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Adolescence – Learning and development

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Adolescence is considered as a normal part of the human life span, connecting middle childhood and young adulthood, this period consists of three separate phases: early, middle, and late adolescence.

The adolescent years extend roughly from age 10 to age 22. It is common to mark the beginning of the teenage years as the entrance to adolescence; most people consider that the onset of puberty, or the beginning of sexual maturity, as a sign of an individual’s passage from middle childhood to adolescence.

While the physical changes of puberty are an important indicator signalling adolescent development, many other kinds of changes also occur during the adolescent years; cognitive, self-concept, social / moral reasoning and the ability to think abstractly.

Although this developmental period of life needn’t be an uncommonly stressful time, adolescents do encounter stresses. Most adolescents are well adjusted individuals not depressed mixed up people as is commonly thought, possessing rather than lacking in self-control and confidence. At the same time it must be recognised some adolescents exhibit signs of disturbance and can suffer severe life crisis.

Early adolescence

The initial period of change that marks the adolescent years is called early adolescence, which extends roughly from age 10 to age 14. During these years, the individual is expected to make certain transitions. An early adolescent is expected to move from the security of a junior school to the stress of a secondary school education. However, in preindustrial societies, where the notion of teachers and schools differs from that in industrial societies, education occurs by working closely with skilled adults, often as an apprentice. Formal education may be available but limited to a small portion of male youths for a few hours weekly. Unlike youths from聽industrialised countries, who spend a great portion of their time with peers, adolescents in preindustrial societies spend more time in the company of same-sex adults (Schlegel & Barry, 1991).

Middle adolescence

Middle adolescence coincides with time spent in secondary education namely, ages 15 through 17 these years are marked by increased independence in decision-making and increased time away from home and with peers. By the midd1e adolescent years, individuals whose puberty has been delayed will ”finally” begin to mature physically. This delay can cause psychological trauma for some individuals.

Late adolescence

Late adolescence comprises the final years of the adolescent period ages 18 to 22. Separating from parents and gaining independence are responsibilities that mark the lives of many young people during their late adolescent years. Some adults, even in there 30s and 40s, seem never to have entered adulthood. They have remained adolescents in terms of their views toward responsibility, identity, and interpersonal skills. The end of adolescence is less easily identified than it’s beginning, although separation from home and financial independence are the markers that typically herald an individual’s passage from late adolescence to young adulthood.

Research into adolescence

Researchers have shown growing interest in adolescents and adolescent development. This can be seen in the formation of professional organizations, such as the Biennial Conference on Adolescent Research And the Society for Research on Adolescence. Numerous research journals devoted to adolescence have emerged since the late 1970s. These include the Journal of Adolescence, Journal of Adolescent Research, Journal of Early Adolescence, and Journal of Research on Adolescence. In addition, several recent books have focused on specific adolescent Concerns, such as聽adolescent suicide (Curran, 1987), drug use (Johnston, O’Malley, & Bachman, 1988), sex and pregnancy (Byme & Fisher, 1983; Coles & Stokes, 1985), runaways (Lefkowitz, 1987), and work (Greenberger & Steinberg, 1986).

Views on Adolescence development

Divergent views about adolescence have emerged in the 20th century. Some scholars consider adolescence to be a time of exceptional storm and stress, (Barker, 1976; Bios, 1976/1979j; A. Freud, 1958/1969; S. Freud, Haim, 1974; Hall, 1904; Stone & Church, 1973). Several researchers have considered Adolescents to be members of a subculture at odds with adults, peer pressure and parental influence are regarded as having adverse effects on adolescent Children. However, a growing body of research has challenged the notion that Adolescence is typically a time of turmoil and strain, asserting instead that the adolescence years are marked by relative calm and stability for most children (Bandura, 1964/1980; Connell, Stroobant, Sinclair, & Rogers, 1975; Offer, 1969, 1984; Offer, Ostrov, Howard, & Atkinson, 1988

Many parents accept the storm and stress view of adolescence, many parents express anxiety that there son or daughter will soon enter Adolescence. These parents seem to think the adolescent years are filled with tension and conflict, children are transformed into some sort of monsters, and family life will be particularly stressful once their child enters into this stage of development Some researchers consider the adolescent years to be Relatively free of turmoil and stress, parents look upon such claims as wishful thinking. To quote Anna Freud (1958/1969), “the one thing we Expect to be normal about adolescents is that they will be abnormal”. Some conclude that there is something peculiar about an adolescent whose life is not filled with turmoil and stress.

Effects of heredity and environment on adolescent development

Heredity refers to a set of qualities that are a fixed at birth and hence predetermine certain individual characteristics. Every normal human body is made up of thousands of Genes that serve to determine eye colour, physical聽build, intelligence, personality and so forth. Heredity thus accounts for many individual trails and characteristics. However, it is also true that the environment modifies these traits and characteristics. For example, body build is determined mostly by heredity, but it is impossible to effect change in this predisposition by exercising, using steroids, and eating specific diets. Similarly, Intelligence is developed by environmental factors interacting with heredity (although there are some who believe intelligence is almost exclusively determined by heredity).

Environmental effects, It has been suggested thus far that development is often influenced by the interaction of heredity and environmental factors.

路What are the effects of raising a child in a poverty environment?

路How does a poor diet affect the development of a child?

路What is the effect of growing up in different family environments?

Research based on these questions has given some definite information about environmental effects. It is known that a poverty environment and a poor diet can retard development. Similarly, growing up in a secure family environment will probably predispose a child to their endeavours. Although the environment affects development in several ways, its principal effect is through its influence on the learning that takes place within each child. Learning is described as a relatively permanent change in the behaviour of an individual. Thus, behavioural changes due to disease, drugs, fatigue, and the like are excluded from learned behaviour.


“Theories are sets of statements, understandable to others which make predictions about empirical events” (Mandler and Kessen, 1959,).

It would be confusing and frustrating if there were no theories to explain a variety of human behaviours. Five major theoretical views of development聽will be discussed:

路The maturational,

路The cognitive,

路The psychoanalytic,

路The behavioural or learning theory,

路The humanistic.

It is rare that everyone accepts any one theory, since in one way or another a given theory is incomplete. This incompleteness’ is due primarily to the desire of the theorist to explain a slightly different facet of child development. For example, psychoanalytic theory condemns itself with the development of personality (primarily), whereas cognitive theory attempts to provide explanatory principles for the development of thinking.

Maturational theory

Although maturational theory is not widely accepted today brief mention of it will be made mainly because it played a significant role in the evolution of the study of child development. In the 1930s Gesell advanced his theory of development, which emphasized the role of maturation. Although he recognized that a child’s behaviour is affected by experience, he argued that a child s development is determined biologically Gesell’s work prompted a great deal of normative-descriptive research. That is, numerous children were observed and assessed during their early years, and from these data developmental norms were established. Thus, although maturational theory receives little support today, it has made a significant contribution to child psychology in that much of the knowledge about early motor skill development comes from research that dealt with maturational theory.

Cognitive theory

Cognitive psychologists who conduct developmental research are primarily interested in the development of intelligence, thinking, and language. There is no argument that Piaget is the one researcher who has made the greatest contribution to understanding cognitive development in children. Although Piaget (1952) has been conducting research and writing about child development since the 1920s, it is only recently that psychologists have accepted much of his work. Basically Piaget concerns himself with explaining similarities among children rather than individual differences. He points out that Children throughout the world go through the same stages of developing solutions to cognitive problems. Piaget believes that this discovery of solutions occurs largely because of the child’s interaction with the environment. Further, according to Piaget, the child is not a passive recipient of events in the environment; rather, the child seeks out experiences. Although Piaget does not downplay the significance of maturation in cognitive development, he does not view all of development as an unfolding of biological processes.

Piaget’ s views of the developing child have had a significant impact on contemporary research in child development from both a theoretical and practical perspective. For instance, Bruner and others (1966) have made important theoretical contributions that stemmed from Piaget’ s early work, and Kohlberg (1964) has relied heavily on Piagetian theory to explain moral development in children. From a practical standpoint Piagetian theory has had a significant effect on teaching styles in the classroom. Piaget’ s emphasis on informal, experiential learning has led to an emphasis of highly structured, informative approaches to teaching in many classrooms.

Psychoanalytic theory

Psychoanalytic theory concerns itself primarily with explaining the development of personality and changes in interpersonal relationships. The developer of this theory was Sigmund Freud, an Austrian psychiatrist; however, others such as Erik Erikson and Anna Freud have built upon Freud’s initial work.

The basic concepts associated with psychoanalytic theory include Freud’s personality structure of the id (unconscious impulses), ego (conscious thinking process), and superego (conscious associated with values), as well as stages of development including oral, anal, and phallic, latency, adolescence, and maturity. Freud’ s interest cantered on abnormal functioning in adults, so his theory was concerned with explaining various ways in which these abnormalities could arise. In Freud’ s view personality followed a fixed developmental pattern with stages brought about in part by maturational changes in the body. Freud believed that the critical factors in the development of a healthy personality were the type of treatment a child received at each stage in development and the type of relationship the child had with the mother.

Erikson (1963) extended Freud’s work by proposing eight stages (from birth to death) in the development of personality. Erikson suggests that during each of these stages the individual must resolve an emotional or interpersonal problem. For example, in stage 1 the basic issue is whether the child will develop a sense of trust or mistrust. According to Erikson this development will depend upon the kind of relationship the child has with parents and other adults. The resolution of the conflicts in stage 1 in turn affects the outcomes of the subsequent stages of development.

Psychoanalytic theory has received considerable criticism mainly because the concepts associated with it are difficult to objectify and as a result are not easily subjected to scientific inquiry. On the other hand, psychoanalytic theory has made significant contributions to knowledge in child development. In addition the theory helped explain that what happens early in life is of utmost importance for development during adolescence.

The Main Behaviourist Explanations of learning theory

The behaviourist school of psychology is utterly at odds with psychoanalysis. Behaviourist thinkers prefer to observable behaviour rather than to speculate about unconscious motivations

The three main behaviourist explanations for the acquisition of behaviour are social learning, classical conditioning, and operant conditioning. The classical and operant conditioning models do not allow human cognition any place in human learning. In fact, the most famous of all behaviourists, B. F Skinner, condemned psychologists’ appeals to cognition as matters of superstition that retard the growth of psychology as a science (Skinner, 1990). However, the social learning theory of behaviour accepts that cognitive processes are substantially involved in human performance.

Classical Conditioning

Classical conditioning, employed by 1van Pavlov in his well-known experiments with dogs, explains behaviour as the response of an organism to previously neutral stimuli that have become associated with some stimuli that naturally and automatically elicit this response. For instance, Pavlov noted that dogs begin to salivate when they are shown food; when a bell was rung directly before the dogs were given the food, the dogs soon salivated at the sound of the bell itself. Television advertising often employs classical conditioning principles by pairing the product being sold with sexual stimuli. Blackham (1977) gave a clear example of classical conditioning in the life of a child whose father swatted him with a fly swatter when the boy misbehaved.

The swatting itself hurt and frightened the child; however, the child began to associate other neutral stimuli with his punishment: his bedroom where the punishment always occurred, his father, and the fly swatter. “Previously neutral stimuli . . . developed the capacity to produce fear themselves” (Blackham, 1977). John Watson, the behaviourist from the 1920s, who conditioned a young boy (called “Little Albert” in the study) to fear rabbits by making a loud sound whenever the boy spotted a rabbit. Within short period, not only did the boy fear rabbits but also other objects (such as dolls and stuffed animals) that resembled rabbits. Watson’s treatment of Little Albert would today be considered a serious violation of the rights of human persons in psychological experiments, even child abuse.

Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning, for which Skinner became internationally famous, explains that behaviour is the result of consequences. In other words, what follows the performance of behaviour increases the likelihood that the individual will repeat that behaviour if the consequence is rewarding. Whereas classical conditioning indicates that behaviour occurs because of stimuli that precede it, operant conditioning indicates that behaviour occurs because of consequences that follow. For instance, Skinner noted that pigeons could be taught to peck a lever in a cage when they learn that pecking releases food pellets. The food is a reinforcer that strengthens the likelihood that the pecking behaviour will occur. Skinner studied the many forms behaviour takes as a consequence of reinforcement and insisted throughout his professional career that psychology, as a science should concentrate on studying only schedules of reinforcement (Skinner, 1990).

A common example of operant conditioning in human beings is illustrated by an interaction between a parent and child. The parent informs the child that he/she can watch her favourite TV program only if she first tidies their room. If enforced consistently, the parent’ s rule will teach the child that what is desired (watching a TV program) is contingent upon a specific behaviour (tiding their room). In short, operant conditioning is the theory that behaviour is controlled by consequences.

Humanistic theory

Humanistic psychology is a rather recent theoretical development in psychology. It basically developed from the work of Maslow (1968) and Rogers (1951), who felt that many psychological processes could not be adequately explained either by psychoanalytic theory or learning theory. Included in the list of unexplainable processes were creativity, love, self-concept, autonomy, and identity.

The core feature of humanism is that it is concerned with affection for mankind, man’s dignity, man’ s mental health, respect for individuality, and an intense interest in man’s behaviour as a human being. Although humanistic聽psychology is a rather new force, it has produced interesting practical changes in both psychology and education. Psychology humanism brought about new forms of therapy, both individual and group. Further, there has been a shift from animal experimentation and experimentation with pathological subjects to experimentation with, ‘normal, healthy” individuals. This experimentation is also different from that of the behaviourists because the focus in humanism is more on the individual than on average group performance.

Adolescence is bounded by middle childhood at one end and young adulthood at the other. Developments during middle childhood socialization, changes in reasoning skills, and development of coping skills in response to stress prepare individuals for the changes that occur during adolescence. While adolescence is a separate, indeed unique, period of change in a person’s life, the changes of adolescence point not only back to middle childhood but also ahead to the greater maturity expected of a young adult.


Adolescence is considered as a normal part of the human life span, connecting middle childhood and young adulthood, this period consists of three separate phases: early, middle, and late adolescence.

The adolescent years extend roughly from age 10 to age 22. While the physical changes of puberty are an important indicator signalling adolescent development, many other kinds of changes also occur during the adolescent years; cognitive, self-concept, social / moral reasoning and the ability to think abstractly

Adolescence has long been recognised as one of the most important areas of scientific investigation. Part of this importance arises from education, adolescence co-insides with the start of many children’s secondary education, and when children begin studying for their GCSE examinations. The Education system in the UK has a statutory responsibility for the promotion of cognitive development. Education during the adolescence period is usually聽seen as the long-term consequences of the schools’ successes and failures, both for the remainder of education and for society generally. As such, there has been a long tradition of enquiry into adolescent development motivated by the desire to improve the system of education. There is little doubt, in fact, that, because of this, the area has been among the most actively researched in the whole field of psychology.

There is a large amount of agreements and disagreements between psychologists in the area of child development during adolescence. Because some agreements or disagreements have persisted over time, and others have changed dramatically, this has lead to the foundation of some very solid theories being developed. Piaget’s theory still dominates the area. Researchers are still preoccupied with descriptions of how differently children think at different ages or stages (rather than getting beyond that to the process of change itself), and what could be improved in schools to promote development (especially in particular subject areas like the science and design). Some things have changed, the grip of Piaget’s theory has weakened in many ways, and new research is attempting to revise many Piagetian views. There has been a growing incursion of ”information-processing” theories of cognition into the area of cognitive development. New views of the persistent problems experienced in education over the adolescent period of development have emerged, and what we might be doing about them.

Anna Freud described adolescence as a developmental disturbance and a period of turmoil. She cast suspicion on adolescents who did not manifest signs of upheaval in their lives (A. Freud, 1946, 1958/1969).

“Only through conflict can maturity be attained” (Bios 1971/1979b,)

Theoretical Issues: In Brief

G. Stanley Hall Considered the discoverer of adolescence as a stage of development. Held many extreme views, such as the storm and stress theory, as well as an elitist position on some males as superanthropoids.

Sigmund Freud Described adolescence as a recapitulation of the first three psychosexual stages with the added dimension of more potent sexual drives. A maturationist who agreed with Hall on the storm-and-stress view, he overemphasized instinctual drives.

Margaret Mead Presented a cross-cultural view, comparing adolescents from industrialized and “primitive” cultures. Stressed the influence of cultural norms on the specific nature of adolescence.

Ruth Benedict An anthropologist like Mead who, however, focused on how each culture provides for the transition between childhood and adulthood. Industrialized societies, she felt, generally create three major discontinuities for adolescents as barriers to gradual growth.

Albert Bandura A learning theorist who emphasizes how the general environment (home, school, and community) socializes adolescents. An antimaturationist, he considers that reinforcement principles shape adolescent behavior through interaction with the adult environment and create social cognitions and self-beliefs (e.g., self-efficacy) that guide behavior.

James Mark Baldwin A cognitive-stage theorist who was one of the original interactionists. In this view, adolescents, like children, construct meaning from experience. Both maturation and socialization are important. Systems of meaning and problem solving are formed into a sequence of stages. Each stage builds upon the prior one and represents a qualitatively distinct system of reasoning.

John Flavell Also a cognitive-stage theorist but felt that stages were different according to domains of functioning (e.g., intellectual, social, value, interpersonal). There is no single-stage conception for adolescents but rather different levels of problem solving in different domains.

John Hill A developmentalist who integrated the different theories of adolescents (e.g., the maturationist, the cultural, the social conditioning, and the cognitive-developmental domain views). He outlined primary changes聽common to all, different environmental influence, and secondary changes.

Adolescence in the life span An important reminder that adolescence is a link in the chain of development between childhood and adulthood. As a link it should be neither over- nor underemphasized. Longitudinal research studying the same persons over lengthy time periods-has helped to clarify both the unique aspects of adolescence and the differences that exist both before and after the stage concludes.

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