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Friday, August 1, 2008

Characteristics of Middle School Adolescence

This is the third article in a series of articles that will discuss the literature on the predominant career theories; history of and theory behind interest inventories; a discussion of the prominent interest inventories; the best use of interest inventories in the career development process; conceptual additions applicable to the study of interest inventories; literature that has focused on career indecision in adolescents; and educational interventions with additional focus placed on middle schools. All of these articles come from dissertations by Virginia Robinson Richards, EdD, and Stephen Randall Richards, EdD, both copyrighted 1998. These articles are presented as a quick refresher for professional guidance counselors, an introduction to these theories for the non-professional, and as a starting point for students of the many disciplines related to career development theory. The bibliographies are purposely missing. If you choose to copy our work (shame on you), you will at least have to go to the library to find the work and maybe touch the covers of these works. We appologize for the non-academic format, but in a blogging forum it is not possible to keep the work as originally presented.

As children move into the adolescent stage of their lives, society begins to expect and require different kinds of adaptive behaviors from the individuals (Vondracek, 1994) with certain adaptive capacities attained before moving into the next stage (Erikson, 1963). Theories of human development help to organize, give meaning, and call attention to the changes in behavior that occur as a child develops (Biehler & Snowman, 1990). Erikson’s theory (1963) of personality development stated that middle school children are dominated by intellectual curiosity and should be encouraged to make and do things well, to persevere, and should receive praise for trying new activities. Rewarding curiosity through encouragement and praise helps develop an enjoyment of intellectual work and pride in doing things well (Biehler & Snowman, 1990) and, furthermore, encourages vocational exploration (Jordaan, 1963). Encouraging these “exploratory behaviors of any type not damaging to self or others can have eventual positive consequences in terms of career development” stated Sharf (1992, p. 130). Erickson’s theory also stated occupational choice has great impact on adolescents’ sense of identity and that exploration can have a positive impact on the individual (Biehler & Snowman, 1990).

In agreement with Erickson, Super (1990) stated that “vocational self-concept is a reflection of the person’s overall self-concept” (p. 286). According to Super (1957), the process of developing a self-concept begins at birth gradually broadening to create an elaborate and differentiated understanding of self as that of being distinct from others. As an on-going part of this evolution, adolescents are beginning to form ideas about work and the relationship that work has with self as they are changed by each new life experience.

Havinghurst (1964) held similar ideas concerning development of vocational identity. Havinghurst proposed children between the ages of 5 and 10 years of age begin to identify with a worker, primarily a parent or significant other in their life. From observation of these key figures, children acquire the basic habits of industry. By doing schoolwork and performing household chores, children are learning to differentiate between the appropriate behaviors for both work and play. In acquiring this knowledge and understanding about the world of work, children are developing the capacity of doing work (Havinghurst, 1964).

Piaget’s theory (1977) of cognitive development stated that children of middle school age are starting a gradual process of developing their ability to solve problems and to plan as they enter the formal operational stage where they will be able to deal with abstractions, form hypotheses, and engage in mental manipulations (Biehler & Snowman, 1990). Piaget additionally stated that the amount and quality of environmental experiences could alter cognitive development. Adults become key role models (Sharf, 1992) as children learn about the world of work and develop their own self-concepts through imitation of others (Bandura, 1977). People working in those occupations observed by children offer exposure to key figures (Super, 1990) and increased opportunities for modeling observed behaviors occurs as the children acquire information about self, others, and occupations (Sharf, 1992).

This period of time, adolescence, that middle school students are embarking upon is a period of orientation, a time to decide on goals and directions for the future, a time to face and come to terms with various opportunities and restrictions that their lives may offer. Influences from the various contexts in which they function, such as school, home, and the community, serve to bring together certain childhood aspirations and practical expectations as these young people begin to think more realistically about where their future paths might lead (Elder et al, 1994).

Environmental factors. Environmental factors such as socio-economic conditions of family and community; sexual stereotyping within family, community, and education; conditions of residence, such as rural versus urban; and availability of interventional materials serve as intervening factors to slow down or block out exploratory behaviors of adolescents. Gottfredson (1986) suggested these interventional risk factors while particularly problematic for certain groups, i.e., gender or ethnic groups, may also be factors limiting the career development of any individual.

“Limitations upon career development by restricted social class horizons” (Herr & Swails, 1973, p. 55) can result from limited avenues of career choice or limitations upon the knowledge of opportunities available to the individual. Individuals cannot choose or prepare for that about which they do not know (Herr & Swails). Because individuals are often denied access to certain situations, they may be forced to rely on other sources of information. But socioeconomic status often precludes participation in certain school and extracurricular activities, and also may influence the type of occupations the individual may become “acquainted with through observation, hearsay, and contact with other adults (usually located at the same level as the father’s occupation)” (Jordaan, 1963, p. 76). In agreement, Hendry et al. (1994) stated that “young people belonging to families with higher socioeconomic status are exposed to different types of role models than working-class young people” (p.63).

Hannah and Kahn (1989) reported a tendency for male students of all socio-economic levels to choose male-dominated fields, while females’ choices differed according to socio-economic status, i.e., choosing a male-dominated occupation was more common for females of high than low socio-economic status. While Goodale and Hall (1976) suggested that parental interest and support seem to moderate the relationship of socio-economic status to career achievement, they also pointed out that sons are likely to “inherit” their fathers’ occupational levels with socio-economic status being one of the most consistent predictors of occupational level achieved by males, whereby higher family socio-economic status is related to higher occupational levels in sons, and sons of lower-class backgrounds achieve lower occupational levels (Brown, 1970). Hannah and Kahn (1989) found that students from higher social classes held higher aspirations than did lower-class youngsters.

Nilsen (1971) used the term “apron syndrome” to refer to pictures in children’s textbooks showing women in aprons while Scott (1981) reported girls shown as passive and boys as problem solvers in textbooks. Key figures in school often reflect the same structure with women as teachers and men as administrators (Betz & Fitzgerald, 1987). Frost and Diamond (1978) found that children in grades 4, 5, and 6, who stereotyped children’s jobs such as baby-sitter and newspaper person also stereotyped adult occupations with boys specifying a narrower range of occupations than did girls. Henderson, Hesketh, and Tuffin (1995) found children exhibit gender-type preferences between ages 3 and 5 with boys exhibiting stronger gender typing than girls supporting Betz and Fitzgerald’s (1987) research showing children gender-stereotype as early as age 2 with boys again exhibiting stronger gender typing than girls.

Gottfredson (1981) viewed stereotyping by gender as having serious restrictive effects on girls’ aspirations, but Betz and Fitzgerald (1987) and Henderson et al.’s (1995) research would suggest equally or more serious restrictions on young boys aspirations. In studies of working adults (Leung & Harmon, 1990), college (Betz, Heesacker, Shuttleworth, 1990), high school (Hannah & Kahn, 1989), and elementary school students (Henderson, Hesketh, & Tuffin, 1988), women were found to make more cross-gender occupational choices than men with men overwhelmingly avoiding cross-sex work.

Rojewski (1995) observed that “the rural environment often raises barriers to individual career development and provides limited career alternatives” (p. 35). Lam, Chan, Parker, and Carter (1987) found individuals living in rural areas had tendencies toward economic, educational and vocational disparities when compared with urban individuals. Rojewski (1993) determined rural youth contend with geographic isolation, fewer employment opportunities, lack of economic vitality, fewer role models, and lower educational and vocational achievement. Sewell and Orenstein (1965) found in general, youth reared on farms, in rural, non-farm areas, or small cities aspired to lower-prestige and lower-paid occupations than did youth raised in larger communities with the population density affecting aspiration levels and occupational attainment. Rich (1979) stated that since occupational aspirations and choice are determined by the occupational knowledge base, rural youth possibly do not have the knowledge necessary to make career choices that are as varied and optimal as those of urban youth.

Virginia R. Richards, EdD
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