Social and emotional maturity are interconnected. The primary goal for adolescence is the establishment of autonomy. The challenge for the teen is that he must move away (take distance) from his family in order to gain independence. This time period is turbulent and separation-individuation tasks are complicated. Parents often struggle to let go of their teens and teens both push parents away and pull them close; demonstrating ambivalent behavior. This is often a time of conflict between adolescents and family members. The larger task is to balance emotional relatedness with autonomy. Some families deal with this systemic change by accommodation and others by entering into power struggles that only increase conflict. This can be a time of rage and anxiety and frustration for the family system.
During the ages of 13-18 years of age emotional maturity increases and with this comes an increase in vulnerability because greater intimacy is possible. increased trust amongst peers is necessary as teens tend to turn to friends over family members to gain support and proximity when they are upset, afraid, or worried. Reliance on friends marks the beginning of autonomy. Teens will change their speech, dress, behavior, and activities in order to look and act like their peers. This is related to the need for general acceptance and it contributes to a sense of security. Because of the reliance on peers, they become highly influential - both positively and negatively. Advanced cognitive development assists in encouraging wise decisions and assisting each other to avoid harm and act prosocially. Parents often worry about negative influencing but forget about the positive influence that is possible. Teens will align with others that are "like" them and spend time with those that share common interests, activities and culture. If an adolescent is attracted to someone dissimilar to him/her, it may be related to experimentation which is important related to identity formation.
During this developmental phase, it is important for teens to belong to a social group. Qualitatively, belonging looks different to the group focus of the 8-12 year olds. For adolescents, group cohesion and support creates a sense of security and safety. It is important to feel that your friends are loyal during this time period as teens are transferring some of their emotional reliance from their parents on to their friends. They are creating a social support system. The downside of friendship reliance is the fact that sometimes cliques form, some friends are left out, rejected
or labeled. Power issues emerge in peer groups and this can result in conflict between groups or within groups. Power issues can be related to physical, social, financial or cognitive differences. Bullying can emerge due to disparities and power imbalances.
Generally, the number of close friendships decline (acquaintances increase) but the ones that continue are trustworthy and intimate. During late adolescence, peers tend to replicate what appears to be a second family that provides significant emotional support. This is more apparent if the youth comes from a conflict ridden family or if he/she does not live with his/her family based on school etc.
Erikson (1950, 1959, 1968) developed a theory that identifies eight stages in which a healthy developing person passes through from infancy to late adulthood. It is thought that all stages are present at birth but only begin to unfold with one's ecological and cultural upbringing. At each stage, the person confronts and hopefully masters new challenges. Each stage builds on the successful completion of the earlier one. It is theorized that if one does not meet the challenge of a stage in a positive way, that stage will reappear later as a social-emotional problem. If mastery of a stage does not occur, one can move to the next stage and be modified later.
Each stage is characterized by a psychosocial crisis of two conflicting forces. If an individual does indeed successfully reconcile these forces (favoring the first mentioned attribute in the crisis), he or she emerges from the stage with, for example, more trust than mistrust. If this occurs, he or she carries the virtue of the ability to approach relationships and life in a trusting manner into the remaining life stages.
Birth - 18 months: Trust vs. Mistrust
18 months - 3 years: Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt
3- 5 years: Initiative vs. Guilt
6 through teens: Industry vs. Inferiority
Teens - 20's: Identity vs. Role Confusion
20's- 40's: Intimacy vs. Isolation
40's - 60's: Generativity vs. Stagnation
60's - beyond Ego Integrity vs. Despair
Youth from 13-18 years of age in this model are in the stage of Identity vs. Role Confusion.
The identity stage of development is unique because it is a synthesis of the earlier stages and a gateway to the following stages. It is the bridge between childhood and adulthood. It is a time of great physical and emotional change as it includes the ability to understand one's own intentions and the intentions of others including an increased awareness related to the role he/she will serve in society. Identity formation can occur over a longer age span as it takes time to gain the skills needed to perform adult tasks. Often, identity development continues until the end of the twenties as this includes identity in occupation, gender roles, politics, and, in some cultures, religion.
The adolescent is now concerned about inner and outer continuity (internal meanings and outer appearances). There are individual stages within this age band, as 13-year-olds are dealing with the emotional and physical changes that accompany puberty. This is accompanied by lack of certainty, moodiness, sensitivity, and self-consciousness. It is a critical period for fitting in with peers.
By 14 years, the adolescent has become more familiar with puberty and its impact. There will be fewer mood swings at this time and this age is seeking more freedom and privileges from parents; sometimes more than they can handle. This age no longer looks or acts as child-like as 13 year olds. This is the time of finding something special or important to which to apply their capabilities. This is a time of finding what one is really good at and self-esteem follows when this is accomplished.
Fifteen-year-olds begin to really assert independence. They tend to push parents to allow them to to do more and more on their own, and usually, they don't want to have to ask permission to do it. This can be a trying time as limits are pushed beyond acceptance or ability to manage those limits. This is a common age to think about living on your own or leaving home. Although living independently is not yet possible, it is the beginning of imagining being separate. This can be a time of increased privacy as this aged teen may not tell you about his day or share some things about what is happening with his peer group. This is a time of increased experimentation.
Socially, 16 year olds are now more aware of who they are and what they are capable of doing or being. It is a time when adolescents appear to "know everything" and providing feedback is nearly impossible, or at least met with resistance. Independent life skills are important to gain during this year. Responsibilities increase as it is the time a person can now get a driver's license and a part-time job. It is a leap from the testing 15 year old, because romantic relationships are also more prevalent and sexual and emotional relationships become more complex. Strong peer-related attachments are formed and the future becomes important.
By 17 years, adolescents have stronger, more consistent individual relationships and relationship groups. This aged teen is future focused and less conflict oriented with parents. This age group tends to act independently with more responsibility. There are fewer mood swings
Seventeen-year-old teens are more in-control of their moods and emotions than younger teens. They form stronger relationships with friends. No more flitting back and forth between cliques. They begin to see their future and can feel both excited and apprehensive about it. The 17-year-old teen has less conflict with parents but will still push for more independence. They will act independently. Parents will see a difference in maturity at this age, as 17-year-old teens tend to take more responsibility for themselves. There are still emotional ups and downs, but life skills continue to develop as they face difficult people and situations in work place environments and have to manage their emotions through trial and error experiences.
By late adolescence, the 18-year-old is attempting to understand where he/she fits in the world. This is an age of excitement and trepidation. This is the year the youth becomes a legal adult in some parts of the world. Of significance is the movement from highschool to post-secondary school or to the workplace. All of the independence skills accumulated to this point are now called on. Increased cooperation and understanding of others is typically on-line. A future view of partnering with someone sexually is also part of the focus as this age group continues to experiment in this domain.
What constitutes "maturity"? Garber (2010) points out that theory and research in this area does not present maturity as an end state of being. He reviewed an early account of maturity operationalized by Strang (1953). Strang identified seven useful variables related to maturity for consideration.
- Ability to feel with others; to see things from their point of view
- To be objective towards oneself (recognition and acceptance of one's own emotions as natural and ability to project hypotheses about one's behavior)
- Ability to select suitable worthwhile, long-term goals and to organize one's thinking and acting around these goals
- Role flexibility: Ability to make adjustments to situations
- Ability to meet unexpected stresses and disappointments without emotional/physical collapse
- Ability to give and receive affection
- Ability to form opinions on sound reasoning and defend the opinion (but also to accept compromise)
The above list is more inclusive than the idea that autonomy and independent thinking is enough to indicate maturity. In family law, it is typical to use arbitrary markers such as a child is mature enough to provide specific decision-making input at the age of 12.
What can be expected from a normally developing 13-18 year old? Look for the following:
- Youth begins to focus on friends and friendship groups
- Youth challenges spending time with family and begins to reject this in favor of spending time with friends
- Less sharing of intimate details with parents and an increase of sharing with friends
- Personal identity begins with an internalized sense of likes and dislikes
- Intimate romantic and sexual relationships begin
- New roles are tested (jobs, relationships, social groups)
- Risk of negative influence increases (early adolescence)
- Push away and pull towards parent figures (ambivalence)
- Turbulence related to mood and hormonal changes impacting relationships and problem-solving
- Late adolescence increase in independence and forward future thinking
- Increase in life skills (laundry/chores, driving, travel on public transportation independently)
Feedback to Parents
You may not be an expert in social-emotional development, but you can sharpen your observation skills.
If you notice the youth is struggling with peers, or fitting in you will want to provide feedback to a parent. Peers are very important to adolescents and it is through peer contact that the youth forms their identity. The youth may need assistance or encouragement.
If the parent is too lenient or not structured enough you may want to provide information that assists in the support of the development independence. Parents may need help to feel less rejected or powerless during this phase of development.
Some youth become negatively influenced and you may come to know drugs or alcohol and/or sexual behavior is out of control. Bringing this to the attention of the parent will be important. How to assist may require external helpers.
If the youth has a temperament profile that requires more support to meet the positive outcomes of Erikson's stages of social-emotinal development, caregivers may need to modify their behaviors to better support, encourage and understand their child.
You may want to refer to:
- Parent counselor
- Adolescent Counselling
- Group Counselling