For my observation study, I asked my cousin, Grace, if it would be alright with her to observe her oldest child. For the purposes of this paper, I will call her Jamie. Jamie is 17 years old, and will be entering her senior year of high school in the fall. Both of her parents have full-time jobs; her father is a salesman and her mother works as a manager at a hardware store. Economically, they do very well. The household has three newer model cars, one for each parent and one for Jamie to share with her 15 year old brother once he gets his driver’s license. They live in a nice house in a newer developed sub-division.
Grace and her husband are both born in the United States with roots all over different parts of Europe. I met Jamie at her home and observed her for about an hour in that setting. Afterwards, we walked to the park near their home to address specific questions I had for her. Lastly, I followed up with Grace to answer additional questions that I wanted her to answer after speaking with Jamie. My choice in doing this observation on someone older was made because I feel that so much has changed since I was 17 and I was curious to gain perspective on how teenagers view the world.
I work as a manager and some of my employees are high school aged students, so in a way I was also trying to gain understanding on what motivates this age group. Jamie is a 17 year old female, who in my opinion looks her age. She doesn’t wear excessive amount of make-up and when I have seen her, her hair is usually pulled back. She dresses in trendy clothes but does not show excessive amounts of skin. Puberty is the time when children develop features and experience bodily changes that lead them into adulthood.
Jamie started menstruating around the age of 14, which was later than most of her peers, which is a part of experiencing puberty. Her mother and aunt have larger chests and Jamie has the same features, along with wider hips than when she was younger. Breasts and wide hips are secondary sex characteristics- that means they do not directly affect fertility and are not required for a woman to become pregnant. Jamie has adult features and has not grown in height in the last two to three years. I spoke to Grace about this area because most people are shy to talk about development and puberty.
I thought that it would be harmful to my research if I put Jamie in a state where she felt embarrassed or uncomfortable. Piaget’s theory stated that formal operation thought would be characterized by more systematic logic and the ability to think about abstract ideas (Berger 2010). In the textbook, there is an example that stated: If dogs are bigger than elephants, and If mice are bigger than dogs, Are elephants smaller than mice? Young children would say no, because they know that elephants are big and cannot picture a mouse being bigger.
I read this example to Jamie and she responded as I thought she would- saying that elephants are smaller than mice. It made sense to her because she was able to look at the information presented to her and although it was different from what she knows to be true, she answered based on the information I provided her. She demonstrated her ability to think abstractly. While observing Jamie in her home, she spent the bulk of the time on her laptop and cell phone. I asked if I could see some of the things that she was doing online.
She shared her Facebook page with me and I was able to see some of the things that she has posted recently. One of her posts described a test for which she received a poor grade. It said,”Ugh! I knew I did bad on my bio test, but a D?? OMG, worst day of my life! ” This type of irrational belief is what would be described as a personal fable, where the adolescent’s experiences are unique and either more wonderful or awful than anyone else’s (Berger 2010). Jamie knows full well that there are worse things in life than a bad grade, but in the moment she could only recognize her own thoughts and feelings.
Another idea I was able to observe while looking at her personal profile was the imaginary audience. Granted, social networking sites by their nature provide a real audience, but the perceived notion that everyone who sees them will judge them is very real. Imaginary audience refers to the other people who adolescents feel are watching and judging them. I asked Jamie what the reasoning was behind choosing the pictures to post that she did. Jamie responded with, “Who wants to post pictures of themselves looking like a slob? It was clear to me that Jamie felt that her peers would be judging her by her appearance and she chose to post what she felt were the most flattering. Obviously, social media and networking are big part in the lives of teenagers and their social development. In addition to studing the physical and cognitive development of Jamie, I observed and asked questions relating to social and emotional development. Identity vs. role confusion is Erikson’s fifth stage of development. In this state the person tries to figure out who he or she is, but can be confused as to which role to adopt (Berger 2010).
I asked Jamie what goals she has set for herself to accomplish in the coming years. The answers I got were what I expected- go to college, get a good job, and move out. When I prodded a bit further and asked what specifically she wanted to study in college and ultimately what kind of job she wanted, it was difficult for her to answer. She wants to go to school out of state to be on her own and is not sure what she wants to study. Jamie is planning on waiting to see what colleges her friends chose before she makes any decisions.
When I asked what would constitute a good job in her mind, she said it would be one that would allow her to buy a place and car of her own. From what I have been studying, I can see that Jamie is struggling to find out what type of person she wants to be. She is making decisions based on those that her peers make instead of making her own choices for her own reasons. Grace and her husband want Jamie to go to a local community college for general education until she decides on a major. Jamie is not pleased with her parents’ idea and there are often disagreements when the subject is discussed.
In speaking with Jamie, I found that her peers influence a lot of the decisions she makes, which, for the most part, is typical for someone her age. Jamie goes to a public school in the area that is comprised of about 1,200 students. I wanted to find out about the different groups that were present in her school and also observe how she described them. Cliques are groups made up of close friends that have loyalty to one another and usually exclude outsiders, while crowds are larger groups that have some similarities but are not necessarily friends (Berger 2010).
She told me that there were groups of students who were jocks, drama geeks, cheerleaders, and stoners to name a few. I asked if all members of a group acted all the same, she said no. Some jocks were smart and paid attention in school, while others goofed off and studied just enough to get by, but it was acceptable for them all to be characterized together because they were all athletes. When I asked if there were any cliques, she immediately said the popular girls were one, and rolled her eyes in the process.
I thought this was interesting because for her, clique is a negative connotation. I then asked if she had a close group of friends that she primarily hung around with. She has a group of four friends that “do everything together. ” I asked if she would consider their group of friends to be a clique and she said no, but couldn’t provide an answer as to why. Before I talked to Jamie, I asked Grace how much she knew about Jamie’s friends, where she hangs out, and what she does while outside the house. I was curious as to what level of parental monitoring Grace used with Jamie.
Grace feels like she has good communication with her daughter and doesn’t feel like she is over-bearing or controlling. When Jamie and I talked privately, I asked the same question to her and got a similar response. She says that she feels lucky that her mother trusts her to be where she is supposed to be and doing what she says she is doing. Jamie knows of other young people whose parents sneak into their email or social networking sites, check text messages, and even go out of their way to spy on their children.
Our textbook says that children with parents like that are more likely to develop depression or other disorders and actively seek to deceive their parents (Berger 2010). Jamie says that these adolescents do not even bother to have honest communication with their parents because they feel even doing so will not be enough to deter their parents from being so controlling. Some have resorted to lying and most of these young people are involved in high risk behavior, such as drug, tobacco, and alcohol use as well as acting out sexually.
I asked Jamie to tell if she thought there was a connection between parenting style and children’s behavior. She thinks that the more a parent doesn’t trust a child, the less likely that child is to behave in a way that pleases the parents. This is what I understood myself to be true from the text- that children of parents who are controlling feel that no matter what they do, their parents always think they are up to no good, so the idea that children behave to please their parents won’t apply. I also asked Grace if she felt that Jamie gives in to peer pressure.
Peer pressure describes the pressure that one feels to be like the others in the group- to think, dress, and behave the same as the group. This is usually when adolescents are encouraged by each other to defy authority and is perceived as a negative force (Berger 2010). Grace feels like Jamie has good friends and they collectively make good choices. Grace did say that Jamie’s interest in music, style of clothing, and extracurricular activities are mainly influenced by her friends. Once again, I presented the same question to Jamie.
Knowing what her mother had told me, I asked her if her friends had any influence in her personal style or activities in which she chooses to be involved. She thought for a moment before she answered “yes”. I asked if she was ever pressured to do something she didn’t want to do. She said she was once offered a cigarette and declined, but knows of people who were in her same situation but didn’t say no because they didn’t want to feel left out. I got the feeling that she might be describing something she had done herself without wanting to admit it.
One area of social development that I was unable to observe thoroughly was gender identity, or the roles and behaviors that society associates with the biological categories of male and female. Jamie did not perform any roles that society would deem as those of primarily females, or any roles that would be considered those of males. From what I know about Jamie and her family, traditional roles of male and female don’t always apply. Traditional roles of males would include yard work or fixing things around the house. Grace, who manages a hardware store, usually does these tasks herself.
Meanwhile, I observed Bill, Grace’s husband, preparing dinner when Jamie and I returned home that evening. In my own personal experience, my husband and I do not have defined roles in the home based on gender norms, rather house-related duties are completed based on who has the schedule that is most conducive to completing the task. Dinner gets started by whoever arrives home first and we take turns mowing the lawn. I believe that at least in cultures like that of the United States, traditional gender roles will begin to disappear.
Stay at home dads, gay and lesbian couples, and both parents working multiple jobs are groups that are growing in popularity. These groups will act differently and in return, raise children who will not always associate “vacuuming” as a job that the mother would do. In other cultures that are not as liberal, gender norms will continue to determine the roles of males and females. I enjoyed spending time with Jamie and Grace and getting to know how they saw each other. Jamie is a bright young lady who has matured as expected.
Her ability to think abstractly makes it clear to me that she has developed cognitively as one would assume. From a social standpoint, she bases the majority of her decisions on how her peers will see her, but they have not influenced her to behave in a negative way. She gets along with her mother and feels like they have open and honest communication. I expected the majority of the answers that I ultimately got from Jamie. That being said, it made me realize that these younger people are still developing and we cannot expect them to function the same was adults do since they are still developing.
I said before that I work with people Jamie’s age and sometimes it is difficult because I expect them to act like the older employees. I realize that they require a different type of interaction to become and stay motivated. What I will take away from this observation is that young adults can be tricky to study, since sometimes they cannot even articulate the reasons behind the things that they do.
Berger, K. S. (2010) Invitation to the lifespan (1st ed. ). New York: Worth Publishers.