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What Developmental Challenges Do Adults Face?

What Developmental Challenges Do Adults Face?

Finally, the most mature students come to see that multiple perspectives exist and are valuable in all fields of study.

The students who achieve the final stage begin to see “truth” as tentative. They now realize knowledge is always building and changing—even in the “hard” sciences. And they realize a college education is not just learning an endless series of facts. Rather, it is learning how to think critically about the important questions and major concepts of a field. In this text, we have called them “Key Questions” and “Core Concepts.”

Check Your Understanding 1. RECALL: What is the major developmental task of adolescence,

according to Erikson?

a. puberty b. formal operational thought c. identity d. intimacy

2. ANALYSIS: You are watching a television program and see an interview with a psychologist who has written a new book entitled The Teen Years: Face It, Parents—You Don’t Matter Anymore! Is this point of view accurate, according to research? Why or why not?

3. RECALL: About what percent of North American teens have had their first sexual experience by age 17?

a. 20 percent b. 40 percent c. 60 percent d. 75 percent

4. APPLICATION: Your next-door neighbor is a teenage boy who recently got arrested for shoplifting. In talking about it, he says, “I realize now I shouldn’t have done that. My parents are really mad at me, and my teachers think I’m a troublemaker.” Which of Kohlberg’s stages of moral development does this boy seem to be in?

5. UNDERSTANDING THE CORE CONCEPT: What three categories of changes lead to the challenges faced in adolescence?

Answers 1. c 2. No, it is not accurate. Although peers become more influential in adolescence, parents still play a key role in their teens’ healthy development. 3. b 4. Kohlberg’s stage 3 5. Physical changes, cognitive changes, and socioemotional pressures

The transition from adolescence to young adulthood is marked by decisions about advanced education, career, and intimate relationships. Making such decisions and adjusting to the consequences are major tasks of adulthood because they shape the course of adult psychological development. But development doesn’t stop there. Con- tinuing pressures of careers, families, and friends, along with the relentless physical maturation (and eventual decline) of the body, continually present new developmental challenges. In today’s world, though, the traditional clock for aging has been set back, essentially “buying more time” for adults in all stages of adulthood. This revolution in aging is a key element in our Core Concept for this section:

Nature and nurture continue to interact as we progress through a series of transitions in adulthood, with cultural norms about age com- bining with new technology to increase both the length and quality of life for many adults.

A couple of points in our Core Concept should be noted before we examine adulthood in more depth. First, you have probably gathered from earlier sections of this chapter that stage theories—although very popular for describing human development—are often guilty of oversimplification. While the major developmental tasks and categories of leading stage theories, such as those proposed by Piaget, Kohlberg, and Erikson, are largely holding up to empirical scrutiny, psychologists now agree that develop- ment doesn’t occur in rigid stages. Rather, it is a more continuous process, occurring in waves or spurts. In other words, then, the stage theories may have gotten the “what” correct, but the “when” is more fluid than they thought it was. At no time in the lifes- pan is this more true than in adult development. Research finds that healthy adults pass through a series of transitions as they progress from early through middle and into late adulthood. Successful passage through these transitions involves reflection and readjustment, which we will discuss over the next few pages.

A second point worth noting is the changing nature of adulthood in the Western world. Thanks to better health care and technology, people are living longer than ever before and often enjoying better health in their later years than previous generations. This, in turn, is changing adults’ perceptions of the lifespan and its various ages and stages. Fewer adults feel compelled to marry or settle down in their early 20s, or to re- tire when they hit 65. We are seeing the beginning of a “revolution” in aging, spawned by both nature (the longer lifespan) and nurture (the ways our culture is adapting to the change).

This revolution in aging is prompting renewed attention to the study of adult devel- opment in psychological science. Although for many years we relied on theories based on clinical observation, we are now accumulating an increasing body of empirical re- search. Interestingly, much of this new research supports traditional clinical theories— but it also sheds new light on the processes of adulthood in the 21st century. To see how these developmental changes unfold, let’s begin with personality—where we find some surprising agreement among otherwise diverse theories.

Freud taught that adult development is driven by two basic needs: love and work. Abraham Maslow (1970) described the critical needs as love and belonging, which, when satisfied, allow emergence of our needs for esteem and fulfillment. Other theo- rists divide the basic needs of adulthood into affiliation or social acceptance needs, achievement or competence needs, and power needs (McClelland, 1975, 1985; McClelland & Boyatzis, 1982). And in Erikson’s theory, the early and middle adult years focus on needs for intimacy and “generativity.” While all these theories offer important clues to healthy adulthood, what they all share is recognition of the need for human relationships. Because Erikson gave the most comprehensive account of adult development, we will use his theory as our framework, into which we will build recent empirical research that illuminates the course of adulthood today.

Early Adulthood: Explorations, Autonomy, and Intimacy What are the developmental tasks of early adulthood? And perhaps a bigger question for 20-somethings is this: When exactly does adulthood begin? In our teen years, many of us look forward to the “freedom” of turning 18 and becoming a legal adult. But does psychological adulthood arrive at 18 as well?

Intimacy versus Isolation Early adulthood, said Erikson, poses the challenge of establishing close relationships with other adults (look again at Table 7.1 on page 277). He described intimacy as the capacity to make a full commitment—sexual, emotional, and moral—to another person. Making intimate commitments requires compromising personal preferences, accepting responsibilities, and yielding some privacy and inde- pendence, but it also brings great rewards. To achieve intimacy, however, the individual must resolve the conflict between the need for closeness and the fear of vulnerability and risks such closeness can bring. Failure to successfully resolve this crisis leads to isolation and the inability to connect to others in meaningful ways.

For Erikson, the young adult must first consolidate a clear sense of identity (resolving the crisis of adolescence) before being able to cope successfully with the risks and benefits of adult intimacy. In essence, you must know who and what you are before you can successfully commit to love and share your life with someone else. However, the sequence from identity to intimacy Erikson described may not accurately

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