Developmental Dynamics Between Personal and Conventional Domains (page 2)
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.
How parents approach their children’s needs for a personal domain has an impact on adolescents’ mental health. In a cross-national study of adolescents in the United States and Japan, adolescents who reported having parents who attempted to control personal issues such as the children’s friendship choices, music, hairstyle, and issues of privacy such as parents reading their diary were also more likely to report experiencing internalizing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and somatization (Hasebe, Nucci, & Nucci, 2004). Essentially the same outcome was reported in a study of middle-class African American adolescents and parents (Smetana, Campion-Barr, & Daddis, 2004). The negative effects of parental control of the personal on African Americans occurred at slightly older ages than had been found for the middle class White students (Hasebe et al., 2004). For African Americans, parental control in early adolescence was associated with positive outcomes while continued control into middle adolescence (age 14 and older) was associated with negative psychological outcomes. These studies lend further support to the contention that establishing a personal domain is essential for psychological integrity.
As one would expect, there is a similar age-related trend toward greater control over the personal within the school setting. As we will see in the next section on developmental changes in concepts of social convention, these normal developmental shifts may help to account for some of the behavioral issues teachers contend with during this same early adolescent age period. According to Smetana (Smetana & Bitz, 1996), however, middle school and high school students are generally aware of the differences between the institutional setting of school and the more intimate setting of the family. Most students grant school authority over “ambiguously personal issues” such as “public displays of affection” between boyfriend and girlfriend that they would insist upon as personal matters outside the school context. Students unwilling or unable to accommodate to the regulation of such conduct in school also tend to have more general behavioral problems (Smetana & Bitz, 1996).
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