PSY 0003 Childhood and Adolescent Development Essay Assignment Paper

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PSY 0003 Childhood and Adolescent Development Essay Assignment Paper

PSY 0003 Childhood and Adolescent Development

During this first week, you will explore a basic overview of child and adolescent development. In this first assignment, you will create a blog post that introduces child and adolescent development and the value gained in studying these parts of the lifespan. Imagine this blog post would be for the website of Division 7: Developmental Psychology of the American Psychological Association.

In your blog entry, be sure to address the following:

Define childhood and adolescent development, including the ages associated with each.
Present an argument that explains why people should study and understand childhood and adolescent development.
Identify and explain one current developmental issue in childhood development and adolescent development (e.g., what technology has meant for your understanding of brain development in childhood, or the role of social media in adolescent identity development).
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The developmental processes of children and adolescents have intrigued theorists and researchers for centuries. Prior to the time of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, during the late 17th and early 18th centuries, most people viewed children as miniature adults. During the Middle Ages children as young as six years of age were often sent off to work as apprentices in professions such as farming, blacksmithing, and carpentry. However, toward the end of the Middle Ages, the economic situation dramatically shifted; many occupations switched from requiring manual labor to necessitating academic skills. Thus, the treatment of children became refocused, away from integration with adults and toward educational instruction. This article is designed to introduce readers to topics (i.e., physical, cognitive, language, personality and social, and morality development) that have helped us to better understand how children and adolescents are not miniature adults but unique, intriguing beings.

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Research and Theory
Physical Development
Much of the physical growth and development that occurs in childhood is a continuation of earlier growth patterns seen in infancy. As was the case in infancy, development continues on the cephalocaudal (i.e., a pattern of physical and motor growth from head to tail) and proximodistal (i.e., a pattern of physical and motor growth from the center of the body outward) track. In other words, physical and motor development begins with the head, chest, and trunk and then follows with the arms and legs, ending with the feet and hands. When children enter the adolescent period this growth pattern reverses, with hand and foot growth followed by that of the trunk or upper body. Examples of associated milestones of motor development in childhood include walking up and down stairs using alternating feet between the ages of 3 to 5 years; developing abilities to jump, hop, and skip; and increasing upper-body motion when throwing and catching a ball. Between the ages of 7 and 12 years, there are increases in speed when running, increases in vertical-jump height, increased accuracy in throwing and kicking, and overall fluidity in physical body movement. However, it is important to note that because the extremities (hands and feet) grow before the upper body during the adolescent spurt of physical growth, teens may experience a brief period of awkward stature and movement.

Much of the physical growth that occurs in childhood and adolescence is coordinated by endocrine glands through the release of hormones. Human growth hormones are released primarily by the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is regulated by and located near the hypothalamus, toward the base of the brain. One pituitary hormone that is secreted throughout the life span is growth hormone (GH), which influences the growth of bones. Another important hormone that influences growth and development is thyroxine, a hormone released by the thyroid gland that influences body and brain maturation. Thyroxine is necessary for GH to have its fullest impact on a body’s development. During adolescence, the pituitary gland releases sex hormones (estrogens and androgens). Both of these hormones are found in males and females, but at differing levels, dependent upon the sex of the individual. It is during prepubescence (the period leading up to completion of development or puberty) that the release of hormones spurs the continued development of the brain and growth of primary and secondary sex characteristics. Primary sex characteristics include the development of the sex organs (i.e., in females, the ovaries, uterus, and vagina; in males, the penis, scrotum, and testes), whereas secondary sex characteristics consist of outward signs of pubertal growth (e.g., growth of underarm and pubic hair, facial hair for boys, breast development for girls, and skin changes for both sexes). The signal of puberty completion for girls is the occurrence of menarche (the first menstrual cycle and period). Puberty ends for boys with the completed development of their testes, seminal vesicles, and prostate gland. The spermarche, or ability to ejaculate semen, is indicative of the end of puberty for boys. The process of adolescent physical growth begins and ends earlier for girls than for boys.

Because of the dramatic hormonal, physical, and emotional changes that occur during adolescence, researchers have traditionally recognized this time as a period of “storm and stress.” This concept, although originally recognized by influential philosophers (e.g., Aristotle and Socrates) and theorists (e.g., Rousseau), was explicitly described by G. Stanley Hall. Hall believed that humans experienced a tumultuous time during which they transition from being children to becoming adults. During this turbulence, researchers saw adolescents as engaging in conflict with their parents, experiencing mood fluctuations and disruptions, and engaging in risk-taking or reckless behavior. Interestingly, Jeffrey Arnett (1999) revisited the concept of storm and stress in light of more recent research and found that although great individual differences exist within the experience of storm and stress, most adolescents do experience variations of the three components. He also noted that culture has a significant influence over the extent and experience of storm and stress.

PSY 0003 Childhood and Adolescent DevelopmentCognitive Development
Our understanding of cognitive development comes, in large part, from the research and theory of Jean Piaget. Piaget developed his theory of cognitive development based upon observations of his own and other children. Before outlining his theory, it is important to understand the underlying assumptions. First, although Piaget recognized the probability of individual differences in development, he believed in an invariant sequence of developmental stages that were qualitatively different. Second, Piaget’s theory is constructivist; children are not simply waiting for development to occur or maturation to take place, they actively construct the experiences they have and make sense of the environment. Third, under normal circumstances there should be no stage regression. That is, the knowledge and skills gained in each stage build upon one another and, barring unforeseen circumstances, individuals should not regress in their cognitive abilities.

Piaget’s observational research allowed for an understanding of how children gain and refine their knowledge (thought patterns or schema) of the world. Children are born into this world with very little knowledge and only a set core of reflexes, but as they mature and interact more with their environment, they begin to integrate and change their existing knowledge. There are two processes by which children deal with new information. One such way is called assimilation—an attempt to integrate new information into what they already know. For example, as children are learning the different sounds animals make, they may have a clear understanding of the sound a cow makes, “moo.” When confronted with new information, they will likely rely on their old knowledge to make sense of the world. So, when the child sees a horse for the first time, and you ask what sound a horse makes, he or she may respond “moo!” Clearly, at some point children learn that horses do not “moo.” Piaget explained this shift in understanding as accomodation—altering existing knowledge to incorporate new information. So, a child’s learning that a horse “neighs” is an example of accommodation of knowledge and new schemes developing. Piaget described our cognitive process as being in a state of balance or equilibrium. However, when we are confronted with information that does not fit, we are thrown into a state of disequilibrium and must reorganize our thinking to fit new information and achieve equilibration. Piaget is most well known for his four stages of cognitive development: sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operational.

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Sensorimotor period (birth to roughly 2 years of age). Piaget believed that generally children gain knowledge through their senses and motor behavior. Piaget outlined six substages to this first stage of development.

Reflexes (0 to 1 months). Infants are born with a set of reflexes that are uncoordinated at first, but quickly become synchronized and serve as the foundation for later cognitive development.
Primary circular reaction (1 to 4 months). During this substage there is a crude beginning of intent in behavior. Specifically, as infants accidentally produce a desirable occurrence using their body, they will attempt to recreate that event. For example, an infant may unintentionally brush her lips with her hand and induce the sucking reflex. In an attempt to recreate that pleasurable experience of sucking, the infant may more purposefully put her thumb or finger in her mouth. This recreation of an experience is an example of how, at a very early age, children are constructing their experiences within the environment.
Secondary circular reactions (4 to 8 months). Whereas the focus of recreating occurrences during the primary circular reactions stage is on the infant’s body, the focus for secondary circular reactions is outside the self. For example, if a baby were to accidentally shake a toy that had a rattle inside it and create a pleasurable noise, the baby would attempt to recreate the noise by shaking the toy again. Piaget described this recreation of events in the environment as demonstrating the infant’s interest in the world.
Coordination of secondary circular reactions (aka meansend behavior; 8 to 12 months). This stage offers a clear indication of intentional behavior. For example, if an object is in front of a toy the child desires, the child will intentionally move the object to grasp the toy. An important cognitive milestone of this stage is object permanence— understanding that objects exist even though we cannot perceive them. Once a child has the understanding of object permanence, he understands how to find a missing toy by removing the blanket that covers it. Object permanence is another indication of the child’s further development of schemes.
Tertiary circular reaction (12 to 18 months). At this stage Piaget described children as little scientists because they are experimenting within their environments. There is clear and combinational intent in children’s behavior at this stage, building on the intent found in stage four. It is at this point that babies will repeat actions using different objects only to see what the end result will be. For example, a child may drop different objects over the side of her high chair, only to see what sounds each object will make.
Mental representation (18 months to 2 years). At this stage, children continue to develop and refine their schemes and are able to solve simple problems in their heads. It is at this point that children begin to play make-believe and also demonstrate differed imitation. For example, because a child now understands what it looks like to sleep, she may pretend play that she is sleeping to “fool” her parents.
Preoperational period (2 to 7 years). The preoperational period is an expanded time frame that consists of rapid cognitive development. Children at this stage are able to represent schemes mentally and can think about objects and events that are not physically present. The biggest limitation at this stage of cognitive development is children’s egocentrism—the inability to take the perspective of another. Piaget described children’s egocentrism as perceptual, affective, and cognitive. Perceptual egocentrism is illustrated by children’s believing that others can see (or hear, or some other sensory experience) what they see. Although egocentrism is defined as a child’s lack of ability to understand the emotions of another, cognitive egocentrism is best described by the term conservation. Piaget discovered that children during this stage lack the understanding that changing the size, shape, or location of an object does not change the amount of that object (i.e., conservation).

Concrete operational period (7 to 11 years). During the concrete operational period, children become more logical in their thinking and now have the ability to conserve objects and take the perspective of others. Children’s thought processes at this stage are more flexible and organized compared to during previous stages; however, at this stage, children’s thoughts tend to be focused on the here and now. That is, during this time period, children have a difficult time thinking abstractly or in a hypothetical form.

Formal operational period (11 years and beyond). During Piaget’s last stage of cognitive development, adolescents are now able to think logically and flexibly, and they have the newfound ability to think about abstract concepts and hypothetical situations. Adolescents are able to use hypothetic-deductive reasoning, whereby they begin with a general theory of possible factors influencing a situation and then deduce specific hypotheses to test in an orderly fashion. Piaget described a new type of egocentrism as a limitation to adolescent thinking, however. Although adolescents have the ability to understand other people’s perspectives, they tend to focus on themselves. Three examples of this adolescent egocentrism include the personal fable, the imaginary audience, and the invincibility fable. The personal fable is adolescents’ belief that their experiences are special or unique. Because of this belief, adolescents often think that no one could possibly understand their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. The imaginary audience consists of adolescents’ beliefs that everyone else is as interested in their appearance and behavior as they are. Because of this egocentrism, adolescents will often feel extremely self-conscious and engage in behaviors to “fit in” with age-mates. Finally, the invincibility fable consists of adolescents’ belief that they will never fall victim to risky or dangerous behavior. Because of this belief, adolescents often will engage in unprotected sex (thinking they will not get pregnant or get an STD), drinking/using drugs and driving, and driving in extreme fashions (e.g., at high speeds).

Piaget is very well known and respected for his research and theory. Still, to understand cognitive development, it is important to consider at least one other influential theorist. Lev Vygotsky is known for his sociocultural theory of cognitive development. Whereas Piaget’s theory focuses on the child interacting with the environment in somewhat of a self-guided process, Vygotsky’s focus for cognitive development is on the benefit of social interaction that children have with adults and others. Vygotsky believed that through social interaction, children are able to master tasks and skills that they would not be able to accomplish if left to their own devices. He called this the Zone of Proximal Development, the differential range of working by oneself versus working with the assistance of a skilled peer or adult.

For the interaction between child and another to be successful, or for a child to be successfully pushed to the higher end of his or her Zone of Proximal Development, two important factors must be involved. First, there must be intersubjectivity—the child and others begin a task with different understandings or knowledge of the situation, but by the completion of the task, they have come to a shared agreement. During the process of intersubjectivity, the adult must work to share his or her knowledge in a manner that is understandable to the specific child.

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The second important factor for successful interaction is the process of scaffolding—adults (or skilled peers) change the quality of social interaction by adjusting the amount of assistance they provide to the child. Early in a child’s learning a task, the adult may engage in more direct instruction and heavily guide the child’s actions; however, as the child gains greater insight into the problem or task, the adult begins to withdraw the extra assistance to the point at which the child is able to do the task alone. For example, when a child is first learning how to make her bed, her parent may offer several direct commands and physically show the child how to do the task. However, as the child becomes more knowledgeable, the parent offers less direction but more “helpful hints” and has the child doing the task alone.

Vygotsky also described how children guide their own behavior using private speech—self-directed speech that children engage in as a means to guide their own thoughts and behavior. When children are small, it is not uncommon to hear them talking themselves through a task (e.g., washing their hands, tying a shoe, buttoning a button, etc.). Research has suggested that children will engage in more frequent private speech when the task is difficult, if they have made an error, or if they are uncertain or confused about how to proceed with a problem. However, as we age, this self-direction becomes internalized and private speech becomes more of a thought process than outward expression. Vygotsky was a firm believer in the connection between language development and thought processes. He suggested that as we develop language, there is a profound shift in our thinking processes.

PSY 0003 Childhood and Adolescent DevelopmentLanguage Development
Language development can be understood by highlighting the sequential process of its development and then explaining that process using recognized theories. When examining the process or stages of human language development, we find a path that is fairly universal in nature. All infants begin the communication process with reflexive crying that, although unintentional, clearly sends messages about hunger, pain, or discomfort. The hunger cry is lower in pitch and intensity, whereas the pain cry is high in pitch and intensity. Infants do not have to think about what type of cry they’d like to express; it occurs naturally. Also, although there is some debate as to whether adults can recognize the different types of cries infants express, one can argue that, given enough time with an infant, the adult will quickly pick up on the messages being sent.

Even though there can be great variation and individual differences in the rate of language development, most researchers recognize that the foundation for language begins around the age of two months with vowel-like noises called cooing. Common cooing consists of “oo” sounds. Cooing is an oral expression of sounds that the infant can make. At approximately four months of age, as infants develop greater muscle control over their tongue and mouth, they will begin to add consonant-vowel combinations, typically heard in strings. These combinations are called babbling. An example of babbling from the English language consists of phrases like “bababababa” and “nananana.” It is during this stage of language development, at around seven months of age, that infants begin specialization within their own language. Interestingly, individual maturation and exposure to language within the environment influence the age at which infants truly begin to babble. For babies who are hearing impaired, vocal babbling will most often be delayed, and for deaf babies, completely absent. However, researchers Petitto and Marentette (1991) have found that when infants who are deaf are exposed to sign language within their environment, they will babble similarly with their hands as hearing babies do with their voice.

The third stage of language development is known as one-word utterances. At about one year, infants are expressing their first words. Common first words in the English language include phrases like “mama” and “dada,” but it is important to recognize the influence of the infant’s language environment on his or her first word. The first 50 words a child learns tend to happen rather slowly, but after those first 50 a language explosion occurs. This rapid connection between words and objects or events, called fast mapping, occurs so rapidly that children cannot reasonably understand all possible meanings of the words.

The next stage of language development is called two-word utterances. At about two and one-half years, children begin stringing words together. In their early sentences, children’s language is described as telegraphic speech because, as is the case with telegrams, children use only the important or necessary words to communicate meaning. Unimportant words (e.g., “a,” “and,” “the”) are often left out. So, a child might say or sing, for example, “itsy bitsy spider, up water spout” instead of “the itsy bitsy spider went up the water spout.”

At about three to five years, children enter the last stage of language development and start using what is called basic adult sentence structure. By this age, they have a basic understanding of the way that words are ordered (syntax) and have become quite sophisticated communicators. Sometimes children of this age will misapply grammatical rules to words that are exceptions to those rules. This error is called overregularization and is exemplified by adding an inappropriate –s to make a word plural. For example, a child may say “mouses” instead of “mice.” Another error is inappropriately adding –ed to make the past tense of an irregular verb: “I goed to the store today.”

How can we explain children’s phenomenal ability to acquire language? As is the case with most aspects of development, one theory argues nature’s role in language development, and another suggests the predominant importance of nurture. Beginning with the nurture side, most recognized is an application of B. F. Skinner’s operant Conditioning. Theorists who argue operant conditioning as the explanation of language development would look at how parents reinforce an infant or child through smiles and verbal praise for making different sounds. Another learning approach, Bandura’s social learning theory, explains language development by examining how children imitate what they hear in their environment. Learning theories give some insight into how language develops, and one would be remiss to ignore the impact of the environment on language development, but taking a nurture stance alone is not enough to explain how and why children develop language. For example, why would a child say “goed”? It is highly unlikely that she or he hears parents saying “goed,” and chances are, parents are not reinforcing that utterance. It is through examining the nature side of this debate that we have additional understanding and insight into language development.

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