Stages of development are like building blocks. Mastery of one phase is necessary to create the skills and knowledge needed to move successfully to the next. In this entry, we will look at stage of adolescence to shed light on the trends in our current society.

Fitting-in is the dominant behavior of adolescents. They establish their identity by being like others. A common defense used with their parents to gain permission to do something is “But everybody else is doing it!” Annoying as this behavior can be to parents, fitting-in is a normal part of this phase of growth. Hopefully the youth will evolve into an adult with the ability to form their own thoughts and opinions consequently making their own imprint in life.

The effects of a society that communicates electronically more so than face-to-face…a concept we coined as being “once removed” in the August 2018 entry…mimics this teenage stage of development. Adults that align themselves with certain political groups and social media sites that may espouse values other than what they actually think and believe are displaying the adolescent need to fit-it. This may require giving up one’s ability to think critically for themselves or in essence allowing others to tell them how to think about things.

America was founded on the concept of rugged individualism and fighting for causes. People could have differences, but worked together for a common purpose. America itself stands as an example of how individualism and cooperation can coexist.  Imagine thirteen disparate colonies with little in common coming together to fight the most modern war machine of the era and winning.  All they really had in common was a belief in the importance of having a voice in the government that taxed them. Nowadays things have shifted from a culture of individualism to one of sameness. Fitting in at all cost promotes giving up the work needed to individuate and promotes the lack of critical thinking.

Also differences from the norm are shunned. During a luncheon meeting at a social work conference, a member of the group asked everyone to bow their heads to pray before eating. A veteran member stood up and asked that the prayer be more generalized for non-Christians in the group. When asked why she hadn’t expressed her feelings before, she responded that she didn’t want to stand out because her view was different. Our current society looks like a teenager trying to navigate through the adolescent stage. Aligning with “other” be it person, political view, or popular behavior can give individuals a desperately needed identity, thus acceptance.

People feel that their identity is threatened when someone differs from them. Like the social worker at the luncheon, standing up for having opposing views can cause individuals to be ostracized, criticized, and demonized. So what is it that makes our society dwell in the adolescent stage of development? Contributing factors include:

  • lack of face-to-face interaction
  • diminishing participation in service and community groups that build character
  • the intense need for belonging
  • threat to sense of self (a two-pronged concept)
    • being in touch with others
    • being in touch with your own belief and values

It’s not just our fingerprints that make us unique, but also our thoughts, beliefs, and values. Sameness and fitting-in inhibits our ability to develop into creative and independent people.

What steps are needed to return our society to an adult stage of individuals working collectively for common causes? A greater awareness and understanding of the reasons that caused it to regress to an adolescent stage and the will to change are starting points.

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