In modern society, teenagers face difficult situations in their life due to the psychological and physical changes they undergo. Moreover, they often encounter both negative and positive issues, such as sexuality, morality, family, identity, substance abuse, that significantly broaden their experience and learn them to cope with new challenges. Besides, learning at high school also implies communicating with peers who often create pressure, which is hard for adolescents to deal with.
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For this adolescent observation project, I have chosen to identify and describe the developmental stage of a 15-year-old girl, named Elizabeth. She studies at high school and is fond of many disciplines, including philosophy and literature.
Elizabeth can easily communicate with both her peers and parents. She is not afraid of meeting new people and exploring new opportunities. Although she is extremely curious and sociable, sometimes she prefers staying alone. Elizabeth has a younger brother Eric, who attends the same school. I observed the girl after she had returned from school and was making her homework. While conducting a one-hour interview, I learned about her friends, hobby, relationships with parents, and problems at school.
After interviewing Elizabeth and her parents for 60 minutes, I have developed the observational report that focuses on the physical, cognitive, social, and psychological development of the girl. The main purpose of the report consists of evaluating the impact of social environment on adolescent’s ability to communicate and identify any psychological, cognitive, and emotional barriers. Additionally, the analysis will be premised on recent developmental theories of adolescent behavior. Specific attention is paid to the theories of psychological development provided by Piaget and Kohlberg to define how environmental factors affect an adolescent’s reaction to social and cultural settings.
Elizabeth was very excited when she learned about the interview. Although she was a bit reserved and confused, she demonstrated her willingness to communicate. Her calmness, tactfulness, and respect for the interview explained her readiness to respond to the questions honestly and with detail. During the interview, I noticed that the girl was more concerned with her school problems rather than with the family relationship.
While discussing Elizabeth’s hobbies, she expressed her great interest in dancing and drawing. However, parents persuaded Elizabeth to go to the art school and leave dancing because this experience was not beneficial for her professional development. Despite parents’ objections, the girl focused on both dancing and drawing as one of the means of self-expression. Elizabeth also felt that drawing helped her expand their imagination and develop creative thinking whereas dancing helped release negative emotions.
Family and friends play an important role in Elizabeth’s life because they help her overcome difficulties at school. Elizabeth does not have obvious problems while interacting with her friends and peers. She also confessed that her best friend Amy was the only person with whom she could discuss some of the challenges at school. While speaking about family, the girl explained that she expected her family members to provide her with valuable guidance and assistance. Elizabeth agreed that family did not have a significant influence on her choices in life; nevertheless, she valued parents’ decisions and tried to follow them.
While evaluating the moral and cognitive development of the observed individual, I paid closer attention to the structure of Elizabeth’s responses rather than to their content. Thus, Elizabeth presented her future goals, which were realistic and consistent. She has full awareness of the responsibilities imposed on her, as well as challenges she should face to achieve the results. Although Elizabeth had a clear professional plan, she failed to realize which steps should be taken to succeed.
Nevertheless, Elizabeth knows that to become a famous artist or dancer, she needs to develop the unique style that would distinguish her from other ordinary dancers. However, all she observed was related to the experience of other famous artists and dancers. While responding to the questions, Elizabeth often used body language to emphasize the significance of her answers. When questions did not interest her, she responded shortly, with no elaboration on the issue. In general, the girl was quite polite and did not want to respond negatively in order not to disappoint the interviewer.
Educators and psychologists differently perceive theories on the cognitive and intellectual development of children. The results obtained from a one-hour interview with Elizabeth show that the adolescent has entered the formal operation stage, as described in Piaget’s theory. At this stage, an individual starts realizing that many factors influence their decisions and perceptions of the world. In particular, the developmental stages imply “…viewing cognitive development as a continuum involving the interaction of four influences: maturation, active experience, social interaction, and a general progression of equilibrium” (Ewing et al., 2011, p. 69).
Thus, the transition from one level to another indicates individuals’ normal development. The case shows that Elizabeth is at the stage of formal operation because she can socially interact and make conclusions concerning her life goals. However, the adolescent still relies on passive experience rather than on her own, which is the leading factor encouraging cognitive development. What is more important is that Elizabeth often fails to notice her own mistakes and, as a result, she faces challenges while accomplishing her short-term goals.
To explain the moral development and judgment of the observed individual, specific attention should be paid to Kohlberg’s theory of moral development that is composed of three levels and six stages. Preconventional morality refers to the first level that begins at the early stage of individual development. During this period, individuals expect specific people to meet specific needs; they search for rewards and avoid punishment. The second stage of the pre-convention shows that “…people are classified according to the actions they have performed” (Dawson, 2003, p. 335). It also implies individuals following their interests.
The conventional period is the second level that starts at the end of studying at elementary school and can extend across the individual’s entire lifespan (Berger, 2008). At this level, individuals are perceived in terms of their roles, motives, and personality traits. Adolescents can understand that obeying norms, laws, and rules is important. The final level is post-conventional, during which individuals are presented as complex systems involved in an interactive process with other individuals (Berger, 2008).
The above-presented stages demonstrate that Elizabeth has entered the second stage of the conventional period because she realizes her purposes, roles, and motives, as well as what steps she should take to achieve her goals. Kohlberg’s theory does not only identify Elizabeth’s readiness to analyze and evaluate the surrounding environment but also predicts future trends in the adolescent’s development. Moreover, the proposed framework excludes the possibility of acceptance of changes that Elizabeth might experience.
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Before addressing cognitive, psychological, and moral development, the emphasis should be placed on socio-cultural factors affecting the adolescent reaction to the external environment. At this point, Crockett and Silbereisen (2000) insist, “social change can affect the structure and dynamics of social contexts that adolescents experience daily, such as family, school, and youth groups” (p. 1). Hence, most of the skills, experiences, and purposes are shaped in various environments, which are also viewed from the case with Elizabeth.
While looking at her peers, as well as recent behavioral patterns, the girl has shaped her vision about how she should react to various situations. Similarly, Van Hoorn et al. (2000) also underscore the significance of considering the external environment, including school setting and family relationships as the major factors affecting adequate adolescent behavior.
While defining possible deviations from Elizabeth’s intellectual and moral development, I have not found any related problems, except for a few issues. In particular, I have noticed that the girl experiences great pressure on the part of her parents because some of her decisions are not accepted. However, her ability to pursue her goals helps her avoid the restrictions and focus on actual purposes. Second, Elizabeth has a high level of emotionality because she is at the stage of transition from one period of psychological development to another. At this point, parents should express a greater understanding of her concerns and problems.
They should organize regular family meetings to discuss various issues. Although Elizabeth can communicate, the further restriction imposed by her parents can lead to greater problems in her interaction with peers. Being a calm and reserved person, Elizabeth could conceal her problem from family. The task of the parents, therefore, lies in establishing trustful relationships with their daughter. What is more important is that parents should also coordinate their efforts with the academic counselor who should report on possible improvements or challenges encountered by Elizabeth. As soon as Elizabeth realizes that she receives sufficient support from parents and counselor, she will be able to discuss her problems with them.
Berger, K. S. (2008). The Developing Person through the Lifespan (7th ed.). New York: Worth.
Crockett, L. J., & Silbereisen, R. K. (2000). Social Change and Adolescent Development: Issues and Challenges. Department of Psychology. 243, 1-13.
Dawson, T. L. (2003). A stage is a stage: A direct comparison of two scoring systems. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 164(3), 335-64.
Ewing, J. C., Foster, D. D., & Whittington, M. (2011). Explaining Student Cognition during Class Sessions in the Context Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development. NACTA Journal, 55(1), 68-75.
Van Hoorn, J. L., Komlosi, A., Suchar, E. & Samelson, D. A. (2000). Adolescent development and rapid social change: Perspectives from Eastern Europe. Adolescence, 35(139), 607-608.