knowledge of human lifespan development will lead to a better understanding of the appearance, perceptions and behaviors of the self and others. Adolescence is a demanding and critical period in life. Failure to meet certain developmental milestones can have serious short- and long-term implications for the individual and society at large. Adolescence is a transitional stage of physical and psychological human development generally occurring during the period from puberty to legal adulthood (age of majority). The period of adolescence is most closely associated with the teenage years, although its physical, psychological and cultural expressions can begin earlier and end later.
For example, although puberty has been historically associated with the onset of adolescent development, it now typically begins prior to the teenage years and there have been a normative shift of it occurring in preadolescence, particularly in females. Physical growth, as distinct from puberty (particularly in males), and cognitive development generally seen in adolescence, can also extend into the early twenties. Thus chronological age provides only a rough marker of adolescence, and scholars have found it difficult to agree upon a precise definition of adolescence. A thorough understanding of adolescence in society depends on information from various perspectives, most importantly from the areas of psychology, biology, history, sociology, education, and anthropology. Within all of these perspectives, adolescence is viewed as a transitional period between childhood and adulthood whose cultural purpose is the preparation of children for adult roles.
Stages of Human Development
The various stages of human development include the prenatal period, infancy, toddlerhood, early childhood, middle childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, middle adulthood and late adulthood. Each stage is marked by milestones in physical, cognitive, and socio/emotional development.
1. Physical Development
Physical development has to do with the way that the human body develops over a lifespan. The most rapid and complex human development occurs during the prenatal period. From infancy to early childhood, the physical milestones include developing motor skills like learning to control body movements, walk, talk, speak, use tools like spoons and forks and use the rest room. From infancy to early childhood, humans grow in height, weight and mass and get their first set of teeth. Middle childhood has only a few physical milestones, such as continued growth at a much slower rate and the gain of permanent teeth. Adolescence is the second most rapid and complex time of human development and is when the sexual maturation process begins.
Females begin to grow breasts, their hips expand and they grow pubic hair and begin menstruation, which marks their physical ability to procreate. They may grow a few inches more in height. Males have significant growth spurts and develop facial and pubic hair, their voices deepen and they begin to have sperm-producing ejaculations, signifying their ability to procreate. Young adulthood is when humans are at the prime of their physical development. All of the systems are functioning optimally, making this the best time for reproduction. Middle adulthood brings the beginning of physical deterioration, such as the end of fertility in women, or menopause. The decrease in physical abilities and health for both sexes continues through late adulthood
. 2. Cognitive Development
Cognitive development has to do with the way humans perceive and experience the world and deals with issues like memory, thinking and decision-making processes and concept comprehension. During the prenatal period, cognitive development is highly enveloped in physical development as the primary tool for cognition; the brain is still being developed. During infancy and early childhood, milestones like speaking, comprehension and object differentiation occur.
Thoughts about the world are simplistic, and judgments are made in an either/or framework. Middle childhood brings the beginning of concrete and logical thinking, and adolescence brings about a phase where cognitive judgments are often overridden by feelings and impulses because of the body’s rapidly changing physical and biological climate. Young adulthood is the human cognitive prime, as the capacity for rapid and accurate memory, thought processing and information analysis function at peak levels. Perceptions of the world, judgment and morality become more sophisticated and complex. During middle adulthood, humans are experts at problem solving, although they begin to experience some signs of decline with speed in processing and recall. Late adulthood signifies the continued deterioration of cognitive abilities.
There are two perspectives on adolescent thinking. One is the constructivist view of cognitive development. Based on the work of Piaget, it takes a quantitative, state-theory approach, hypothesizing that adolescents’ cognitive improvement is relatively sudden and drastic. The second is the information-processing perspective, which derives from the study of artificial intelligence and attempts to explain cognitive development in terms of the growth of specific components of the thinking process.
Improvements in cognitive ability
By the time individuals have reached age 15 or so, their basic thinking abilities are comparable to those of adults. These improvements occur in five areas during adolescence: 1. Attention. Improvements are seen in selective attention, the process by which one focuses on one stimulus while tuning out another. Divided attention, the ability to pay attention to two or more stimuli at the same time, also improves. 2. Memory. Improvements are seen in both working memory and long-term memory.
3. Processing speed. Adolescents think more quickly than children. Processing speed improves sharply between age five and middle adolescence; it then begins to level off at age 15 and does not appear to change between late adolescence and adulthood. 4. Organization. Adolescents are more aware of their own thought processes and can use mnemonic devices and other strategies to think more efficiently. 5. Meta-cognition – It often involves monitoring one’s own cognitive activity during the thinking process. Adolescents’ improvements in knowledge of their own thinking patterns lead to better self-control and more effective studying.
3. Socio/Emotional Development
Socio/emotional development has to do with how an individual is able to handle emotions, relationships, social situations, and the various roles demanded of them by society. Some aspect of Socio/Emotional standards, such as social expectations, relationships, and roles vary from culture to culture. During infancy and early childhood, the primary relationships are with the parents and based on attachment. Environmental exploration, impulsivity, differentiation of self (from others) and the basics of social interaction are learnt. In early childhood, impulsivity begins to give way to control, and awareness of consequences significantly affects behavioral choices.
Middle childhood begins the transition from family orientation to peer orientation, which carries on into adolescence. Issues of identify, sexuality and sexual expression, conflict and resolution and internal stability prevail. By young adulthood, the focus shifts from peers to career, social role, building external stability, finding a mate and starting a family. Middle adulthood is met with the psychological and emotional challenges of facing the mid-life crisis, and a life analysis and inventory is taken. Late adulthood marks the transition from the mid-life crisis. Life reflection, acceptance of death, and legacy building or making social contributions also occur at this phase.
I. Identity development
Among the most common beliefs about adolescence is that it is the time when teenagers form their personal identities. Egocentrism is being performed by adolescents who then form self-consciousness of wanting to feel important in their peer groups and having social acceptance of fitting into the group. Empirical studies suggest that this process might be more accurately described as identity development, rather than formation, but confirms a normative process of change in both content and structure of one’s thoughts about the self. Researchers have used three general approaches to understanding identity development: self-concept, sense of identity, and self-esteem. The years of adolescence create a more conscientious group of young adults. Adolescents pay close attention and give more time and effort to their appearance as their body goes through changes. Unlike children, teens put forth an effort to look presentable (1991). The environment in which an adolescent grows up also plays an important role in their identity development.
II. Self Concept
Early in adolescence, cognitive developments result in greater self-awareness, greater awareness of others and their thoughts and judgments, the ability to think about abstract, future possibilities, and the ability to consider multiple possibilities at once. As a result, adolescents experience a significant shift from the simple, concrete, and global self-descriptions typical of young children; as children, they defined themselves with physical traits whereas as adolescents, they define themselves based on their values, thoughts and opinions.
III. Sense of identity
Unlike the conflicting aspects of self-concept, identity represents a coherent sense of self stable across circumstances and including past experiences and future goals. Everyone has a self-concept, whereas Erik Erikson argued that not everyone fully achieves identity. Erikson’s theory of stages of development includes the identity crisis in which adolescents must explore different possibilities and integrate different parts of themselves before committing to their beliefs. He described the resolution of this process as a stage of “identity achievement” but also stressed that the identity challenge “is never fully resolved once and for all at one point in time”. Adolescents begin by defining themselves based on their crowd membership. “Clothes help teens explore new identities, separate from parents, and bond with peers.” Fashion has played a major role when it comes to teenagers “finding their selves”; Fashion is always evolving, which corresponds with the evolution of change in the personality of teenagers.
IV. Environment and identity
An adolescent’s environment plays a huge role in their identity development. While most adolescent studies are conducted on white, middle class children, studies have shown that the more privileged upbringing one has the more successful they will be in the development of their identity. The forming of an adolescent’s identity is a crucial time in their life. It has been recently found that demographic patterns suggest that the transition to adulthood is now occurring over a longer span of years than was the case during the middle of the 20th century. Accordingly, youth, a period that spans late adolescence and early adulthood, has become a more prominent stage of the life course. This therefore has caused various factors to become important during this development. So many factors contribute to the developing social identity of an adolescent from commitment, to coping devices, to social media. All of these factors are affected by the environment an adolescent grows up in.
A child from a more privileged upbringing will be exposed to more opportunities as well as better situations in general. An adolescent from an inner city or a crime driven neighborhood is more likely to be exposed to an environment that can be detrimental to their development. Adolescence is a very sensitive period in the development process of one’s life and exposure to the wrong things at that time can have a major affect on decisions someone will make. While children that grow up in nice suburban communities are not exposed to bad environments they are more likely to participate in activities that can benefit their identity and contribute to a more successful identity development.
V. Sexual orientation and identity
Sexual orientation has been defined as “an erotic inclination toward people of one or more genders, most often described as sexual or erotic attractions”. In recent years, psychologists have sought to understand how sexual orientation develops during adolescence. Some theorists believe that there are many different possible developmental paths one could take, and that the specific path an individual follows may be determined by their sex, orientation, and when they reached the onset of puberty.
The final major aspect of identity formation is self-esteem, one’s thoughts and feelings about one’s self-concept and identity. Contrary to popular belief, there is no empirical evidence for a significant drop in self-esteem over the course of adolescence. “Barometric self-esteem” fluctuates rapidly and can cause severe distress and anxiety, but baseline self-esteem remains highly stable across adolescence. Girls are most likely to enjoy high self-esteem when engaged in supportive relationships with friends; the most important function of friendship to them is having someone who can provide social and moral support. When they fail to win friends’ approval or couldn’t find someone with whom to share common activities and common interests, in these cases, girls will suffer from low self-esteem.
In contrast, boys are more concerned with establishing and asserting their independence and defining their relation to authority. As such, they are more likely to derive high self-esteem from their ability to successfully influence their friends; on the other hand, the lack of romantic competence, for example, failure to win or maintain the affection of the opposite or same-sex (depending on sexual orientation), is the major contributor to low self-esteem in adolescent boys. ECONOMIC CRISES CAN HAVE SERIOUS IMPLICATIONS FOR HUMAN DEVELOPMENT Financial crises, at both the global and the national level, are ubiquitous. This raises concern about the human impacts of crises, especially among more vulnerable populations in developing countries.
This is particularly true during childhood and youth, when the brain is developing rapidly, and when socio-emotional and behavioral developments are at their peak. Given the cumulative nature of human development, shortfalls or setbacks at any stage of the life course—from the antenatal environment through adolescence—are often difficult to reverse later in life and may have severe consequences for individual development as well as for the growth and development of successful communities. Thus, it is essential to protect and promote human development in the face of adversity. Three interrelated concepts provide the foundation for understanding the potential impacts of shocks on children and youth.
Human development is characterized by critical periods of life during which certain investments must be made to facilitate the achievement of specific milestones in development, or stage salient developmental tasks. These age-related expectations for the mastery of particular tasks provide benchmarks for the abilities that an individual should ideally master by different ages, and that are correlated with successful development and transition to subsequent stages in life. Economic crises can disrupt a young person’s “normal” development by preventing or delaying the mastery of these developmental tasks at specific stages, which—if uncorrected—can have potential long term consequences.
Development in childhood and youth is influenced by diverse contexts or settings (family, peers, schools, communities, socio-cultural belief systems, policy regimes, and the economy). The relative importance of these settings changes during the life course. Interactions among these settings determine both the transmission of shocks such as a financial crisis to the young person’s immediate environment and the impact of the shock on her development. As development is partly a function of a person’s repeated interactions with her immediate environment (the proximal processes of human development), shocks can disrupt the contexts in which these processes occur, and hinder a young person’s ability to develop successfully.
c) Transmission mechanisms:
There are numerous pathways through which a crisis can affect the well-being and development of a young person. Crises may be experienced directly at the individual level (through e.g. a change in aspirations and identity), or indirectly through the family, school, or other settings (through e.g. increased parental stress, parental job loss, a reduction in publicly-provided services). The developing person will experience crises through the loss in income, but also through other channels, such as psychological distress. The relevance of each particular transmission mechanism varies depending on the life stage of the person as well as on the context. Different settings may provide protective factors that prevent, mitigate or attenuate negative impacts; these factors can be a source of resilience, facilitating positive adaptive behavior on the part of the developing person.
Effects of economic crises on adolescents Adolescence is a crucial stage in a person’s development. Adolescence is marked by profound physical, emotional, and social transitions; the brain undergoes significant neurological development, and cognitive and socio-emotional abilities take shape. While social expectations of the precise timing of certain transitions vary across countries and cultures, all adolescents are eventually expected to make the transition to adulthood, including entering work, becoming financially independent, and starting a family. Adapting to these new roles and successfully managing this transition requires the mastery of three interrelated stage-salient tasks:
3 a. Autonomy and relatedness:
As young people mature, they renegotiate their relationships with parents, peers, teachers, and other adults. Settings outside the family, such as the workplace, become increasingly important. Young people must achieve greater personal and financial independence while maintaining positive relationships with parents and other adults.
The process of growing more autonomous and defining one’s role in society requires that adolescents establish personal and vocational preferences and aspirations.
c. Goal setting and achievement:
The ability to define goals and plan and act strategically provides the foundation for subsequent growth and development.
ECONOMIC CRISES CAN IMPAIR HEALTHY ADOLESCENT DEVELOPMENT
Crises affect the opportunities and support structures available to adolescents to develop the cognitive, socio-emotional, and behavioral competencies needed to master the stage-salient tasks. In particular, crises can lead to: i) Limited and unpredictable employment opportunities:
Youth employment tends to be more vulnerable to economic crises than adult employment. Young people are often engaged in temporary and unprotected work—such as seasonal, temporary, and part-time jobs—or in sectors particularly vulnerable to economic fluctuations, such as construction. By constraining employment opportunities, as well as the availability of other entry points into the labor market, such as internships and apprenticeships, economic shocks affect the process of acquiring necessary skills, work experience, and achieving financial autonomy. Worsening labor market conditions can also affect adolescents’ expectations, vocational identity, and personal goals, as the context and perceived likelihood of achieving them may change dramatically. ii) Loss of parental employment and income, and deterioration of family dynamics: The threat or realization of losing income or assets can lead to anxiety among parents, which is then transmitted to adolescents through parents’ emotions and behaviors. For example, the quality of parenting can be negatively affected, impairing the development of adolescents’ autonomy and ability to form relationships. Impaired family dynamics are linked to mental health problems and heightened incidence of risky behaviors.
Research also shows that adolescents who perceive economic stress within their families have lower self-expectations for the future. iii) Changes in the availability of adult role models outside the family: Crises may not only affect intra family dynamics, but also the availability of and interactions with positive role models in the school or community. Lower public expenditure can adversely affect the quality as well as quantity of schooling, while supervised extracurricular activities and out-of-school programs are often discontinued.
These reduce the availability of positive adult mentoring relationships, restricting the support and guidance available to adolescents in mastering their developmental tasks. In addition to these disruptions in their immediate environment, adolescents are more aware than younger children of the impact of shocks on socioeconomic status, and they may perceive economic pressures and stigma more directly. This can lead to additional difficulties with psychosocial adjustment, and influence their self-esteem, identity, future orientation, and efficacy beliefs. THE FAILURE TO MASTER CRITICAL TASKS CAN HAVE NEGATIVE IMPLICATIONS FOR ADOLESCENT DEVELOPMENT. Failure to achieve stage-salient developmental tasks can jeopardize other life outcomes. Although there is considerable heterogeneity across individuals, crises can have particularly negative consequences in the following areas:
a) Schooling & Employment:
Contrary to the experience of idiosyncratic shocks, such as parental job loss, there is no compelling evidence that young people leave school during aggregate crises to work and support the household. Young people have fewer job opportunities in a crisis; this decreases the perceived returns to entering the labor market relative to remaining in school. On the other hand, diminished opportunities for employment can severely affect those young people who do try to enter the labor market. Early un- and underemployment is known to have serious long-term effects on future employment and lifetime income, and these young people often fail to catch up when the economy rebounds.
b) Mental health:
By altering their relationships, identity, and goals for the future, unexpected life events can affect adolescents’ physical and mental health. Difficulty in the labor market may lead to hopelessness and lower self-esteem, especially for young people who are in the process of forming occupational identities. In fact, unemployment experienced at early ages is associated with stress, depression, and illness later in life. Mental health problems during youth can also lead to lower educational achievement, increased substance abuse, violence, and risky sexual behavior.
c) Risky behavior:
Economic adversity and its effects on the adolescent and her immediate environment may lead to greater risk taking, although this response is by no means universal. Crises can diminish the quality of parenting, which in turn may increase the likelihood for delinquency among youth. Similarly, stress and mental health problems have been associated with risky sexual activity. But while young people who experience severe stress are more prone to substance abuse, an income shock that decreases disposable income can decrease the consumption of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs.
Having some knowledge about human lifespan development is beneficial for many reasons. It increases self-awareness and understanding, which helps with life planning. If a female is aware of the stages of her physical development, for example, she will know that her natural childbearing years are limited. If she wants to have children, she can use family planning to make choices about her education, career and mate to support this goal. Additionally, this knowledge can be helpful for improving relationships and interpersonal communication and resolving conflicts.
Human development is marked by different stages and milestones over the lifespan. It is expressed over three domains: physical, cognitive and socio/emotional. While human physical and cognitive development is universal, socio/emotional definitions and development vary from culture to culture. Gaining a basic knowledge of human lifespan development will lead to a better understanding of the appearance, perceptions and behaviors of
the self and others. Physical development has to do with the way that the human body develops over a lifespan. The most rapid and complex human development occurs during the prenatal period. From infancy to early childhood, the physical milestones include developing motor skills like learning to control body movements, walk, talk, speak, use tools like spoons and forks and use the rest room.
From infancy to early childhood, humans grow in height, weight and mass and get their first set of teeth. Cognitive development has to do with the way humans perceive and experience the world and deals with issues like memory, thinking and decision-making processes and concept comprehension. During the prenatal period, cognitive development is highly enveloped in physical development as the primary tool for cognition; the brain is still being developed. Socio/emotional development has to do with how an individual is able to handle emotions, relationships, social situations, and the various roles demanded of them by society. Some aspect of Socio/Emotional standards, such as social expectations, relationships, and roles vary from culture to culture.
1. Human Development, Diane E. Papalia, 9th edition
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Adolescence, 8th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill. 10. American Psychological Association (APA). United States Department of Health and Human Services. 11. Carlson, Neil R. (2010). Psychology: the science of behaviour. Toronto, Ontario: Pearson Education Canada.
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