The four main developmental stages of psychological development are childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and old age. Adolescence is a form of transition from childhood to adulthood, and it is the most confusing developmental stage because people begin to question and discover their personal identity, social identity, and social roles. Adolescence is a stage of development during which people develop objectives, values, and beliefs which will serve as their principles and guidelines during adulthood. However, building an identity does not have to necessarily end with adolescence, and suppressed or false identity issues can arise at any point during adulthood. Although people can experience crises during all stages of development, the causes and consequences of crises during adolescence and adulthood are different.
According to Erikson’s theory of psychological development, identity is a set of beliefs, goals, and values that define an individual’s behavior and purpose in society (Papalia & Olds, 2010). In other words, when people discover their personal identity, they become coherent individuals who are functional in society. Furthermore, Erikson claims identity is discovered only when people resolve their occupational desires, sexual identity, and moral values (Papalia & Olds, 2010). If people fail to resolve any of those problems, their personality will not develop the required integrity, and they will be liable to suffer negative consequences such as delinquency.
Marcia’s theory indicates that adolescents choose to respond to identity in four different ways. Adolescents can experience a crisis and choose between commitment and avoiding commitment. Another option is the engagement in searching for identity without the crisis. Finally, there are adolescents who do not prefer to engage in questioning their identity and do not experience any crisis or commitment. However, all types of responses are liable to changes under different influences. All adolescents can experience external factors that will influence their decision-making while they are adopting values and objectives to create their personal identity.
Erikson argued that confusing social roles is the most dangerous threat to the identity formation. Social roles and rules of acceptable behavior are defined by cultural influences and social paradigms. However, in contemporary society, several social agents influence the cognitive development of adolescents through often conflicting beliefs. Parents and peers have the greatest influence on psychosocial development during adolescence (Papalia & Olds, 2010).
The confusion of social roles is a dangerous external factor because it can delay maturity by causing identity confusion (Papalia & Olds, 2010). During adolescence, people experience sexual maturity before they experience social maturity. According to Freud’s theory on sexual development, sexuality becomes a strong driving force during adolescence because it becomes active, so adolescents experience a high increase of sexual force. In addition, they start spending more time with peers than with their parents. However, parents will often interfere with their children’s development and refuse to allow them independent decision-making. Another issue that inhibits maturity development is frequent conflict in the household which create psychological tension among family members. Researchers found that both social and biological maturity are required to form psychologically stable individuals, and adolescents who fail to develop either one of those types of maturity risk developing antisocial behavior because they will not develop their identity successfully (Papalia & Olds, 2010).
During adulthood, people can revise their identity because it is not possible to treat any decisions about values, objectives, or beliefs as a final destination. In the Western culture, the midlife is a period when people are no longer younger adults, but they are also not yet senior citizens (Papalia & Olds, 2010). In contrast to adolescence, which is a transition period between childhood and adulthood, midlife is considered a period between youth and old age (Papalia & Olds, 2010). The stages are very similar, but midlife is often not as confusing as adolescents in terms of identity, roles, or maturity.
Although Erikson’s theory explained how adolescents successfully or unsuccessfully form their identity, he believed identity was not a permanent achievement. Although many adults form their personal identity during early adulthood, the biological changes experienced during midlife will influence their identity concept and question their values and beliefs (Papalia & Olds, 2010). Midlife is a part of adulthood similar to adolescence because people will undergo socio-emotional, social role, and sexuality changes. People in midlife will most likely redefine most of their values, particularly those related to work, family, stress, and health.
According to the American Psychological Association, work and money are the most significant stressors, and the current average employee is overworked, so employees frequently experience loss of mental performance and physical performance. Because approximately 67 percent of workers engaged in high-stress occupations experience symptoms of depression or anxiety, many adults are in the process of rethinking their social roles (Papalia & Olds, 2010). Furthermore, adults are required to balance their social roles between work and family, so they are exposed to stress in both private and professional lives. According to developmental theories, midlife occurs when young adults experience the peak of maturity (Papalia & Olds, 2010). In other words, their cognitive, physical, and emotional abilities are at a maximum peak that will have to start declining. As the result of significant amounts of chronic stress, most adults will redefine their roles within their families and perhaps consider a career change.
The major crisis of adolescence is the internal psychological conflict between identity and role confusion, and the major crisis of middle adulthood is the conflict between productivity and maturity stagnation (Papalia & Olds, 2010). Both crises are similar because they stimulate people to form or change their identity and roles in socio-emotional relationships. For example, adolescents will strive to find their identity and roles in society, and they will have to redefine their family relationship to achieve that goal. Furthermore, they spend more time with peers, and define their roles and social status within their social group. They will also have to discover their sexual identity during adolescence because a sudden increase of sexual energy from the latent state to an active state raises new questions about sexuality. On the other hand, the major life crisis in adults is caused by stagnation of maturity and its imminent decline, but it is also connected with identity issues and perception of social roles. Adults become parents for their children, husbands or wives for their intimate partners, caretakers for their older parents, and service providers to their employers. The external changes of their social roles and physiological changes that influence maturity decline influence their psychological development and require them to redefine their identity and social roles once again before old age.
The main difference between adults and adolescents is that adolescents define their identity and roles while adults redefine their identity and roles. The conflicts that occur during these two developmental stages are similar, but they occur in different ways and produce different consequences. For example, stress causes that influence the physical and psychological health are different. In adolescence, most stress is caused by negative relationships with parents or siblings, peer pressure, and academic pressure in school. In adulthood, job security, career development, career changes, raising children, physiological changes, and redefining both professional and private social roles are the main stressors.
Negative consequences of stressful life events and environments also manifest differently in adolescence and adulthood. For example, during adolescence, the emotional bonds with parents formed during childhood can inhibit the development of identity and maturity if parents are not willing to accept that their child will have to develop independence, self-reliance, identity, and self-esteem in a social setting away from home. Adolescents who do not develop their identity or define their social roles will potentially suffer from depression or delinquency (Papalia & Olds, 2010). Inadequate education or popular stereotypes about sexual orientation can create a feeling of guilt and alienation among the homosexual population, and they are more likely to suffer from psychological stress that will implicate their psychological health. On the other hand, adults are exposed to chronic stress at work and risk hypertension which is a significant risk factor for chronic health problems and psychological health. Furthermore, a reorganization of social roles in their family lives or career changes in midlife produces stress, and in combination with stress from working during young adulthood, it puts more pressure on health and well-being. Finally, if adults sense that their previous goals were not achieved, and that they are no longer able to perform their roles as effectively as before, they are more likely to suffer from guilt, decrease of self-esteem, and depression.
Adolescence and adulthood have many things in common. Although the external life circumstances and the level of maturity are different at both stages, the fundamental aspects of their crises remain the same. Stressors in each stage come from different sources. For adolescents, peer pressure and family pressure are the most influential stressors. For adults, career development and changes in private roles are the most influential stressors. Physiological changes in both stages contribute to psychological states of mind and crises development. The crises which occur at both stages of development influence identity concepts, values, beliefs, and socio-emotional interactions, and negative consequences occur when people fail to form or redefine those factors to successfully resolve their crises.
Papalia, D., & Olds, S. (2010). Psychologie du développement humain, (7th ed.). Montreal: Montreal Cheneliere Education Inc.