Child and Adolescent Development


The development of a human being from early childhood to adulthood is one of the areas that psychologists for several years have tried to explain. Several theories have therefore been developed so as to explain this phenomenon and these theories are based on different perceptions drawn from both nurture and nature. A developmental theory is defined as a model that serves to explain the processes which take place when a child is growing to the time when the child is regarded to as an adult. Some psychologists have stressed that the development of a human being has been in form of phases (Richardson, 2000). These psychologists therefore, believe in the stage theory. Others explain that the developmental process of human beings is characterized by an increase in age so that an individual will gain some characteristics with increase in time. Although with diverse minds, each time psychologists and philosophers come up with theories each seeking to give a contribution and major preference on how a child develops.  

Today, the field of developmental psychology is still full of questions seeking to know whether the development of a child is really a continuous process or not. In this paper, as I try to explain the development of a child from the early stages of childhood to adulthood, I will base my arguments on three theories namely the cognitive theory, social learning theory and psychosocial theory (Papalia, et. al., 2007).

Concepts of the theories

The social learning theory tries to explain the development of a child as a result of the influence that is experienced from the surrounding environment. Here the environment in which a child is brought up is what will shape his actions and behaviours in the society. A child’s character and behaviours are attributed to the influence of the environment and therefore parents and teachers need to expose children to a good environment so that they learn to develop good behaviours. The connection between the child’s behavior and the environment is that the child will copy what he or she has seen and then try and imitate that behavior (Shaffer and Kipp, 2009). Basing on this concept therefore, a child who is exposed to a harsh environment will develop a bad character than those exposed to a good environment.

In the school environment for instance, the child will learn to play with others. These friends will help them to learn new skills and consequently lead to the development of their character and behaviours. Through fantasy or imaginary play, a child develops abstract thinking and handling of a problem. At this point, they learn to control aggressive urges and get rid of aggression. Physical development requires that the child identifies and employs external experiences and emotional stability to feel secure in exploring new ideas. Emotional development on the other hand, requires the child to obtain judgment from the environment so as to understand situations and identify people’s responses thus changing their behaviors.

Jean Piaget is the founder of the cognitive theory. This theory is based on the idea that the mind is the main part of the body that controls all the actions done. Piaget developed the major aspects of cognitive theory. He explained that the development of the person involves associations that are established through contiguity and repetition. He explained that a character of an individual is shaped by reinforcements that he or she receives in life. He further stated that reinforcement acts as a motivator to a behavior of an individual (Papalia, et. al., 2007). Piaget views the development of an individual as consisting of reorganization or acquisition of cognitive structures through which human beings store and process information.

Piaget further categorized this theory into concepts, mentioning the first concept as schema. He explained that this concept is the internal structure of knowledge where new situations are experienced and compared to the existing cognitive structures. The second concept he mentioned is the three stage information process model which implies that an input will be first entered into the sensory register and there after processed in the short term memory (Richardson, 2000). From here the transfer of the information to the long term memory for storage and for future retrieval if need be is done.

 The third concept is the most critical step since the mind creates meaningful information from the information that has been stored. Depending on whether the mind records the information as meaningful or not, that information will be hard or easy to remember and retain (Papalia, et. al., 2007). The fourth concept is the serial effect which explains that it is easier to recall things in the beginning of a list than at the end. The fifth concept is the practice concept and this involves doing practice and rehearsals so as to improve the retention of information. This is best done when the practice if distributed.

The psychosocial theory clarifies that the growth of the child into an adult takes several stages and through every stage the child exhibits different characteristics and behaviours. Eric Eriksson is the father of this theory and he divided these stages into eight. Erickson explained that at every stage, an individual will meet several milestones and challenges which are necessary so as to take them to another stage. The first stage is the Trust vs. Mistrust stage which occurs at the age of 0 to 18months. During this stage, the child is young enough so as to stand on his or her own and therefore they are struggling to get basic needs from their parents. Food, shelter, comfort and sustenance are the key issues that parents should provide for the child.          Autonomy vs. Shame and doubt stage is the second stage and it takes place when the child is 18months to about 3yrs old. During this stage, the child is also dependent on the parent for the basic needs but the environment begins to play a role in the development of some behaviours of the child. The third stage is known as the Initiative vs. guilt stage and it occurs when the child is between age 3 to 6yrs (Papalia, et. al., 2007). At this stage, the child is fully acquainted with the world since the interaction of the environment has played a vital role in shaping him or her. The parents begin to slowly fade from the mind of the child and the surrounding environment begins to be more exciting.  Children begin to slowly understand how things are and how they operate.

The fourth stage proposed by Erickson is Inferiority vs. Industry stage which takes place at age 6 to 12. The environment at this stage dictates the development of the child at a great deal. They begin to realize the importance of toiling so as to achieve the best. At school, the child begins some aspect of cooperation and associations. Identity vs. role confusion stage follows immediately after this stage and during this time, the child is considered to be at the adolescence stage. This is a very critical stage in a child because most changes in the body especially the private parts are taking place. Sexual identify therefore dominates individuals at this stage (Richardson, 2000).         

After this stage of adolescence has elapsed, an individual enters the Intimacy vs. isolation stage, which is regarded as the stage when an individual is a young adult. At this stage, an individual shifts focus from the younger generation and slowly begins to associate with older people. They begin to view themselves as grownups and therefore they need to be treated as people who are mature. The stage of middle adulthood slowly creeps in and at this point, they exhibit a high level of responsibility and discipline in the society. Integrity vs. despair stage is the last stage that Erickson proposed and this stage is the stage when a person is regarded to have lived for long and has seen so many things happening. They are therefore considered as wise individuals and are sought for help with issues of advising the young generation. This stage is seen as the stage of experience and enough toil and therefore little is expected in terms of productivity from these individuals.  

Similarity of the theories

Although the perceptions of the psychologists who developed the three theories differ, they all have some points of similarity. One area in which they are similar is the point of view that these three theories are seen from. All of three theories are seen as very critical and easy to understand because they are practical in nature. They are therefore not viewed from an abstract point of view but they are said to be applicable in the development of an individual. For instance, these theories explain that the child often accommodates that which he has seen in the real environment and learns from it (Papalia, et. al., 2007). A child further learns from the assimilation of social factors like influence by the teacher and the parents and therefore learns from them. All these factors depict a real life issue and not an abstract scenario.

Another element of similarity is that the three theories base their arguments on the environment. The environment therefore plays a very vital role in shaping the life of a child into the adult stage. The mental part of a child is the main emphasis which will aid the child in distinguishing whether an issue is right or wrong. If the child is exposed to a teacher or a parent, he or she will believe that since the teacher is experienced and old enough in the field, then their actions are right.

Another similarity is based on the notion of development of the child. Psychosocial theory explains that the child develops into an adult by following eight stages. The character and behavior of an individual will therefore change from time to time because of the changes that take place during these stages. The cognitive and the social learning theory also explain that a child will exhibit these characteristics and behaviours based on stages since the brain development and the influence of the environment differ from age to age in a child. Others factors which make these three theories to be similar include similarity in the influence of peers, parents and the teachers at school (Papalia, et. al., 2007).

Difference between the theories

There are also several differences that these three theories have. One is type of development that the theory proposes. The psychosocial theory explains that the development of an individual is continuous and progressive. The theory explains that each stage of an individual leads to another stage and therefore it is necessary for one to go through all the stages systematically. The theory of social learning on the other hand explains that the environment is the main aspect that contributes to the development of a certain character in an individual. This therefore happens in a certain stage of an individual and not throughout the entire life (Shaffer and Kipp, 2009). The cognitive theory also states that an individual will get some characteristics at some particular stage when the mind will find it necessary to adopt such characteristics. The development of an individual is therefore not continuous.   

The second difference that these theories have is the origin of the theory. Psychosocial theory by Eric Erickson insists that the stages of development of an individual are influenced by things like the parents, teachers and the environment. Bandura is his social learning theory explains that the parents and other parameters that influence the child contribute to the overall social behaviours and characteristics of the child. Personality and character are therefore based on the society that the child is based in. What matters in the development of these characteristics therefore is the influential factors of the child and not the stages of the child (Richardson, 2000). Piaget in his cognitive theory however does not build his views on these ideas but explains that the brain is the source of every thing that happens in the life of the individual and therefore if there is an interruption, then the person will not develop in an appropriate manner (Papalia, et. al., 2007).

Another difference shown by these theories is how they describe the development process. Psychosocial theory explains that the development of the individual is continuous and progressive. According to social learning theory and cognitive theories, the process of development of the child is discontinuous.

The other difference is that these theories have been developed by different psychologists. Bandura came up with the social learning theory, whereas Eric Erickson is known for the development of the psychosocial theory which is based on stages of development of the human being. Piaget is behind the development of the cognitive theory (Papalia, et. al., 2007).

Child development

Child development occurs in series involving physical, cognitive and emotional developments. Cognitive development is a mental activity through which children acquire knowledge, reason, perceive, solve problems and develop language. Emotional development refers to changes in the way a child feels and reacts about self and others. Physical development refers to bodily changes and may include changes in body size, weight, bone thickness and hearing (Shaffer and Kipp, 2009).

Emotional and cognitive developments are related in that they influence the development process of the person. The delays in the emotional development of a child may result to poor development of the cognitive part and the vice versa is also possible. So as to develop well emotionally, children need a safe and a protected environment. The immediate surrounding provides both physical and cognitive motivation (Papalia, et. al., 2007).

Understanding of normal and adolescent development in a child

During the adolescence stage, a child develops in so many ways and these ways are very critical and sensitive. Since children entirely depend on play so as to achieve their development, parents and teachers need to create a favorable condition of play so that these children can develop positively.

Adolescence stage is the most vigorous stage of the child therefore calling for special attention from both the parent and teachers. Special programs should be set so as to improve sexual perception in this group. A total environment which gives all the desired activities should be exposed to the child. Such environment should be enriched with aspects such as religion and good morals (Papalia, et. al., 2007).

Great attention should further be paid to an environment which favors love, care and harmony. Considering the normal and adolescent development in children is important to ensure that an environment that allows the child and adolescent to develop and attain their desires and to discover more about their society is given (Papalia, et. al., 2007).


Theories of development are very essential since they help to describe the processes through which individuals go through so as to become adults. In this paper, I have explained how Bandura in his social learning theory, Piaget in his cognitive theory and Eric Erickson in his psychosocial theory have explained the process of development of the child through to the adult stage.

Order now

Related essays