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This is the life of Liang, a 16 year-old adolescent boy.
Liang is a 16 year-old adolescent boy who suffers from anxiety, stress, depression and exhibit anti-social behavior. Being eccentric, he only has very few good friends. He is often fatigued and has poor concentration during class but yet able to do well for all his tests.
Janus is Mr. and Mrs.. Liang’s only child. Mr. and Mrs.. Liang have been living together for 25 years but Janus does not believe that their relationship is good. His father is an engineer who works long hours and likes leisure time reading the papers. He sees his father as a strict disciplinarian who likes everything his own way. His mother works as a nurse in a local hospital and spends most of her free time with her friends. In order to make ends meet, Janus’ parents are often busy working long hours during the weekdays. Upon returning home from work, they seldom interact with one another and when they do, it often ends up in a squabble or a heated conversation. Unfortunately, Janus often witnesses their frequent argument. The topic on divorce has often been brought up by both parties during a fight. Mrs.. Liang has previously run away from home several times over the past few years after a big fight with Mr. Liang. Janus cannot seem to understand why his parents are unable to speak to each other properly.
Mr. Liang sets very high expectations of his academic achievements and punishes him when he fails to get good grades for his tests and examinations. He hopes that Janus can emulate him and study in his alma mater, Raffles Junior College. Mrs. Liang often goes out with her friends during her spare time and leaves the supervision of Janus solely to Mr. Liang. During the weekdays, Janus is often home alone till late. During the weekends, Janus is often left at home with his father who often indulges in his own work but keeps a watchful eye over him. In order to obtain good results, Mr. Liang schedules countless tuition sessions during the weekends. Janus has no free time to do activities he enjoys. He has repeatedly tried to explain to his parents that he does not require multiple tuition sessions as he believes that he can manage his own studies but was met by harsh criticism and negative remarks. He feels depressed and frustrated about not having any control over his life and he does not know what he wants to become in the future. He dislikes his parents a lot because he cannot stand up to his hostile parents who seem to dominate his life.
From my perspective, the three main hindrances to Janus’ development were: (1) poor parenting skills, (2) lack of autonomy/individuation and (3) lack of social competence. I will objectively describe these three aspects of his life and apply psychological theories to assess how these eventually left him frustrated and troubled. I will also describe possible strategies that could have reversed these turn of events.
Context of Development
Bronfenbrenner’s Bioecological Theory
According to Bronfenbrenner (1986, 2000, 2004), his analysis of adolescent development is based on an ecological approach which understands adolescents in terms of their relationships with one another and their changing social and environmental contexts or systems.. The adolescent is not a passive recipient of experiences in these settings, but someone who helps to construct the settings.
In Janus’ microsystem, there is a lack of reciprocity between his parents and himself which leads to negative adolescent development. There are also few areas of agreement over perspectives on what is acceptable. This leads to internal conflict in Janus, resulting in outright rejection of Mr. and Mrs. Liang’s parental values and a progressing state of mental tension.
Family Context and Parenting Practices
A healthy and good relationship with parents provides a barrier against the stresses of adolescence. Adolescents who perceive their parents as warmhearted, experience less emotional and behavioral problems (Wagner, Cohen, & Brook, 1996). For most adolescents of Janus’ age, closeness with parents decrease temporarily and the intensity of conflict increases with the onset of puberty (Laursen, Coy, & Collins, 1998). They tend to demand more roles in decision making and more freedom in areas that their parents still believe require parental oversight, in Janus’ case, his studies. Janus’ bid for autonomy brings about conflict with his parents as a result.
Many parents today react with uneasiness to adolescents’ bid for independence. According to Baumrind (1971), she distinguished parenting in terms of differences in parental responsiveness and expectations. Mr. and Mrs. Liang fall into category of authoritative parents who are demanding but less responsive as compared to authoritative ones. They are consistent in enforcing their standards in regard to his academic results by scheduling several tuition sessions for him but are less open Janus’ perspective. Perhaps because they value obedience and expect Janus to do as he is told, rather than backing up their discipline and actions with legitimate reasons. In my opinion, Mr. and Mrs. Liang are attempting to control Janus unidirectional because they believe that achieving good grades should be his primary concern and any others should be secondary.
Families in Transition
Marital conflict and not just divorce per se contributes to the stress adolescents’ experience (Amato & Afifi, 2006). Conflicts most likely affects adolescents by affecting the quality of parent-child relationships (Sun, 2001). According to McHale (2007), he mentions in his research on co-parenting that lack of collaboration, affection and disengagement by parenting partner either alone or in combination with over involvement by the other are conditions that place an adolescent at developmental risk. Mrs. Liang constant neglect of Janus places him at risks.
Although authoritarian and authoritative parents provide strong models, latter place greater value on autonomy and self-discipline while the former on obedience and respect for authority. Both types of parenting style define limits and set standards but authoritative parents are more willing to listen to reasons and arguments, tending to draw the lines around issues rather than set absolute standard. Parental strictness per se does not seem to be the issue in Janus’ scenario but rather, it is the willingness to give him a voice in decision making which conjures Janus’ feelings of dislike for them because he does not understand his parent’s actions.
Adolescents raised in authoritative families are more socially competent, more self reliant, do better academically and show fewer signs of psychological distress such as anxiety and depression (Steinberg, 2001). Parents encounter rebelliousness when they fail to leave room for autonomy or do not give reasons for their actions (Johnson, Shulman, & Collins, 1991). Dornbusch et al. (1987) suggested that authoritative parenting being more democratic than authoritarian parenting continues to be appropriate in adolescents.
The research of Baumrind and others on parenting styles clearly underscores parents’ contribution to developmental outcomes such as social competence and independence (Baumrind, 1991a). In general, parents who are responsive, willing to listen and willing to give adolescents a voice in decision making will have healthy relationships. However, many traditional Asian parents such as Mr. and Mrs.. Liang find it especially difficult.
Self and Identity Development
Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory
According to Erikson (1968), his analysis of the period of adolescence focuses on the concept of identity. Identity versus identity confusion is Erikson’s fifth developmental stage which is what Janus is experiencing presently.
Personal identity is partly determined by individual’s psychological make-up but also influenced by the community of the individual. For Erikson, adolescence is the period when individual must forge his or her personal identity to avoid role diffusion and identity confusion. Janus’ personal identity is a product of reciprocal interaction between himself and others such as his parents and peers. It is his poorly formed personal identity which results in psychological problems such as doubting that he can ever do anything on his own, mistrust towards his parents and feelings of inferiority due to low self-esteem. As this prolongs, the lack of sense of personal identity led to his alienation from both his parents and friends. He becomes anti-social consequently.
A Variation of Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory: Identity Status
Marcia (1980) further elaborated Erikson’s stage of adolescence with four separate modes for adolescent identity issues and refers it to two criteria, exploration and commitment. Janus falls under the category of identity-diffused because he has neither explored his available options nor committed to any self-chosen alternatives. As a result, he seems to drift aimlessly in life and becomes a pushover by following his parents’ instructions all the time. My point is that, Janus should be willing to take risks and live with uncertainty by exploring possibilities and options in life that differ from those chosen by his parents to forge his own identity.
Social Nature of Learning: Bandura’s Social- Cognitive Theory
According to Bandura (1977), the social learning approach is based on the theory of reciprocal acceptance which exerts a bidirectional effect. A person’s behaviour can influence his or her environment as well as the environment influencing a person’s behaviour.
Two components of the social learning approach that affects Janus are his perceived self-efficacy and learning harmful behavioural and emotional outcomes through observing his parents. His parents’ insecurity to allow Janus to assume full responsibility of his own academic studies conjures feelings of inefficacy in him, even though Janus is convinced that he is able to do it. Ultimately, his parent’s actions make him believe that he does not have the ability to influence events in his life. Instead of giving negative remarks, as his parents, Mr. and Mrs.. Liang should help Janus to identify and correct irrational and illogical thinking about overestimation of his own abilities in his studies and explain their reasons of scheduling extra tuition sessions. They should also realize that physical and verbal aggression, feelings of mistrust between family members can be learned through observation and they should avoid engaging in an argument in front of Janus.
Self-esteem is closely linked to a person’s personality and identity. Parental factors that affect the development of self-esteem include parental love and involvement and parental acceptance (Nicolson & Ayers, 2004). In my perspective, I believe that Janus’ parents interpreted his pleas of a perceived lack of control in his studies instead as a perceived lack of competence in his studies which affects his self-esteem. As a result, Janus suffers from feelings of inferiority and insecurity because he receives no support in his bid for autonomy. I believe this is the reason behind his lack of ability to cope with stress, anxiety, depression and also exhibiting anti-social behavior. As Janus’ parents, they can increase his self-esteem by providing emotional support and positive feedback.
Janus’ actions such as poor concentration in class and sense of hopelessness are symptoms of depression. According to Skinner (1938), Janus’ depression can be seen as a result of deterioration in family relationship. Some of these precipitating factors include parental pressure, parental marital conflict and poor interpersonal relationships with his parents. Janus experiences negative relationships with his parents, in particular their rejection of his bid for autonomy and parental marital conflicts because of a lack of positive reinforcement of Janus’ responses (operants) may have lead him to depression.
Janus cultivates learned-helplessness where he learns to have expectations that events are beyond his control and that the inevitable result will be unpleasant. It makes him resigned to these consequences and not attempt to reassert control in autonomy of his life. By punishing Janus for his occasional poor results does not guide him to what specific positive behaviors he should be adopting and may lead to retaliatory behaviours. Therefore the operant approach generally discourages the use of punishment but relies instead on the use of positive reinforcement which Mr. and Mrs… Liang lacks. From a teacher’s perspective, I would focus on challenging Janus’ negative thinking and negative automatic thoughts and bridge the gap between them via family counselling.
According to Beck (1976), depression-producing cognitions schema can lead to depression where individuals come to have a pessimistic view of themselves, the world and their future. Janus who persistently interprets his experiences with his parents negatively tends to become depressed. These cognitive distortions tend to lower self-esteem and hopelessness. As a teacher, I could advise Janus to do self-monitoring which involves recording Janus’ own thoughts and feelings. This is a form of therapy as it leads to self-monitoring and awareness of positive events in his life. Another possible intervention would be to help change the way that Janus self-evaluates himself so that he can evaluate himself more positively. As a friend, I would provide alternative interpretations of a depressing event and provide the possibilities of more positive outcomes.
Janus’ anti-social behavior can be associated with social and family factors such as family conflict, parental neglect, poor parenting skills by his parents in particular their coercive parenting and social deficiency because he is not allowed to go out with his friends during the weekends. Psychologically, he also suffers from cognitive distortion by misinterpreting his parent’s behavior as hostile.
One of the approaches his parents could take up is ‘parent management training’ (PMT) (Nicolson & Ayers, 2004).
PMT is based on the theory that parents of anti-social children fail to reinforce appropriate pro-social behavior while simultaneously punishing their anti-social behavior. As a consequence, parents are likely to maintain their children’s anti-social behavior. PMT programmes are used to modify parents’ behavior during interactions with their children. Parents are trained to identify problem behaviors and apply behavioural methods such as family-based behaviour modification.
According to Burack et al. (2006), perspective taking develops slowly and closely related to Piaget’s stages of cognitive development. Janus lacks perspective taking which is the ability to understand the thoughts and feelings of others which explains why he feels stressed and cannot understand why his parents cannot live harmoniously together. As mentioned by Eisenberg et al. (2006), those who are skilled in perspective taking can handle difficult social situations. Those less skilled tend to interpret others’ intentions as hostile which can lead to anti-social acts. Furthermore, as mentioned by Selman & Adalbjanardottir (2000), perspective taking can also increase adolescents’ self-understanding. His belief that his friends are picking on him for “no apparent reason” reflects underdeveloped perspective taking which may also be linked to his lack of social problem solving skills.
According to D.W Johnson & Johnson (2006), social problem solving develops slowly with practice. Students who are good at social problem solving have more friends and work more efficiently in groups than those who are less skilled. From the perspective of a teacher, I should lead Janus to realize that compromising to resolve conflicts in ways is beneficial to everyone and promote social development in Janus by providing examples and giving him the opportunity to practice social skills and give him feedback in the context of classroom learning experiences.
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