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Working in Adolescence

Developmental Roots Of Industry, Identity, And Employment

According to Erik Erikson's work in the early 1960s, the primary developmental task of adolescence is to achieve a sense of identity, to determine who one is and what one's place in society will be. This task lays the groundwork for educational and career choices and the eventual attainment of adult self-sufficiency. The roots of the attitudes and skills necessary for the successful resolution of this developmental task of adolescence begin in infancy and early childhood.

Attachment theorists have proposed that infants are genetically endowed to experience satisfaction in exploring and manipulating the environment, a developmental antecedent of employment. In the early 1960s, Erikson, R. Havinghurst, and Donald Super noted the importance of the early childhood years for the development of attitudes and skills associated with working. During the third stage of Erikson's theory of psychosocial development, around age five, children experience pleasure in using tools and interacting with their environment; and during latency, his fourth stage, children internalize a work principle. Havinghurst proposed that between five and ten years of age children establish "identification with a worker" and during early adolescence (ten to fifteen years of age) children acquire habits of industry.

Through schoolwork, chores, and the requirements of hobbies, children learn how to apply themselves, set goals, work in teams, and accomplish tasks. Super concurred that vocational concerns develop gradually over the course of early childhood and then become more salient in adolescence. For Super the primary task of adolescence was the crystallization of a vocational preference, which involves the formulation of ideas about work and self, and could then evolve into an occupational self-concept. He took the position that a vocational self-concept is a reflection of a person's overall self-concept but more specialized in that it shapes educational and employment activities. Research has shown that by seventh grade children have developed work-relevant cognitions, attitudes, and feelings that are quite similar to those of adolescents and adults.

Additional topics

Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 8Working in Adolescence - Developmental Roots Of Industry, Identity, And Employment, Advantages And Disadvantages Of Adolescent Employment, Youth Employment For Out-of-school And Disadvantaged Youth