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Child Development Theories

Psychologists often view kids through stages of child development, like a moth develops from a larvae. These scientists see adolescence as a very important step in the developmental process on the path to adulthood. The adolescent faces important challenges, including the difficult one of defining occupational and sexual identity as the body morphs from child to adult. Two influential writers were Piaget and Erickson who believed that all youngsters go through set stages. Jean Piaget (1896-1980) thought our way of thinking and problem solving is almost fully formed by the end of adolescence; his ideas about stages focused on the development of logical reasoning in children’s thinking process.

Erik Erikson (1902-1994), having worked with Italian early childhood education expert Maria Montessori, came to the conclusion that children develop through a largely genetically determined set of psychosocial stages. They start with developing a sense (or not) of trust in other people, and proceed with a sense of autonomy, initiative, and industry in the school years. All stages are critical in becoming a successful adult and involved overcoming a conflict. Unlike Piaget, Erickson believed stages continue through our lifespan. Traditionally, identity was shaped in the context of family, neighborhood, and religion, but the concept of neighborhood has changed with globalization and the Internet—used by over one-quarter of the world’s population.  Other theories explain child development with other perspectives, such as behavioralists and environmentalists who emphasize how we’re socialized rather than individual unfolding.[i] From this social perspective, youth are shaped by a global consumer culture.


[i] Child Development Professor Brad Glanville helped me with this explanation. Other scientists discount the need to use  “psychosocial stage theory–” including Freud’s “psychosexual ” stages from oral to the adult genital stage. Behavioral theorists such as B.F. Skinner and Ivan Pavlov emphasized the role of environment forces on shaping children’s behavior, especially the child’s observed reaction to rewards and punishments. Soviet social scientist Vygotsky emphasized the “sociocultural transmission ” of thinking structures. Urie Brofenbrenner developed ecological systems theory to show how larger social structures impacted children. At a more micro theory level, John Bowbly explored children’s social development and, in particular, infants’ attachment to early caregivers. Another Child Development instructor, Jacqueline Bacino, report, “I pay most attention to Piaget and Vygotsky, although I’m starting to pay more attention to the psychosocial influences. Vygotsky focused on social and cultural influences. A. Bandura is the leader of Social Learning theory movement that explained the power of observation. Scientists believe we have “mirror neurons” like other animals who watch behavior and then imitate it


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