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Social Development in Adolescence

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Social Development in Adolescence

"I'm not a little kid anymore!" Chances are, we have all said this to our parents at least once in our lives, and most likely it was during our adolescent years! Being a teenager can be both terrifying and exciting. It can be a time of social exploration but it can also be a time of feeling isolated. Discovering your identity, purpose, and values during adolescence may be one of the greatest struggles and rewards of your life.

  • What is the important question that adolescents ask during social development?
  • What are the stages of social development in adolescence?
  • What are some examples of social development in adolescence?
  • What are key characteristics of social development in adolescence?

Definition of Social Development in Adolescence

Adolescence is in many ways the most important stage for social development. According to Erik Erikson's psychosocial stages of development, adolescence is the point at which an individual faces a crisis of identity vs. role confusion. Identity begins to form.

Identity refers to a person's sense of self as it relates to psychological, intrapersonal, and physical characteristics.

Teens begin to ask the question, "Who am I?" and "Who do I want to be?" Adolescence is the stage in which past, present, and future come together to begin to form an identity. Teens begin to desire more independence from parents and closer connections to peers.

Erikson refers to adolescence as a crisis of identity vs. role confusion because it is a time of exploration. During this time, adolescents try to discover where they fit in and who they want to be in the future as members of society. They also seek to understand and solidify their identities. During adolescence, teens often experiment with several different identities in order to discover theirs. They may be one way around parents, another way around peers, and another way around teachers.

When an adolescent is placed in a situation in which two roles overlap (like when a friend comes over for dinner) it can be an incredibly confusing experience. Erikson believed that if this identity crisis can be resolved positively, it can lead to a more stable identity. A stable identity helps a young adult achieve the next stage in development. However, if the crisis is negatively resolved, it can lead to ongoing confusion.

How does identity develop?

Several elements contribute to the shaping of identity during adolescence. Our gender, ethnicity, and other attributes place us into several different social groups. These social groups play a large role in shaping who we are during our teen years. When describing ourselves, we often talk about our group memberships. As members of a specific ethnic group, we describe ourselves as African-American or Korean. As part of a family with several siblings, we may describe ourselves as the youngest child.

Social Development in Adolescence a group of girls in a huddle who are on a basketball team StudySmarterTeam identity, pixabay.com

Another element of identity is our personal characteristics. We can describe ourselves as shy or outgoing, or as a rule-follower or risk-taker. Personality is a highly heritable trait, meaning that our genetics play a large role in the differences in personalities within a group. During adolescence, we begin to discover and understand our personalities more fully. Finally, our goals and values are a large part of our identity. Who we want to be in the future, what we believe is right or wrong, and our religious or spiritual beliefs, all begin to take shape during adolescence.

Stages of Social Development in Adolescence

Expanding on Erik Erikson's ideas, James Marcia (2002) developed his Identity Status Theory. Not all teens will move through every stage during adolescence. Many remain in the diffusion or foreclosure stage.

  1. Diffusion: Adolescents in the diffusion stage have not begun the process of forming their identity. They have not begun any exploration of their identity and have made little to no commitment to a set of values. Adolescents in the diffusion stage adamantly avoid conflict or discomfort and are highly motivated by pleasure. They do not have any real goals in life and passively move through life.

  2. Foreclosure: Similar to the diffusion stage, adolescents in the foreclosure stage of identity development have not gone through an identity crisis. However, it is not due to a lack of any identity or commitment to values. Instead, teens in the foreclosure stage have not moved past an identity that was previously established by family or culture. For these teens, commitment is high, but exploration is low. Adolescents who are in foreclosure feel no need to question the identities already assigned to them nor do they consider any alternatives.

  3. Moratorium: At the moratorium stage of identity development, adolescents have begun the process of establishing a clear identity for themselves. They are in the thick of their identity crisis and have not yet resolved it. At this point, exploration is high yet commitment is low and adolescents begin to experiment with several different identities, values, and beliefs. They are keeping their options open.

  4. Achievement: Finally, during identity achievement, adolescents have made their way through their identity crisis and have established and committed to a set of values. At this stage, adolescents have learned to prioritize what is most important to them and have begun to form an idea of their goals, mission, and purpose in life. Adolescents who have made their way through identity achievement feel confident and positive about the decisions they have made.

Social Development in Adolescence a sketch of a person and a thought bubble with the words "who am I" StudySmarterQuestion of identity, freepik.com

Diffusion

  • When Johnny was a freshman in high school, he didn't know who he was or what he believed politically. Honestly, he never really thought about it. He would go with the flow and usually ignored any political discussion at all to avoid conflict.

Foreclosure

  • By his sophomore year, his American history class included several political debates. Johnny decided he was 100% in agreement with every liberal value. He never thought about why. He would overhear his parents talk about the election and didn't consider much beyond what they said.

Moratorium

  • However, by junior year, Johnny began to question if he fully agreed with everything his parents believed politically. He started to explore all the different positions on several political topics but hadn't fully made up his mind about what he believed.

Achievement

  • Fortunately, by Johnny's senior year, just in time for him to turn 18 and legally vote in the next election, Johnny was sure of where he stood on every issue discussed in the debates. He felt confident about his position and was able to vote based on his beliefs.

Examples of Social Development in Adolescence

Social development in adolescence can be reflected in several different behaviors. Let's take a look at a few examples.

  • Significantly more time spent with friends than with parents or families.

  • Social circle expanding to include more than just family, a few friends, and teachers.

  • Differentiation between friends and acquaintances.

  • Aggression and antisocial behaviors begin to take root.

  • Increased sense of responsibility.

  • Formation of sexual identity.

  • Active search for new (sometimes risky) experiences.

  • More established sense of self-concept.

Factors Affecting Social Development in Adolescence

Several factors affect social development during adolescence. Identity exploration and a commitment to values are influenced by several different parts of an adolescent's life including family, peers, media, and culture.

Family

In Western cultures, adolescents begin to pull away from their parents as they begin to discover their own identities. The transition from the toddler who won't leave their mother's side to the teen who wouldn't want to be caught dead holding her hand occurs gradually. Arguments between the parent and the child become more frequent during adolescence. However, for most, it does not lead to real divisions and is over small disagreements.

While the relationship between a teen and their parent can become more strained, many remain positive overall. The nature of a parent-child relationship and the level of affection can affect peer relationships. For example, girls who had more affectionate relationships with their mothers tend to have more intimate friendships with their girlfriends. Contrarily, teens who have a more strained relationship with their parents are often more likely to misbehave.

Peers

As parental influence diminishes in a teen's life, peer influence increases. An adolescent's peers can contribute to forming temperament and personality differences where heredity may not. They function similarly to an animal herd by dressing, talking, and acting alike. Teens tend to focus less on the future and more on immediate rewards when around their peers. Conformity is, in a sense, a survival method during adolescence because it feels good to fit in and to like what everybody else likes. Adolescents commonly adopt the identity of their peer group.

Social Media

Due to the use of social media, peer and media influence can go hand-in-hand. Social media simply reflects how powerful peer influence can be. The more likes a photo has, the more likely a teen may prefer it, even if it relates to content they don't agree with. The self-disclosure required through social media can have both positive and negative outcomes. The definition of "friend" has changed and now our social connections are bigger than ever before.

Culture

Finally, culture can play a large role in social development in adolescence. Individuals who grow up in an individualistic culture may develop a deeper sense of autonomy and clear separation from other people. However, individuals in collectivistic cultures may view their identity as a connection between people. Bicultural adolescents may form more complex identities due to being members of multiple cultural groups.

Characteristics of Social Development in Adolescence

Other than the development of identity, other primary characteristics of social development in adolescence are increased intimacy, fluctuations in self-esteem, and the stage of emerging adulthood

Intimacy

As adolescents begin to inch their way toward young adulthood, their capacity for intimacy begins to grow. Erikson referred to this as intimacy vs. isolation. At this stage, we begin to form emotionally close relationships by sharing more intimate details about our thoughts, feelings, and emotions than in childhood relationships. Additionally, our romantic relationships begin to intensify. If an individual has a high-quality relationship with family and friends, it increases their likelihood of having high-quality romantic partnerships. For most, romantic relationships become a source of great pleasure.

Self-Esteem

Finally, as one begins to form their identity and sense of self, self-esteem may be impacted. Self-esteem usually diminishes during early- to mid-adolescence. Depression and anxiety, especially for teen girls, begin to increase but diminish and even out across genders by the late teens. Additionally, due to how powerful peer influence can be during adolescence, bullying can take a remarkable toll. Individuals who feel excluded or bullied are deeply affected by the experience, potentially resulting in greater psychological distress and even diminished physical health later in life.

Emerging Adulthood

Another characteristic of social development in adolescence is the stage of emerging adulthood Emerging adulthood is the "in-between" that we experience as we transition from adolescence to adulthood. Emerging adulthood lasts from age 18 to around 24. In the 1960s, way more men and women were finished with school, living away from home, financially stable, married, and parents by age 30 than young adults today (Henig, 2010). The average age to get married today is 29 for men and 27 for women. Even government policies reflect emerging adulthood through things like the extension of health benefits to children up to the age of 26.

Social Development in Adolescence - Key takeaways

  • During adolescence, teens begin to ask the question, "Who am I?" and "Who do I want to be?"
  • Factors that influence identity include social groups, personal characteristics, and personal or cultural goals and values.
  • The four stages of James Marcia's Identity Status Theory are diffusion, foreclosure, moratorium, and achievement.
    • Adolescents in the diffusion stage have not begun the process of forming their identity.
    • Adolescents in the foreclosure stage of identity development have adopted an identity without going through an identity crisis. Commitment is high and exploration is low.
    • Adolescents in the moratorium stage of identity development begin the process of establishing a clear identity for themselves. Exploration is high and commitment is low.
    • Adolescents in the achievement stage of identity development have established and committed to a set of values.
  • In Western cultures, adolescents begin to pull away from their parents as they begin to discover their own identities.
  • Primary characteristics of social development in adolescence are increased intimacy, fluctuations in self-esteem, and the stage of emerging adulthood

Frequently Asked Questions about Social Development in Adolescence

According to Erik Erikson's psychosocial stages of development, adolescence is the point at which an individual faces a crisis of identity vs. role confusion.

Social development in adolescence may look like a teen spending significantly more time with their friends than with their parents or families.

Social development is important in adolescence because it leads to the development of a person's identity and a more established sense of self-concept. Erikson believed that if this identity crisis can be resolved positively, it can lead to a more stable identity. However, if the crisis is negatively resolved, it may lead to confusion.

Early adolescents (10-13) have an increased need for privacy and begin pushing boundaries with their parents. Middle adolescents become more interested in romantic and sexual relationships and begin arguing with parents more. Late adolescents have a stronger sense of their identity and values.

Factors affecting social development in adolescence include family, peers, media, and culture.

Final Social Development in Adolescence Quiz

Question

____________ refers to a person's sense of self as it relates to one's psychological, intrapersonal, and physical characteristics.

Show answer

Answer

Identity

Show question

Question

Our gender, ethnicity, and other attributes place us in several types of ___________

Show answer

Answer

Social groups

Show question

Question

True or False? Many times, during adolescence, teens will experiment with several different identities in order to discover theirs.


Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Who is James Marcia?

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Answer

James Marcia (2002) expanded on Erik Erikson's ideas on identity vs. role confusion and developed his Identity Status Theory.

Show question

Question

True or False? Not all teens will move through every stage in Marcia's Identity Status Theory during adolescence with many remaining in the diffusion or foreclosure stage.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

At which stage in Marcia's Identity Status Theory have adolescents not moved past an identity that was previously established by family or culture.  


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Answer

Foreclosure

Show question

Question

At which stage in Marcia's Identity Status Theory is exploration high but commitment is low?

Show answer

Answer

Moratorium

Show question

Question

At which point in Marcia's Identity Status Theory have adolescents established and committed to a set of values?


Show answer

Answer

Achievement

Show question

Question

When little Johnny was a freshman in high school, he didn't know who he was or what he believed politically. Honestly, he never really thought about it. He would go with the flow and usually ignored any political discussion at all to avoid conflict.  What stage is Johnny at in Marcia's Identity Status Theory?


Show answer

Answer

Diffusion

Show question

Question

Which of the following is not an example of social development in adolescence? 

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Answer

Decreased sense of responsibility

Show question

Question

In Western cultures, adolescents begin to __________ their parents as they begin to discover their own identities.


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Answer

pull away from

Show question

Question

True or False? An adolescent's peers can contribute to forming temperament and personality differences where heredity may not.


Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Individuals who grow up in an individualistic culture may develop a deeper sense of __________ and clear separation from other people.

Show answer

Answer

autonomy

Show question

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True or False?  Bullying would never result in greater psychological distress or diminished physical health later in life.


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False

Show question

Question

According to O'Brien et al. (2011), teens focus ____ on the future and ____ on immediate rewards when around their peers.


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Answer

less ; more

Show question

Question

True or False: According to Erik Erikson's psychosocial stages of development, adolescence is the point at which an individual faces a crisis of identity vs. role confusion.

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank: Adolescents in the _________ stage have not begun the process of forming their identity. 

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Answer

diffusion

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank: Adolescents in the _________ stage of identity development have not gone through an identity crisis.  

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Answer

foreclosure

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank: Adolescents in the _________ stage adamantly avoid conflict or discomfort and are highly motivated by pleasure.  

Show answer

Answer

diffusion

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank: Teens in the __________ stage have not moved past an identity that was previously established by family or culture. 

Show answer

Answer

foreclosure

Show question

Question

True or False: Adolescents who are in foreclosure feel no need to question the identities already assigned to them nor do they consider any alternatives.  

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank: At the _________ stage of identity development, adolescents have begun the process of establishing a clear identity for themselves.  

Show answer

Answer

moratorium

Show question

Question

True or False: Adolescents who have made their way through identity achievement feel confident and positive about the decisions they have made.

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Answer

True 

Show question

Question

How many stages are in James Marcia's "Identity Status Theory".

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Four 

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Select all the stages in James Marcia's "Identity Status Theory". 

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Diffusion 

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Question

Fill in the blank: As parental influence diminishes in a teen's life, peer influence __________. 

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Answer

increases

Show question

Question

True or False: An adolescent's peers can contribute to forming temperament and personality differences where heredity may not. 

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

True or False: Adolescents commonly adopt the identity of their peer group.  

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

True or False: Bicultural adolescents may form more complex identities due to being members of multiple cultural groups.  

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank: Individuals who grow up in an ____________ culture may develop a deeper sense of autonomy and clear separation from other people.  

Show answer

Answer

individualistic

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Question

Fill in the blank: Self-esteem usually _________ during early to mid-adolescence.

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Answer

diminishes 

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Question

True or False: Emerging adulthood lasts from age 18 to around 24.  

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True 

Show question

Question

True or False: Primary characteristics of social development in adolescence are increased intimacy, fluctuations in self-esteem, and the stage of emerging adulthood. 

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Answer

True 

Show question

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