Psychosocial Development and Technology Use (Part 4)
In the previous blogs we introduced Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development and how technology use might interfere with the first three stages.
Psychosocial theory suggests that as we mature from infancy to adulthood, we transition through stages of social development that provide us with conflict or challenges. As we successfully navigate a challenge or conflict, we obtain a psychological skill or value that helps us tackle the next psychosocial challenge. These skills are cumulative, and if we fail to develop a skill we will experience difficulties in that particular area.
In this blog we will examine Stage 4 (children five to eleven years-old) and the potential consequences of technology use during this stage of development.
|1||Birth to 24 months||Trust vs. Mistrust||Hope|
|2||2 – 3 years||Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt||Will|
|3||3 – 5 years||Initiative vs. Guilt||Purpose|
|4||5 – 11 years||Industry vs. Inferiority||Competence|
|5||Adolescence||Identity vs. Confusion||Fidelity|
|6||Early Adulthood||Intimacy vs. Isolation||Love|
|7||Middle Age||Generativity vs. Stagnation||Care|
|8||Old Age||Integrity vs. Despair||Wisdom|
Stage 4: Industry versus Inferiority
This stage of psychosocial development occurs during the early years of a child’s academic life. Elementary school becomes the epicenter of a Stage 4 child’s introduction to more formal skills, such as relating to peers according to certain rules; engaging in more rule driven structured play; experiencing the demand of teamwork in more formalized sports; and finally, mastering the educational requirements of school. This is the time when a child develops the skills to cope with their new social and academic demands, as parents and siblings are no longer the only source of interaction and feedback. During this stage teachers and peers become increasingly powerful resources for the child and can significantly impact a child’s self esteem.
As a child moves through this stage, their social interactions with teachers, peers, parents, and siblings help develop their sense of pride in their triumphs and abilities. These triumphs and abilities include learning how to read or write; grasping the concepts of addition and subtraction; successfully bouncing a basketball or mastering a new sport; and assimilating into a larger network of friends. As the child continues through this stage, the academic and social demands become increasingly more difficult.
A child who is encouraged and praised by parents and teachers will develop a feeling of competence and belief in their skills. Furthermore, if a child’s initiative to continue building upon their skills is reinforced, the child will feel industrious and confident in their ability to reach their goals. Alongside the pressure of academic demands, a child’s peer group helps the child develop their self-esteem. For example – the child during this stage begins to feel the need to win approval from their peer group by demonstrating specific competencies (kindness, honesty, sharing) that are valued by society. If a child demonstrates the competencies valued by society then the child begins to develop a sense of pride in their endeavors. In the end, a child who successfully transitions through this stage of increased academic and social demands will become trusting, autonomous, and full of initiative.
On the other hand, if a child’s initiative and skill building is not encouraged – or the child’s parents or teachers actively circumscribe it – then the child begins to feel inferior, doubting his or her own ability to be successful. A child who does not successfully transition through this stage will experience defeat and possess feelings of inferiority and doubt about the future.
The goal of this stage is to help the child develop a sense of balance between industry and inferiority. For example, if the child cannot develop a specific skill they feel society is demanding (e.g. being athletic, artistic), then that child may develop a sense of inferiority. However, a child who never experiences failure will not develop a sense of modesty. It is the balance between competence (industry/initiative) and modesty that leads to the development of the virtue of competence or a belief in our own abilities to manage the responsibilities set before us.
Technology use can positively and negatively impact this stage of psychosocial development. On the positive side, technology use has been integrated into the classroom as an instructional tool and as a method to reinforce a child’s academic achievements. Computerized instruction can be tailored to meet the individual needs of the child, whether they are advanced learners, average learners, or below-average learners. These periods of personal computer instruction give the child success at their own level of command without being subject to the potential ridicule or harassment of peers. Individualized instructions provide the child with opportunities for reinforcement, which will increase their initiative and belief that they can be successful.
Another positive benefit of technology use is the ability for an older child (nine to eleven year-olds) in this stage of psychosocial development to cooperatively interact with other children during video game play, group homework projects, and general socializing. For example, psychological research has demonstrated that multi-player video game play can have positive effects on cooperative play between children (Greitemeyer, Traut-Mattausch, & Osswald, 2012) and empathy in children (Greitemeyer, 2013). These are competencies that are valued in society, and a child’s development of these competencies leads to a sense of pride in their accomplishments and improved self-esteem. In addition, small-group academic projects that involve researching a topic on the Internet provide children with additional positive social interactions, which build upon their initiative and confidence in their abilities.
Conversely, technology use can have a significantly negative impact on the child’s ability to successfully transition through this psychosocial stage. For example, some parents give their children their own cell phones, tablets, or other devices during elementary school. Often times parents cite safety reasons as their motive for giving their children these electronic devices at a young age. However, parents may fail to appreciate that these electronic devices provide an outlet for social interactions to be brought home from the schoolyard. While this socialization can be positive, it can also be very negative.
For instance, texting or messaging through cell phones or tablets does not provide the texting child with the necessary feedback from their peers on whether they are demonstrating a value of society. In other words, a child who texts “You are stupid” to another child fails to get any feedback from their peers that this message is hurtful or lacks empathy. Whereas, if the texting child would have made this statement in front of peers, this child may have been silenced by her peers or may have observed the disapproving looks of her peers. This type of feedback helps the child develop a sense of what is valued or appropriate by her peers.
Another negative impact stems from a parent’s use of technology. If parents are overly consumed by their technology, they may miss opportunities to reinforce their child for their achievements and endeavors. If a child’s activities or accomplishments are not reinforced the child may begin to doubt their abilities to accomplish their goals. If a parent is constantly texting on their phone while attending their child’s little league game, this not only models the wrong message, the parent will miss the opportunity to encourage and reinforce the child’s challenges and accomplishments during the game.
Unfortunately, these missed occasions occur in the home as well. If a parent tends to sit on the couch after dinner, catching up on emails or checking Facebook rather than reading with their child, they fail to take advantage of an ideal time to reinforce their child’s initiative and sense of competency. Reading with a child not only improves their reading level, but it encourages a child to continue meeting the increasingly difficult academic demands placed on them. A child takes great pride in demonstrating their accomplishments with their parents.
Tips for Stage 4 children (ages five – eleven):
- Children during this stage should not be provided with personal cell phones.
- Encourage your children to become involved in extracurricular activities like sports, music, theater, etc.
- Refrain from persistently using your cell phone or tablet while watching your child’s extracurricular activities.
- Sit with your child at least twice a week and help with their reading, math, or other homework.