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Adolescent Development and Theories: A Case Study of Jamal Ahmed

  • 09 Pages
  • Published On: 01-11-2023


The years between 15-18 is instrumental in helping a teenager develop and learn skills they need to become responsible adults. However, there is a good chance that a 15-year-old thinks that they are ready for adulthood and may insist that they already know everything. This attitude can breed rebellion among 15 -year-olds. Therefore, understanding their development can be useful to offer successful parenting. This essay critically analyses the psychoanalytic and psychosocial theories of development as applied to a case study of Jamal Ahmed, who is a 15 -year-old Syrian immigrant living in the UK. The essay will apply the developmental theories to various scenarios, evaluating each theory’s application and its implication for practice. First is the analysis of the psychoanalytic theory and how it applies to Jamal’s scenario.


Psychoanalytic theory (Sigmund Freud)

The psychoanalytic theory was coined by Freud and emphasizes the biological influences on development. However, because Freud had a unique conception of personality and developed several theories, this section will solely focus on how Jamal’s developmental lifestyle can be understood from the psychoanalytic theory point of view (Scorolli, 2019).

Jamal does not study well due to his difficulties with accessing curriculum materials but has not told his parents about it. As such, his parents assume he is doing well because he seems to be happy. This can be explained by the psychoanalytic theory, where because of puberty, the previously held sexual imbalances during the latency period resurface but at an even more intense level. Therefore, the previously achieved balance between the superego, ego and id cannot take the additional strain and thus Jamal, being an adolescent, experiences emotional turmoil and psychological conflict (Nobus, 2018). As a result, the adolescent develops a defence mechanism through an unconscious process of controlling anxiety by distorting reality in some way. This explains why Jamal seems to be okay with his studies even if he is not; and why he considers having a romantic relationship even though he knows his parents will disapprove of it (Ringstorm, 2018).

Peter Blos, a proponent of Freud’s psychoanalytic theory wrote that adolescence is a critical stage for developing a permanent personality structure, characterised by social expectations, and accompanying anxiety and stronger sexual drives undoubtedly lead to experimentation, conflict, and rebellion – all of which are a temporary characteristic of ego development. No wonder, Jamal appears to be rebellious about his sexual relationship desires, goes to the shisha bar even though his parents disapprove of it, and struggles with the fear of being left out with his group of friends.

Adolescents’ identification with peers use common defence mechanisms and disengagement from parents are common forms of adolescents’ way of solving problems. However, what is challenged by literature (Schweitzer et al. 2018) is whether these changes can only be best understood through the psychoanalytic theory. Critics (Ringstorm, 2018) argue that the psychoanalytic theory is backed by weak research methodologies. For instance, they claim that parents might have a biased recollection of adolescence and childhood. They also claim that the testability of the hypotheses used in developing the psychoanalytic theory is uncertain because of the variable relationship between, and the distance between overt behaviours and psychological constructs. Research also challenges the psychoanalytic proposition that adolescence is a function of one having a crisis with their parents.

There are several educational and developmental implications of the psychoanalytic theory to Jamal’s life. Even though Jamal’s adolescence is thrust to his genital stage, the degree of success and degree of conflict in re-establishing a newly equilibrated and satisfactory personality depends on Jamal’s social influences, including the school environment. Jamal’s rebellion, anxiety and contradictory behaviour should be tolerated because they form part of his development into a mature and stronger personality with the skills to cope with adult life. Jamal’s teachers can help him by establishing expectations and rules that do not frustrate him, and rules that do not discourage his overreliance on his defence mechanism. Jamal’s teachers and parents can also look beyond Jamal’s problematic behaviour to understand the underlying psychological conflict – encouraging him to understand and talk about his feeling.

Psychosocial Theories: Ego Development and the Search for Identity

Erik Erikson’s psychological theory has largely influenced theorizing and research on adolescence. Even though he agreed with many of the psychoanalytic assumptions about psychological structures, drives, stage of development, the conscious, and the unconscious, he made some important modifications to the theory (Graffigna and Barello, 2018). For instance, Eriksen added he added a psychological element to the psychosexual stages of the psychoanalytic theory. He, therefore, theorised those biological sexual drives mingle with societal expectations, beliefs, and institutions.

Ericksen recognised that adolescents undergo various growing pains that intensify when society experiences difficult times (Darlin-Fisher, 2019). the other modification on the psychoanalytic theory done by Eriksen is the emphasis on an individual’s ego development, especially on the idea that the central element of development is a person’s search for identity. According to Erikson, identity is characterised by a conscious sense of oneself, as well as an unconscious search for personal character continuity.

The search for identity is one of the most important aspects of an adolescent’s developmental stages because they try to integrate previous identities into a new whole and coherent identity and try to prepare for their future developmental tasks that require their strong sense of self (Topa et al. 2018). According to the psychosocial theory, Jamal’s search for identity is critical at his adolescent stage because as a youth, he tries to integrate his previous identifies into a new whole in preparation for future developmental tasks that requires him to have a solid self (Darlin-Fisher, 2019). Erikson termed this as ‘identity crises to describe an unrealistic or distorted perception of themselves. It also displays in lack of congruent values and behaviours in different settings, the self-worth is dependent on the opinions of others, and the adolescent often displays poor academic performance. This explains why Jamal’s behaviours are incongruent with his parents’ expectations, why he is struggling with feelings of being left out and being different from his school, and why he does not put any effort in working hard to become a lawyer as is expected by his parents.

The psychological theory’s main concern with identity development and cultural influence exemplifies Erikson’s analogy of trust versus mistrust, doubt and shame versus autonomy, inferiority versus industry, despair versus integrity, isolation versus intimacy, and identity versus diffusion. In each stage, according to Eriksen, there is a critical issue to resolve, but each issue appears in all the stages to some degree. By the end of each stage, according to Eriksen, the individual achieves a balance of the two extremes of the critical dimension, with the positive effect being dominant. For example, as per the psychosocial theory, the adolescent will develop a basic sense of identity but still go through a bit of health identity diffusion to enable later development. Therefore, if any of the stage-defined crises is not resolved, the individual will be haunted during later stages by a more difficult development.

According to the psychosocial theory, the spirit of Jamal’s adolescent stage is exemplified in the saying: I am not what I should be, I am not what I am going to be, but I am also not what I was (Eriksen, 1959, p 93). An element of concern with identity is the physical development that occurs during puberty. The adolescent develops a new body with sexual urges, feelings that their old self is not familiar with. Furthermore, society’s expectation that Jamal will begin to make decisions about school and his career also contribute to the pressure of changed identity. Therefore, Jamal tries to define himself by participating in different roles of being a serious student, an athlete who sometimes plays football once a month with the boys at the local mosque. But no detail of Jamal’s identity is unimportant.

Based on the psychosocial theory of development, Jamal is more likely to experience identity diffusion due to his minority group status and pressure from his parents to become a lawyer. According to Eriksen, identity diffusion is more likely to occur if the adolescent experience various threats to identity such as minority group status, homosexual feelings, inadequate interaction with peers, and pressure from parents to pursue a certain career. Spending time with peers is therefore important for Jamal because he receives feedback from his peers as he tries different roles, helping him to identify his strengths and weaknesses and define the self (Eriksen, 1959). But if Jamal undergoes an extremely diffused identity, he might slide into delinquency, drug use or even suicidal thoughts because as a despairing adolescent, he would rather be somebody bad or nobody, or even dead than not being quite somebody (Erikson, 1959).

Eriksen’s psychosocial theory of development relates to several developmental issues facing Jamal. First, adolescence is a unique time in Jamal’s life because it is during that time that the issue of identity takes shape. Secondly, Jamal’s adolescent status is characterised by turmoil because of the new social and biological pressure, even though the degree of pressure depends on various interpersonal, cultural, and sociohistorical factors. As such, there is a ‘fit’ between Jamal’s needs in each stage of adolescence and the society with its pattern of social organizations, schools, values, and childcare among others. However, the institutions that address the needs of one generation may not be adequate for the next and therefore creating stress for the adolescent (Marcia, 1967). The degree of stress and turmoil involved in creating an identity also depends on the level of the adolescents’ success in resolving previous stages. If Jamal was a secure and confident adolescent, he would have roots in the sense of trust developed in the initial stage while if he was a dependent or self-conscious adolescent, he may experience a failure of autonomy in the second stage and feelings of inferiority in the third stage.

There is two main identity status that Jamal is likely to fall into based on Marcia’s (1967) propositions about the psychosocial theory of development. The first status is being ‘identity diffused’, where the adolescent neither experiences an identity crisis nor an identity commitment. Here, the adolescent is not actively involved in any search for an identity. Instead, they are rapidly influenced, they rapidly change from one belief to the other, and they change their behaviour to fit that of their peer groups – effectively the identity status held by Jamal. However, a consequence of this status is that the adolescent’s self-esteem can easily fall depending on other people’s reactions to them.

The other identity status that faces adolescents like Jamal is foreclosure, where the adolescent commits to an identity without facing any crisis. In such a scenario, the adolescent has accepted their attitudes, beliefs, and occupation from others (especially from parents) without questioning. They also confirm and overidentify with their parents or peer groups. However, the lack of psychological conflict is also characterised by the person being rigid, defensive and an extension of other people, somewhat remaining dependent on them. However, compared to the identity diffusion status, the identity foreclosure status comes with consistency to one’s goals and beliefs.

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Jamal’s developmental issues can be located within the psychoanalytic and psychosocial theories of development. The psychoanalytic theory views Jamal as one undergoing a universal and unique period of change, which is stressful because of the rapid physical changes accompanying puberty. On the other hand, the psychosocial theory recognizes the uniqueness of Jamal’s adolescence stage and the biology-based likelihood for conflict, while stressing the role of social experiences in influencing the amount of conflict and the negative or positive outcomes of those conflicts.


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