Early Adolescence and the Search for Self: A Developmental Perspective

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In a sense, human beings are agents even as infants, for babies can surely act in goal-directed ways. By age 1 year, moreover, infants show a strong preference for observing and imitating the goal-directed, intentional behavior of others, rather than random behaviors Woodward, Still, it is one thing to act in goal-directed ways; it is quite another for the I to know itself the Me as an intentional and purposeful force who moves forward in life in pursuit of self-chosen goals, values, and other desired end states.

According to a strong line of research in developmental psychology, attaining this kind of understanding means acquiring a theory of mind Wellman, , which occurs for most children by the age of 4. Building on theory of mind and other cognitive and social developments, children begin to construct the self as a motivated agent in the elementary school years, layered over their still-developing sense of themselves as social actors.

Schooling reinforces the shift in that teachers and curricula place increasing demands on students to work hard, adhere to schedules, focus on goals, and achieve success in particular, well-defined task domains. Motivated agents feel good about themselves to the extent they believe that they are making good progress in achieving their goals and advancing their most important values. Goals and values become even more important for the self in adolescence, as teenagers begin to confront what Erikson famously termed the developmental challenge of identity.

Committing oneself to an integrated suite of life goals and values is perhaps the greatest achievement for the self as motivated agent.

There is a sense whereby any time you try to change yourself, you are assuming the role of a motivated agent. After all, to strive to change something is inherently what an agent does. However, what particular feature of selfhood you try to change may correspond to your self as actor, agent, or author, or some combination. When you try to change your traits or roles, you take aim at the social actor.

By contrast, when you try to change your values or life goals, you are focusing on yourself as a motivated agent.

Encyclopedia of Adolescence

Adolescence and young adulthood are periods in the human life course when many of us focus attention on our values and life goals. Perhaps you grew up as a traditional Catholic, but now in college you believe that the values inculcated in your childhood no longer function so well for you. You no longer believe in the central tenets of the Catholic Church, say, and are now working to replace your old values with new ones.

Or maybe you still want to be Catholic, but you feel that your new take on faith requires a different kind of personal ideology. In the realm of the motivated agent, moreover, changing values can influence life goals. If your new value system prioritizes alleviating the suffering of others, you may decide to pursue a degree in social work, or to become a public interest lawyer, or to live a simpler life that prioritizes people over material wealth.

A great deal of the identity work we do in adolescence and young adulthood is about values and goals, as we strive to articulate a personal vision or dream for what we hope to accomplish in the future. According to Erikson, developing an identity involves more than the exploration of and commitment to life goals and values the self as motivated agent , and more than committing to new roles and re-evaluating old traits the self as social actor.

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In this sense, psychologically we do choose our parents, our family history, and the history of our kings, heroes, and gods. By making them our own, we maneuver ourselves into the inner position of proprietors, of creators. In order to provide life with the sense of temporal continuity and deep meaning that Erikson believed identity should confer, we must author a personalized life story that integrates our understanding of who we once were, who we are today, and who we may become in the future.

By the time children are 5 or 6 years of age, they can tell well-formed stories about personal events in their lives Fivush, In autobiographical reasoning, a narrator is able to derive substantive conclusions about the self from analyzing his or her own personal experiences. For example, a year-old may be able to explain to herself and to others how childhood experiences in her family have shaped her vocation in life.

Her parents were divorced when she was 5 years old, the teenager recalls, and this caused a great deal of stress in her family. Anyway, these results need to be confirmed by further studies, with a longitudinal design, that more appropriately allow the use of a mediation model Maxwell and Cole, As regards the second aim of our study, we analyzed the link between depressive symptoms and self-esteem. Our results support the hypothesis that self-esteem and depression are strongly correlated. In our research, in fact, self-esteem was the most significant predictor for depressive symptomatology during early adolescence.

This relation between low self-esteem and depression is consistent with the literature on clinical and non-clinical populations Joiner et al. The study of MacPhee and Andrews about several risk factors for depression in early adolescence, showed that self-esteem accounted for the majority of explained variance in depressive scores.

According to the vulnerability model Beck, ; Metalsky et al. Self-esteem is relevant for several personal and social life outcomes and, as mentioned above, a low level of self-esteem may serve as a risk factor for depression in adolescence and young adulthood Orth et al. In a recent research, Steiger et al. In addition, another line of research demonstrated that for early adolescents, improving their self-esteem is important in avoiding depression Jun et al. Finally, we have analyzed connections between depression and emotional quality of relationship with parents. As well known, a positive quality of parent—adolescent relationship, security of attachment and parental availability may serve as protection Cimino et al.

A first result was the importance of a positive relationship with both parental figures, with a slightly greater importance of the maternal emotional availability over the paternal one. Existing literature mainly highlighted the importance of the mother: Besser and Blatt underlined that she tends to be the preferred attachment figure in western cultures. McKinney et al. They hypothesized that, even if maternal and paternal roles have changed over time, maternal parenting continues to play a more relevant role than paternal parenting in late adolescent adjustment.

In our data about early adolescence, although the mother represented the most significant figure for girls and boys, the father also seemed to be very important for both daughters and sons. Consistent with our result about the absence of a very significant difference on depression between males and females, we also found that regardless of gender, the relationship with both parents may play a relevant role in emotional adjustment during early adolescence. Moreover, since no interactions between gender and study variables were observed, our data suggested that the impact of self-esteem and parental emotional availability had similar weight for both female and male subjects.

Results of the current study must be considered in the light of some methodological limitations. First, the use of a self-report instrument for depression, without a clinical assessment, did not enable us to formulate a specific diagnosis. Second, the used tool, though one of the most common worldwide, was not able to detect depressive equivalents, namely behaviors masking a depressive suffering as, for example, antisocial behaviors, alcoholism, and drug abuse that have been more frequently found among depressed males than depressed females Cochran and Rabinowitz, Third, the cross-sectional nature of the current research limited the possibility to draw meaningful conclusions about the cause-and-effect relationship between depressive symptoms and their correlates.

Further studies could try to address these limitations, also widening the age range of the sample in order to include middle and late adolescence; in addition, for future research it would be interesting to explore the dyadic interconnections between self-esteem and parental emotional availability in predicting depression. In our research some consistent findings emerged on the importance of early detection of risk conditions for the onset of depressive symptomatology. In fact, given the reorganization that takes place during adolescence, it is in this period that individuals typically start to build up their identity and extra-familial relationships: self-esteem may play a crucial role in the development of these internal processes.

Adolescents are prompted to increase introspection in order to find out who they really are and how they are perceived by their environment Steinberg, In this phase, there are new academic and social demands, transformations in self-perceptions and reorganizations in parent—child relationships Steinberg, ; Savin-Williams, All authors listed, have made substantial, direct and intellectual contribution to the work, and approved it for publication. The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Abela, J. Depressive mood reactions to failure in the achievement domain: a test of the integration of the hopelessness and self-esteem theories of depression. A test of the integration of the hopelessness and self-esteem theories of depression in schoolchildren. Adams, P. Factorial categorization of depression-related constructs in early adolescents.

Almqvist, F. Behavioural and emotional symptoms in 8—9-year-old children. Child Adolesc. Psychiatry 8 Suppl.

Developmental psychology - Wikipedia

Angold, A. Puberty and depression: the roles of age, pubertal status and pubertal timing. Babore, A. Sviluppo 16, — Google Scholar. Beck, A. Depression: Causes and treatment. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Manual for the Revised Beck Depression Inventory. Besser, A. Identity consolidation and internalizing and externalizing problem behaviors in early adolescence. Bosco, G. Branje, S. III, Frijns, T. Longitudinal associations between perceived parent-child relationship quality and depressive symptoms in adolescence.


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Brown, G. Cambridge, MA: Tavistock Press. Camuffo, M. Florence: Organizazioni Speciali. Cerniglia, L. Cimino, S. Mothers with depression. Child Psychiat. A six-year prospective study on children of mothers with eating disorders: the role of paternal psychological profiles. Cochran, S. Men and Depression. Clinical and Empirical Perspectives. Cambridge, MA: Academic Press. Cohen, J. Set correlation and contingency tables.

Cordero, E. Parents as protective factors in eating problems of college women. Cramer, A. De Rubeis, S.

Self-Awareness and Identity Development

Individual differences in shame and depressive symptoms during early adolescence. Demidenko, N. Father-daughter attachment and communication in depressed and nondepressed adolescent girls. Emler, N. Self-esteem: the costs and causes of low self-worth. Frigerio, A. Depressive symptoms as measured by the CDI in a population of northern Italian children. Psychiatry 16, 33— Helsel, W. The assessment of depression in children: the internal structure of the child depression inventory CDI.

With the exception of adding contacts who are well known, which was the category selected by the majority of all respondents from each age group, an age effect was found for all reasons. Inspecting the cells with an adjusted standardized residual with an absolute value of 2. Upon investigating the adjusted standardised residuals to explore the age effect it was apparent that significantly more young adults, but significantly fewer adolescents, report socialise as the main reason and significantly more adolescents report peer pressure as the main reason for using SNSs.

These results provide no support for the hypothesis 1c as no differences were found between the age groups for meet new people. Table 2. The majority of respondents reported that they had friends and family among their contacts, In the fourth hypothesis 1d , I formulated the expectation that adults will be more likely to have family members as contacts on SNSs compared to young adults and adults. Of all the respondents, A majority of In the end, Table 3. Friends was reported as main category by significantly more adolescents, but fewer adults.

Other and known from the internet were reported by significantly fewer adolescents, while significantly more young adults reported these categories as their main contact category. Identity Development Next, the behaviour on SNSs in relation to identity development was investigated. The first hypothesis 2a concerning identity development predicted that adolescents and young adults post more frequently on SNSs compared to adults. Of all respondents, The following hypothesis 2b concerning identity development predicted that adolescents and young adults tend to post more topics on SNSs compared adults.

First, the topics addressed in the posts on the profile were investigated. On a whole, most respondents shared posts concerning family Next, the amount of profile information that the respondents shared was investigated. Overall, few respondents shared sensitive information on their profile, such as their telephone number 4.

The third hypothesis 2c concerned whether adolescents and young adults would be more likely to report that they mainly used the SNSs for self-presentation compared to adults. As a consequence, these results do not support this hypothesis 2c. Privacy Settings The final hypothesis 3 concerned the use of privacy settings by adolescents, young adults, and adults.

More young adults are expected to have adjusted their privacy settings compared to adolescents and adults. Table 4 provides an overview of the responses concerning the adjustment of privacy settings. Table 4.

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Manipulation of privacy settings by respondents. A developmental perspective regarding the behaviour of adolescents, young adults, and adults on social network sites Wouter Martinus Petrus Steijn. Young people are often seen as a generation that shares too much, too openly online.

How cognitive growth happens during the teen years

H1a: Adolescents will have more contacts on SNSs compared to young adults and adults. H2a: Adolescents and young adults will post more frequently on SNSs compared to adults. Abril, P. Blurred boundaries: Social media privacy and the twenty-first-century employee. American Business Law Journal, 49 , Imagined communities: Awareness, information sharing, and privacy on the Facebook.

Social penetration: The development of interpersonal relationships. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. Arnett, J. Emerging adulthood: A theory of development from the late teens through twenties. American Psychologist, 55 , Emerging adulthood: Understanding the new way of coming of age. Tanner Eds. Blieszner, R. Friendship across the life span: Reciprocity in individual and relationship development. Fingerman Eds. Boneva, B. Teenage communication in the instant messaging era. Kraut, M. Kiesler Eds. Taken out of context: American teen sociality in networked publics. Brown, B. Peer groups and peer cultures.

Elliot Eds. Christofides, E. Comparing facebook disclosure and privacy in adolescents and adults. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3 , Facebook and online privacy: Attitudes, behaviors, and unintended consequences. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 15 , The benefits of facebook "friends": Social capital and college students' use of online social network sites. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12 , Identity and the life cycle. New York: Norton. Erikson, E. Identity: Youth and crisis. Ferenstein, G. Teen brags on facebook about drunk driving, gets arrested.

Student awareness of the privacy implications when using Facebook. Social networking sites and our lives. The construction of the self: A developmental perspective. New York: Guilford Press. Hartup, W. Friendships and adaptation across the life span. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 8 , Questioning the generational divide: Technological exoticism and adult constructions of online youth identity. Buckingham Ed.



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