Developmental Dynamics Between Personal and Conventional Domains
The developmental patterns of thinking within the personal domain are consistent with the development of concepts of the self (Damon & Hart, 1988). High school teachers will also recognize similarities between the reasoning of adolescents about the personal domain and Erik Erikson’s (1968) description of the identity crisis in youth. This is to be expected since the personal domain is generated out of children’s efforts to maintain self and identity. Part of the process of becoming an autonomous self involves what psychologists refer to as individuation. This refers to the gradual separation of children from the guidance of their parents. Also, we have learned that a central part of this process involves the extension by older children and adolescents of what they consider to be personal matters beyond the authority of their parents.
As children get older, and especially as they enter adolescence, they begin to push for control over a wider range of their own behaviors (Smetana, 2005). This trend holds for issues that intersect the personal with convention and their own personal health and safety (prudence). Typical issues over which American adolescents seek control include choice of movies to watch, how late they can stay out at night, where they can go for recreation, and when or whether to clean up their own bedroom. Adolescents rarely argue against parental authority over their moral conduct, adherence to basic cultural conventions, or basic safety such as drug or substance abuse. For their part, parents are also giving to their adolescent children greater authority and autonomy over personal matters. However, the time at which parents tend to view their children as ready to assume authority lags behind the time assumed by their adolescent children. As a consequence these “border” disputes over what Judith Smetana (Smetana & Daddis, 2002) refers to as “ambiguously personal issues” account for nearly all instances of adolescent-parent conflict (Smetana, 2005). This is the case not only in the United States, but in Latin American and Asian countries where this phenomenon has been examined (Smetana, 2002). The peak ages for these disputes within the American middle class correspond to the period from middle school through the sophomore year of high school.
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