Mental Health of our Youth: Desiring Dependency, Structure and Discipline

From the time of birth children begin to learn about skills and structure they will require to begin their successful journey of life.

From the development of beginning of the individuals life, from being provided that first milk from the parent, the development of cognitive skills, learning the virtues of life, etc., children learn about structuring life, healthy dependency on others, and the discipline they so sorely need (and really want) to begin their life-long journey.

I shall never forget receiving instruction from Dr. Donald Smith in classes on human growth and development while attending Sul Ross State University in pursuit of one of my Masters degree, in Counseling and Guidance. Dr. Smith, whom also was my mentor for my Doctorate Degree, has since become my long time friend. In the human growth and development classes he made what could have been a boring time into a most exciting and rewarding experience.

Not only did he present the theories associated with human growth and development, but provided us invaluable instruction on their application to the counseling profession; instruction I took to heart, and have used throughout my counseling career.

Two theories which were empathized the most were those postulated by Doctor’s Jean Piaget and Erik Erickson; their theories concerning the stages of physical and psycho-social development have evolved into cognitive-behavioral therapy most extensively utilized as evidence based, best practices, in the field of mental health counseling.

Jean Piaget was a Swiss biologist concerned with the study of mollusks, clams; and received a doctoral degree in the natural sciences. He later began working with psychologists and psychiatry, and thus began his interest in psycho-social cognitive development and behavior among children; and subsequently his development of a model of development among youth.

His model, which identifies the four stages of child development, became a standard in the field of psychology and counseling therapies. The first stage, called the “Sensorimotor stage” involves learning through motor actions and takes place when children are 0-2 years of age. Next comes the “preoperation stage” when children aged 3-7 develop intelligence through the use of symbolic language, fantasy play and natural intuition.

During “concrete operational stage,” children 8-11 develop cognitively through the use of logic that is based on concrete evidence. “Formal operations,” the fourth and final stage, involves 12-15-year-olds forming the ability to think abstractly with more complex understanding of logic and cause and effect. He called his stages “genetic epistemology,” epistemology being the study of knowledge. His work had a major impact on the areas of cognitive theory and developmental psychology.

Erik Erickson was another stage theorist whom also provided us with a model of the psychosocial development of children through adulthood, the life-cycle; which contains 8 stages, and contains the positive attributes, and negative behavioral “crisis” of each stage.

The first stage, taking place during infancy, involves gaining trust in self and environment versus feeling mistrust and wariness of others. Stage two, ages 1 ½ – 3, involves achieving a sense of autonomy versus shame and doubt over one’ ability to be independent. Stage 3, ages 3-5½, involves learning how to take initiative comfortably versus feeling guilty over motivations and needs. Stage 4, at ages 5½ – 12, involves gaining a sense of industry and competence versus feeling inferior and inept.

Stage 5, adolescence, forming a sense of one’s own identity versus role confusion and self-questioning. Stage 6, young adulthood, involves achieving intimacy and connection with others versus feeling stagnant and unfulfilled.

At stage 7, at maturity, the individual achieves ego integrity and relative peace with one’s life versus a sense of despair and wastedness. Stage 8, at old age, the integrity and relative peace with one’s life continues, with the added attribute of wisdom.

Both Piaget and Erickson’s stages of development postulate that the individual cannot develop to the maximum of their ability until they are assisted in transitioning through each stage successfully, and develop the necessary virtues of each stage.

These “theories” have developed into practical applications over the years, to include setting the curricula in our educational institutions and in the counseling profession. The major point being, the individual must be “wired” cognitively at the point of their development in order to learn and apply data appropriate to that cognitive stage.

Parents need to be aware of these stages in order to provide their children with appropriate, age related, teachings about virtues and other areas so essential to the cognitive development of their child. So often, in working with families with a concern of their child, I have found this to be so true…hearing statements such as “He just will not listen to us!” “Why won’t she do as she is told?” etc, etc.

Many times they see the child as a “young adult,” unaware that the child cannot comprehend or be able to be responsive unless their cognitive abilities are formed at the appropriate age level.

Parents and other care-givers should also be aware the child not only needs healthy dependency, structure, and discipline in their lives; but also wants it; and I empathize “wants it.”

I have seen this so many times…the “rebellious” youth who has not been give proper guidance at their age level who acts out…they really want to be given virtuous related responses involving healthy love, will, and purpose…at the age of their development of course. They are in actuality asking for that.

Until Next Time, Stay Healthy My Friends!