Erikson’s fifth stage of psychosocial development occurs during age 12-18 years old.
At this age, adolescents must develop a sense of who they are, and develop an identity for themselves. This transition from childhood to adulthood is very important, as many adolescents struggle with social interactions, with “fitting in,” and learn to develop a sense of morality at this age. During this stage, an adolescent will learn their role in society and who they want to become as an adult. Adolescents may feel uncomfortable about their body for some time, until they can adapt and mature. Success in this stage leads to the virtue of fidelity. The adolescent’s task is to synthesize past, present, and future possibilities into a clear sense of self. Erikson called this quest the adolescent’s search for identity.
In the process of defining who we are, and developing an identity for ourselves, we attempt to find where and how we belong with others during adolescence. Learning how we fit in with other people and how we interact in social relationships is an important step towards developing romantic relationships in the next stage, during early adulthood. Acquiring this sense of identity is essential for making later adult decisions such as vocation or marriage partner.
Fidelity involves the ability to commit oneself to others and accepting others, even when there may be ideological differences. Fidelity and devotion are necessary to freely associate with others, and they are concepts based on loyalty, social and interpersonal integrity, personal standards and dignity. Erikson contended that adolescent identity formation is followed by a developing capacity to form emotionally close relationships. Those who enjoy high-quality relationships with family and friends also tend to enjoy similarly high quality romantic relationships which set the stage for healthy adult relationships.
Fundamentally, the genital stage would be compared to puberty. Hormonal and physical changes in the adolescent’s body cause a surge in sexual thoughts, feelings and behavior. This is the time of adolescent sexual experimentation, as dramatic physiological changes associated with sexual maturation mark this stage.
The successful resolution after this stage would be settling down in a loving relationship with another person.
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