Socioemotional Development in Adolescents

Teenagers may be the most complicated population group to understand. This hardship in communication stems from the fact that all adolescents are undergoing drastic emotional, hormonal, and physical changes, as well as social ones (Newman & Newman, 2017). It may be natural for teenagers to test the limits of their surroundings, searching for a way to establish their personality, considering the variety of new developments occurring within a short period. Experimenting with both positive and negative emotive areas, such as expressing empathy or emotional rejection, may create the basis for how future young adults will interact with their surroundings (Pennington, Gillen, & Hill, 2016). Thus, exploring the various changes that occur during socioemotional development and the effect they have on different aspects of teenager’s lives allows gaining a better understanding of this process.

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Searching for an answer to questions regarding a person’s innermost self may be a life-long endeavor, but teenagers could be considered the most soul-searching population group. From Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development to modern-day theories, teenagers have been proven to establish their personality between 12-18 years old (Rageliene, 2016; Roberts & Davis, 2016). Their goal is to achieve “a coherent self-identity,” understand who they are, and why they conscientiously participate in a specific behavioral pattern that distinguishes them from a particular group while affiliating themselves with another (Pennington et al., 2016, p. 47). However, not all teenagers may consciously understand the underlying processes that accompany the formation of self-identity on a micro-level. Nonetheless, teenagers may want to experiment with a wide variety of social encounters, judging for themselves what actions resonate with them, help build their ideal personality, and establish their reputation.

The process of forming an adequate self-identity may be identified as conflictual. Pennington et al. write (2016), “The psychosocial crisis of later adolescence is individual identity formation versus identity confusion,” outlining the process as self-contradicting, but ultimately unavoidable and beneficial in the long run. Without an established sense of self, teenagers may lack both internal and external integration into emotional processes, demonstrating a lack of conscientiousness and overall sentimental investment (Newman & Newman, 2017). Conversely, socioemotional maturity leads to heightened self-realization, positive relationships with the external world, and overall better psychological wellbeing among actualized adolescents (Rageliene, 2016). Thus, healthy identity development requires adolescents to build new behavioral patterns through seeking and reflecting on new experiences, often abandoning old personality-related convictions or consolidating them with the occurred changes.

Religious and Spiritual Development

The exploration of the concept of God and belief may be another critical aspect of teenagers’ development. Adolescents tend to delve into religion because it helps them realize the “three main psychological processes,” such as seeking purpose, understanding beauty, and expressing appropriate values, say Benson and Scales (as cited in Kor, Pirutinsky, Mikulincer, Shoshani, & Miller, 2019). Furthermore, participating in religious practices is an exercise in commitment to a particular behavior, which is essential to adolescents’ socioemotional maturity (Newman & Newman, 2017). These practices allow adolescents to try on adult roles and gauge whether they are appropriate, satisfactory, and reflect their ideal lifestyle. Doing so helps young adults make choices regarding their future from an informed position while satisfying any possible needs for identification with a specific group, using religion as a common factor.

Tracing the place of spirituality in adolescents’ lives may be more complicated since it is less detectable than public religious practice. Nonetheless, some authors place spirituality among other “new levels of emotional intensity” that teenagers allegedly seek, which allows addressing it as another essential facet of socioemotional development (Pennington et al., 2016, p. 318). Research done by Kor et al. found that “spirituality [among adolescents] is longitudinally related to life satisfaction, positive emotions, and prosociality”. Thus, internally understanding one’s personal relationship with God or a lack of one could be the emotional progress that teenagers need to reach new levels of development. Doing so allows achieving the moratorium identity status, wherein teenagers can safely explore a personality without total commitment (Newman & Newman, 2017). Therefore, teenagers’ spiritual exploration plays an integral part in their overall development, even if it is carried out without outright religious expression.

Adolescent Problems

A variety of problems arises from the process of identity achievement. The main reason for this is that socioemotional maturity heavily relies on operant learning, which is characterized by a dichotomy of reward and punishment (Pennington et al., 2016). Thus, since teenagers must carry out both negative and positive behavior to create the potential for learning from experience, adolescents may often seek out particular circumstances that cannot always be considered a positive influence. As such, it is possible to count eating disorders, mental health issues, and experimentation with various substances, as well as the testing of gender roles and sexual exploration as the central themes of adolescent problems. However, it is necessary to distinguish between “risk taking as trouble and risk taking as opportunity,” writes Lightfoot, separating dangerous activities from exploration (as cited in Pennington et al., 2016, p. 67). Therefore, any issues that stem from the examples of adolescent problems listed above may help teenagers achieve a better understanding of themselves.

The breadth of experienced emotions in adolescence may make dealing with everyday, age-pertinent issues complicated, but ultimately necessary for adequate maturation. Underlying neurological processes help teenagers, such as the development of horizontal and vertical control systems, which are in charge of reacting to circumstances and using language to respond to them (Newman & Newman, 2017). Thus, if “personality traits are [a] developmental phenomenon,” then any successfully mitigated conflict may help establish a better sense of self during the most turbulent part of a person’s life (Roberts & Davis, 2016, p. 7). Therefore, dealing with issues may allow uplifting a learning opportunity from the created circumstances and sets the foundation for future growth.

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Cultural Development

Cultural socioemotional maturation may be another aspect of significant growth. Social culture is a collection of “norms, roles, beliefs, values, rites, and customs” that are associated with a particular culture within which teenagers already partake (Newman & Newman, 2017, p. 40). As such, relating to these cultural expressions becomes another possibility of associating with a particular group, as adolescents decide to continue carrying out these actions in their own lives. However, before teenagers can do so, their development is influenced by the ingrained cultural norms of their surrounding family (Pennington et al., 2016). These cultural scripts decide how “encounters with certain objects, roles, and settings,… the meanings linked to actions” affect an adolescent’s development, for example, how a family reacts to major and minor issues (Newman & Newman, 2017, p. 40). Therefore, children may continue down the appropriate cultural pathways that respective carriers outline, fueling their socioemotional progress in a manner characterized by intermixing the social with the cultural.

Two ways exist for teenagers’ sociocultural development to come to fruition. Cultural continuity occurs when adolescents are integrated into mature roles as-is, without unlearning any previous behaviors, while cultural discontinuity expects them to abandon those actions that are deemed childish or inappropriate for adults (Newman & Newman, 2017). These pathways decide how teenagers learn to react in particular situations, particularly in terms of biological changes. Thus, cultural development and teenagers’ enculturation connect firmly with their prosociality, as adolescents learn norms, for example, appropriate emotional responses, from communication and relationships (Kor et al., 2019). Within the psychosocial approach, continuous involvement in one’s culture and an understanding of its goals creates the basis for learning which socioemotional resource is available for which task (Newman & Newman, 2017). Therefore, teenagers disconnected from a cultural setting and without any integration into another one may find themselves lacking in communication methods and emotional maturity.

Peers and Families

Communication with their external environment can be outlined as adolescents’ central orienting factor during their maturation. Teenagers who are attempting to form a new identity based on their previous one may need to perform fulfilling actions and have healthy communication patterns with those whom they affiliate with for the best outcome. Within the family setting, which is one of the most critical forming factors in adolescents’ lives, operant learning remains an essential teaching technique, forming the basis for teenagers’ understanding of right and wrong (Pennington et al., 2016). This methodology is particularly useful in establishing status hierarchies that adolescents can then carry over into other aspects of their lives, such as their work and community lives (Roberts & Davis, 2016). Therefore, communication with family can help form teenagers’ basic understanding of appropriate behavior and adult roles, often through punishment for risk-taking behavior during their identity searching process.

Adolescents’ peers may be placed in opposition to familial ties, but operating under the same methods. In the case of peer communication, punishment-based operant learning may be considered as taking on the form of peer pressure, wherein teenagers are expected to uphold a specific behavior pattern in their everyday conduct. However, positive interactions with one’s friends indicate better overall mental health, and resisting peer pressure helps teenagers learn conflict mitigation tactics, both internal and external (Rageliene, 2016). Contacts with peers, thus, become indicative of social investment, potentially driving the occurring changes in self-identification and personality traits (Roberts & Davis, 2016). Therefore, through both positive and negative interactions with peers, adolescents uplift communication patterns that positively affect teenagers’ social and emotional proficiency.


Adolescents’ socioemotional development relies on experiencing a variety of different social settings focused on different facets of adult life, from religious worship to cultural continuity. Successful conflict mitigation between social, cultural, and familial aspects, as well as both the past and present self, makes adolescence one of the most turbulent periods in a person’s life. However, this variety of experienced circumstances and emotional breadth allows teenagers to achieve a better understanding of self through realizing themselves by trying on and partially committing to mature roles. Therefore, this process allows teenagers to base their self-identity on a conscious decision that takes into account all possible identity developments, making the goal of adolescence becoming the person one wants to be.


Kor, A., Pirutinsky, S., Mikulincer, M., Shoshani, A., & Miller, L. (2019). A longitudinal study of spirituality, character strengths, subjective well-being, and prosociality in middle school adolescents. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 1-12. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00377

Newman, B. M., & Newman, P. R. (2017). Development through life: A psychosocial approach (13th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

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Pennington, D., Gillen, K., & Hill, P. (2016). Social psychology. New York, NY: Routledge.

Rageliene, T. (2016). Links of adolescents identity development and relationship with peers: A systematic literature review. Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 25(2), 97-105.  Web.

Roberts, B. W., & Davis, J. P. (2016). Young adulthood is the crucible of personality development. Emerging Adulthood, 4(5), 1-9. doi:10.1177/2167696816653052

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