PSYCHO-SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT FROM DEPENDENT BABY TO MATURE ADULT

by Charlie Notess, Loveland, CO

Last Updated: 8-26-2000

Copyright © 1999, 2000. All Rights Reserved by Charles Notess, Loveland, Colorado.
Please contact Charles Notess for comments on, or permission to use any parts of this paper. His e-mail address appears at the end of this paper.

Psycho-social development starts soon after birth. As children develop through adolescence to adulthood and senior years, they become capable of an increasing number of mental abilities. These typically fall into a sequence that starts with an initial trust of primary caretakers to the development of prelinguistic expressions of shared intent and communication in the baby. During the "terrible twos" the child becomes conscious of his or her "Self" and aware of being seen and evaluated by others. They become aware of standards and show pride at achieving some new skill, such as riding a tricycle, and they feel ashamed when they disappoint significant others. Imagination responds to stories, symbols, dreams and experiences. Experiences of power and powerlessness orient them to existential concerns.

The child, typically around age three, can undertake some adult activities, begins to relate cause to effect and think in terms of simple logic. By the time they enter school or shortly thereafter, they become able to take the perspective of others, an important step that is vital to social interaction and caring for others. They also begin to be able to capture the meaning of life in stories. This ability is important to help them develop moral standards and values that might be included in the stories. Morally oriented fairy tales and bible stories expose the growing child to develop the value of good moral behavior.

Experiences in school help them more fully take the perspective of others, and by late adolescence, they can take the perspective of a third person watching two or more youngsters interacting in a group. This ability is important to help the adolescent analyze actions of friends and other peers to determine what the values that underlie any particular action might be. This skill is important for teens who try to act responsibly in their community.

In adolescence they work at developing a more coherent identity and at being accepted by selected others outside the home. They get involved with critical reflection on their own values and beliefs. This is a point where open communication using constructive feedback is helpful, either with parents and/or other role models. The teens need such feedback as they begin to manage their identity within relationships with the opposite sex, in sports, and in early careers or jobs.

Authority is internalized in terms of parents, teachers, and others during adolescence. There is a start at making explicit choices of ideologies, worldviews and lifestyles. This opens the way for critical, self awareness and the making of commitments to relationships and vocations. They become aware of many paradoxes and polarities in life as issues they face become more complex and as our societal bent toward commercialism distorts much of the information about what one needs, how one needs to vote, and other choices.

Symbol, story, metaphor, and myth are newly appreciated as vehicles for expressing truth in the latter stages of develpment. Persons who have reached these stages seek to unify seeming opposites (or strike a balance between them) in mind and experience. Polarities and paradoxes are sorted out as increasing wisdom is used to increase personal coherence toward career and a more wholistic worldview. They also have little use for tribalism (limiting loyalties to one's homogeneous group) and they have no use for ideological holy wars.

The highest stages of faith development include a successive widening in social perspective taking, and an awareness that the essentials of human life are the similar for all people. As one reaches these higher stages, the differences among various approaches to religion decrease significantly.

Les Steele, in a chapter entitled "Developmental Stages and Spiritual Development" in Stanton Jones reader, raises some questions about the later stages of faith development on page 113 of the reader. This area needs more research and thought. It might be that the latter two or three stages are branches of alternate possibilities rather then a linear progression. One might ask: "Is the highest stage of faith development necessarily related to mysticism? An answer to this question might come from consideration of the ideas of Karen Armstrong, in her book "History of God" and Mariana Caplan in her book "Half Way up the Mountain". Both writers indicate the conclusion that mysticism becomes more popular in times when a people feel threatened.

As death approaches, trivial attachments and commitments are shed more easily by some persons. This helps one manage a more universal faith and for those who are middle age and older, with the wisdom gained from a long life, they can be more loving, caring and tolerant of others. This leads some to achieve a more holistic worldview. In this stage, experiences, truth and belief are are more easily purified of ego striving.

The latter stages of development include a synthesis of disparate elements within one's worldview. With the help of wisdom acquired from life's experiences and approaching death some people simplify their worldviews by focusing concerns on what is REAL and MEANINGFUL to human life. As Morrie says, in the book "Tuesdays with Morrie" by Mitch Albom, p. 175, "Once you get your fingers on the important questions, you can't turn away from them ... they have to do with love, responsibility, spirituality, awareness".

Morrie typifies the highest stage of faith development at the end of his statement on p. 156, "The problem ...is we don't believe we are as much alike as we are. Whites and blacks, Catholics and Protestants, men and women. If we saw each other as more alike, we might be very eager to join in one big human family in this world, and to care about that family the way we care about our own".

The foregoing thoughts of final stages of development might be viewed in terms that were outlined in two other pages of this posting. In the stages2.htm page of this paper, I included a list of seven levels of perspective taking. In the context of this stages7.htm page, I would add an eighth level. That is represented by taking the perspective of "God". Recently that level has become represented for some Christians by the question WWJD? (What Would Jesus Do?).

The discussion about latter stages of faith touch closely on religious concepts. How stages of development relate to theology is discussed in a section called SOME NOTES ON PSYCHOLOGY AND RELIGIOUS FAITH IN A CHANGING WORLD

An interesting web page describes how the Bible, in 1 John 2:12-14 relates to stages of faith. The web posting produced by Dr. Don Willett is accessible at: http://members.aol.com/donwstages/sof/faq.html. Go there now

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