Erik Erikson was a psychoanalyst who studied developmental tasks at different stages of life. His theories divided human developmental cycles into eight discrete stages. The first four stages -- infant, toddler, preschooler and school-age child -- range from zero to approximately twelve years of age. The fifth stage, adolescence, describes the bridge from childhood to maturity; the last three stages - young, middle-age, and older adults - are associated solely with adulthood.
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The adolescent stage takes place between 12 and 18 years of age, and is also called "identity versus role confusion." Erikson believed that prior to adolescence the personality was shaped by what happened to a person, but after that point it was more dependent on the choices made by the person himself. During this time an individual will withdraw from his birth family in order to assert his individuality, and will develop his own set of ideals. Relationships with friends and peers are of paramount importance during adolescence.
Young adulthood lasts from 18 to 35 and is described as "intimacy versus isolation." During this stage of life the individual is searching for a mate and a home of her own. If she is unsuccessful in forming such an intimate attachment, she may become isolated or develop feelings of superiority in self-defence. Many people start families during this stage; the primary relationships are with romantic partners and offspring.
The Erikson model calls 35 to 65 the middle-age adult years and describes them as "generativity versus stagnation." This age group has more societal control than any other, and these years are busy and creative. A middle-age adult strives to be productive in the community. He works to pass his culture and values along to his children and guide the next generation. He may struggle with stagnation or self-absorption when the children leave home or if his career is not fulfilling.
Late adulthood -- age 65 and on -- was characterised by Erikson as "integrity versus despair." He believed that if a person was satisfied with the life she'd led -- if all her developmental tasks had been accomplished and "integrated" into her personality -- then her declining years would be a time of contentment. If she were not satisfied, she would feel as though her life had been wasted. A contented older adult may feel vindicated and wise, while discontented persons may feel despair as they focus on their failures.
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