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How does crisis affect typical development during adolescence?

In this article you will get an understanding of how crisis affect typical development during adolescence.

Crises during adolescence: Challenges and opportunities for developmental tasks

When a human being is stressed the body releases a hormone called cortisol. A little cortisol helps the body prepare to either fight off an attack or flee form a dangerous situation. It also helps us form stronger memories of stressful events so that we can call on them when we need them to deal with future stressors. Too much cortisol, however, is associated with depression, death of brain cells in the memory center of the brain, weakened immune activity, and cardiovascular problems later in life.

Cortisol levels rise during puberty. The developing adolescent brain means that adolescents often demonstrate an exaggerated stress response relative to children and adults. This exaggerated stress response seems to contribute to the periodic difficulties that many adolescents have processing and responding to their emotions and social situations. However, if adolescents experience persistent stress during adolescence, it could lead to problems later in life. For example, there is a much stronger association between experiencing stressful events and depression during adolescence than during adulthood. Supporting adolescents to deal with stressors could help them better regulate their stress reactions and prevent later negative outcomes.

Additionally, adolescents are developing the cognitive, social, and emotional skills to better understand how crises may negatively affect their life. Indeed, the effect of crises during adolescence tend to differ based on the meaning that adolescents make of the crisis. For example, adolescents “develop abstract thought, cognitive processing skills, social perspective-taking abilities, and capacity for empathy (all in concert with continued development of the prefrontal cortex), their awareness of how economic shocks affect their socioeconomic situation increases. Hence, their own perceptions of financial strain may be a more important pathway than an actual drop in household income through which economic crises affect their psychosocial adjustment.”1 As adults, we have to understand the meaning that adolescents make of the crises they are experiencing and work with them to understand the challenges that a crisis poses to their developmental tasks.

Stand out

Additionally, adolescents are developing the cognitive, social, and emotional skills to better understand how crises may negatively affect their life. The effect of crises during adolescence tend to differ based on the meaning that adolescents make of the crisis. As we saw in a previous step on adolescent development, they are improving their abstract thinking and perspective-taking abilities, which may enable them to better understand how changes and crises can affect their own situation and life. Their perception of these changes may actually have the greatest effect on their psychosocial wellbeing. As adults, we have to understand the meaning that adolescents make of the crises they are experiencing and work with them to understand the challenges that a crisis poses to their developmental tasks.

Fit in

During adolescence the social networks in which adolescents are engaged become wider and more diverse. More importantly, adolescents are starting to find new ways in which to engage with and find their place in these groups. Crises can disrupt the social networks in which adolescents have been interacting, having either positive or negative effects, as it can change the patterns of relationships and interactions.

The growing cognitive and social skills also means that adolescents may become more aware of the stigma that is associated with certain types of crises. This awareness of the stigma can affect their self-esteem, beliefs about the future, and identity.

Measure up

The skills and knowledge that are important in one context or setting may not be as important or usable in another. If a crisis changes the context of settings around adolescents, it may mean that skills and knowledge that adolescents have committed to need to be altered or amended. The change in skill and knowledge requirements can clash with previously formed identities.

Crisis can make prior degrees or certifications redundant or irrelevant for success in a new economic, social, or political context, challenging an adolescent’s identity of themselves.

Take hold

Adolescents are working on identifying their purpose and expectations for the future based on their increasing awareness of the world around them. A crisis that changes adolescents’ perceptions of the world around them could require them to realign their purpose and expectations for the future.

If adolescents are unable to realign their expectations for the future with their current reality, it could trigger regressive adaptive behaviors.

Continue to the next step to join a discussion with Nikhit on the link between the key developmental tasks and social and emotional learning during adolescence.

References
– Lundberg, M., & Wuermli, A. (2012). Children and youth in crisis: Protecting and promoting human development in times of economic shocks. Washington, DC: World Bank.
– Pfund, G. N., Edmonds, G. W., & Hill, P. L. (2020). Associations between trauma during adolescence and sense of purpose in middle-to-late adulthood. International Journal of Behavioral Development.
– Sanders, R. A. (2013). Adolescent psychosocial, social, and cognitive development. Pediatrics in Review, 34(8), 354–359.
– Seginer, R. (2008). Future orientation in times of threat and challenge: How resilient adolescents construct their future. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 32(4), 272–282.
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