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Early adulthood, the period of time ranging from ages 17 to 24, consists of substantial changes in the daily life of an individual. Within these years, most young adults will finish school and choose to enter the workforce full-time or pursue further education. Regardless of an individual's choice, many aspects of their emotional development will be the same. Theorists place great emphasis on strengthening romantic relationships and defining one's life goals during this period of rapid change.
Success or failure in the search for romantic love plays an important role in the emotional development of young adults. Those in satisfying relationships report improved self-esteem and well-being, while those who search unsuccessfully experience the opposite. Three types of generally recognised attachment exist in relationships. Those with a secure attachment experience trusting relationships and consider their partner a friend as well as a lover. Resistant attachments are defined by frequent ups and downs in relationships with unpredictable changes. These individuals tend to have reduced self-esteem and show increased neediness in a relationship. Finally, avoidant attachments consist of mistrust and a cold emotional connection. This can result in other issues, such as infidelity and alcoholism.
Young adults frequently make sacrifices, such as a lower standard of living, for the opportunity to leave home. This allows a new level of independence and self-reliance. Despite this, most young adults move back home after a period away, whether it's after college graduation or during times of financial hardship. Those in especially tense households tend to move out at an earlier age, while those in poverty leave later. Leaving home can result in strong emotional growth if done at the right time. Many young adults who choose to leave home too early are unable to attain as much education as their peers and find less success in their careers.
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Career development has a major impact on emotional changes in early adulthood. As young adults leave their parents' home and become financially independent, the growth of a career or the pursuit of further education gain special importance. Men are more likely to put a heavy investment into these goals, while women are more often split between family and career development. Because of these investments, a successful career tends to result in healthy emotional development and high self-esteem, especially in men.
Social Clock Theory
The social clock, a theory of emotional development, argues that individuals create an internal calendar of goals they hope to accomplish at various points in their life. In early adulthood, the feminine social clock often begins to urge marriage, childbirth and building a family. Alternatively, the masculine social clock pushes for career development.
Despite the social clock's gender-specific names, men and women can experience either. Success in one's attempt to meet the goals of a social clock can have a major impact on emotional development. For example, a man subscribing to the feminine social clock who fails to find a partner and build a family during early adulthood is likely to experience a decline in self-esteem.
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Erik Erikson, a prominent theorist in the field of emotional development, assigns specific goals to different periods of life. Those in early adulthood are said to be struggling with intimacy as opposed to isolation. This refers to the desire for a stable long-term relationship. Those who have achieved intimacy are thought to host a range of positive attributes, such as confidence and acceptance. Alternatively, those in isolation are more likely to fear loneliness and abandonment. Intimacy requires an individual to sacrifice some of his independence for another person. After successfully traversing the struggle of isolation and intimacy, an individual will deal with generativity, which is the desire to improve society for future generations.
- Development Through the Lifespan (4th ed); Laura E. Berk
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