e psychologist Erik Erikson proposed a theory of human development based on the psychological challenges we face at different ages in our lives and how these chal- lenges affect our social relationships. Erikson thought of psychosocial development as having eight stages, starting from an infant’s first year of life to old age (Table 4.1). Because it recognizes the importance of the entire life span, Erikson’s theory has been extremely influential in developmental psychology. However, a theory is only as good as the evidence that supports it, and few researchers have tested Erikson’s theory directly.
Erikson thought of each life stage as having a major developmental “crisis”—a challenge to be confronted. All of these crises are present throughout life, but each takes on special importance at a particular stage. Although each crisis provides an opportunity for psychologi- cal development, a lack of progress may impair further psychosocial development (Erikson, 1980). However, if the crisis is successfully resolved, the challenge provides skills and attitudes that the individual will need to face the next challenge. Successful resolution of the early challenges depends on the supportive nature of the child’s environ- ment as well as the child’s active search for information about what he is skilled at. According to Erikson’s theory, adolescents face perhaps the most fundamental challenge: how to develop an adult identity. This crisis of identity versus role confusion includes addressing questions about who we are. These questions concern our ethnic and cultural identity, how we relate to family and friends, and other individual characteristics.
ETHNIC IDENTITY Culture shapes much of who we are as we develop a full sense of identity during adolescence. Culture also determines whether each person’s identity will be accepted or rejected. In a multiracial country such as the United States, questions of racial or ethnic identity can be complicated. Forming an ethnic identity can be a particular challenge for adolescents of color.
Children entering middle childhood have some awareness of their ethnic iden- tities. That is, they know the labels and attributes that the dominant culture applies to their ethnic group. During middle childhood and adolescence, children in ethnic minority groups often engage in additional processes aimed at ethnic identity formation (Phinney, 1990). The factors that influence these processes vary widely among individuals and groups.
For instance, a child of Mexican immigrants may struggle to live successfully in both a traditional Mexican household and a Westernized American neighbor- hood and school. The child may have to serve as a “cultural broker” for his family, perhaps translating materials sent home from school, calling government agencies or insurance companies, and handling more adultlike responsibilities than other children the same age. In helping the family adjust to the stress of life as immi- grants in a foreign country, the child may feel additional pressures, but he may also develop important skills in communication, negotiation, and caregiving (Cooper, Denner, & Lopez, 1999). And by successfully negotiating these tasks, a child can develop a bicultural identity. That is, the child strongly identifies with two cultures