Relationships and Feelings in Adolescence

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As they grow from childhood to adulthood, humans go through various stages of development. For example, kids go through emotional, cognitive, and social development stages when they acquire the fundamentals of how to interact with others. Each stage of development corresponds to a certain phase in human development. Adolescence, which lasts from 12 to 18 years, has been connected to social and emotional development, for example (Karevold, Ystrom, Coplan, Sanson, & Mathiesen, 2012). During adolescence, a kid achieves key socio-emotional milestones that influence their feelings as well as the nature of their connections with others. This paper is a discussion of developmental theories and research evidence related to socio-emotional development, relationships and feelings in adolescence.

Developmental Psychology and its Theories

Developmental psychologists study how various characteristics and skills including cognitive abilities, language, motor skills, and communication develop as a person grows. Moreover, they focus on the nature of personality and how people develop their identities, manage their emotions and conceptualize themselves (Wang & Eccles, 2012). However, developmental psychology is broad in nature and, hence, a couple of theories were designed concerning the process of human development. One such theory is the Erikson's theory of socio-emotional development. The present paper was based on the theory by Erikson.

Defining Socio-Emotional Development

Socio-emotional development can be defined as the process through which people develop their personalities, emotions, and relationships with people around them. Therefore, studying socio-emotional development includes the study of how we form friendships and relationships, how people express and regulate their emotions and the way in which we interpret other people's emotions (McRae, Gross, Weber, Robertson, Sokol-Hessner, Ray, ... & Ochsner, 2012). Additionally, this study focuses on determining how people identify and think about themselves. In this way, they concluded that socio-emotional development is the whole process through which people transition from where their emotions are regulated by their parents or the figures of authority in their life to being able to regulate their emotions by themselves (Huhtala, Korja, Lehtonen, Haataja, Lapinleimu, Rautava, & PIPARI Study Group, 2014).

Erikson's Contribution to Socio-Emotional Development

Erikson has been credited with facilitating and contributing to the current understanding of human socio-emotional development. He was a psychologist born in Germany, studied Sigmund Freud's theory of psychoanalysis and eventually he came up with his own theory of socio-emotional development (Wang & Eccles, 2012). The ideas presented by Erikson about socio-emotional development received much appreciation and they are still studied and admired today (Davis & Humphrey, 2012).

Erikson's Eight Stages of Socio-Emotional Development

According to Erikson, there are eight stages through which people pass during their socio-emotional development process. These stages span from birth to death and they can be completed either successfully or unsuccessfully (Montagna & Nosarti, 2016). For successful socio-emotional development, a person has to successfully complete each of the stages. Completing a stage in an unsuccessful way causes an individual to have trouble later in life in regards to how they relate socially and emotionally (Dumont & Paquette, 2013).

Stage 1: Trust vs. Mistrust

The first stage is known as trust vs. mistrust which lasts from infancy up to 2 years (Wang & Eccles, 2012).

Stage 2: Autonomy vs. Shame

The second stage is autonomy vs. shame which lasts from early childhood to 3 years old (Wang & Eccles, 2012).

Stage 3: Initiative vs. Guilt

The third stage initiative vs. guilt lasts from 3-5 years of age.

Stage 4: Industry vs. Inferiority

The fourth stage which is industry vs. inferiority lasts from 5-12 years of age.

Stage 5: Ego Identity vs. Role Confusion

Stage five, ego identity vs. role confusion, lasts from 12-18 years.

Stage 6: Intimacy vs. Isolation

The sixth stage is intimacy vs. isolation.

Stage 7: Generativity vs. Stagnation

The seventh stage is generativity vs. stagnation.

Stage 8: Ego Integrity vs. Despair

The eighth and final stage is ego integrity vs. despair (Saldarriaga, Santo, & Cunha, 2014).

Identity vs. Role Confusion Stage in Adolescence

The focus of this study is on stage five which is identity vs. role confusion.

Development During the First Four Stages

During the first four stages of development, the child learns basic skills on how to process emotions and participate in relationships. The rest of the stages are involved in developing an identity. For example, in the stage of trust vs. mistrust, the child learns to confide or does not trust the world based on how the parent treats him. Loving parents will produce more trusting kids while distant parents tend to raise kids who mistrust the environment (Baker & Hoerger, 2012). The second stage is about learning independence and the child tends to assert their own will by walking away from the parent and even making choices about what they want to wear while the third stage entails having a balance between initiative and guilt whereby the child learns the virtue of purpose. During the fourth stage, the child learns new skills which build their self-esteem, failure to learn will make the child have an inferiority complex (Marmot & Bell, 2012).

The Fifth Stage: Identity vs. Role Confusion in Adolescence

The fifth stage, identity vs. role confusion, spans the entire adolescence period of the child. This is the most crucial stage of socio-emotional development since the child is in search for a sense of self as well as personal identity (Troop-Gordon & Gerardy, 2012). The adolescent period is often considered as the psychosocial stage that connects childhood and adulthood; at this stage, the child uses the morality learned as a child to build the ethics they will practice as adults. As such, during this stage, the child intensely explores their personal values, goals, and beliefs as they progress to adulthood (Troop-Gordon & Gerardy, 2012).

Importance of Identity vs. Role Confusion Stage

The identity vs. role confusion stage is a major determinant of how the child will behave socially in addition to controlling their emotions (Oh, Park, Suk, Song, & Im, 2012). At this stage, the child becomes more self-sufficient and also they start looking at the future relationships, career, and family. Since the child wants to be successful in society, they have to learn the roles that they will play as adults. As such, the child re-examines their identity in an attempt to determine exactly who they are (Oh, Park, Suk, Song, & Im, 2012).

Key Identities in Stage Five

Two identities are of major importance in this stage; the sexual identity and the occupational identity. When seeking out their sexual identity, the child may feel uncomfortable with their body since their body image changes (Salguero, Palomera, & Fernández-Berrocal, 2012). However, as the child grows they tend to accept their bodies. Successful completion of this stage leads to the virtue of fidelity which involves the ability to commit oneself to others even though the ideologies held by others may be different (Salguero, Palomera, & Fernández-Berrocal, 2012).

Role Confusion and Identity Crisis

Further, during the identity vs. role confusion stage, the child explores each and every possibility and forms an identity based on the results of the exploration. Failure to develop an identity where the child doesn't know what they want to become when they grow up leads to role confusion whereby the child is not sure of their role in society (Tarasova, 2016). An outcome of role confusion is an identity crisis which may cause the child to experiment with more lifestyles such as work, political activities, and education. However, it is important to note that one should not pressure an adolescent towards a certain identity as this can cause them to rebel by establishing a negative identity (Tarasova, 2016). This will lead to the feeling of unhappiness and dissatisfaction with life.


In conclusion, it is during the adolescence period that a child accomplishes major socio-emotional milestones that affect their feelings as well as the nature of their relationships with other people. The adolescent's socio-emotional development is determined by how successful they were in completing the first five stages of development according to Erikson (Blakemore & Robbins, 2012). Successful completion of the stages will lead to better outcomes such as the development of good virtues such as competence and fidelity while unsuccessful completion will result in a rebellious attitude from the child.


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April 19, 2023



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