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Essay: Biological development

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Biological Beginnings:

Each human cell has a nucleus which contains chromosomes made up of deoxynucleic acid, or DNA. DNA contains the genetic information, or genes, that are used to make a human being. All typical cells in a human body have 46 chromosomes arranged in 23 pairs, with the exception of the egg and sperm. During cell reproduction, or mitosis, the cell’s nucleus duplicates itself and the cell divides and two new cells are formed. Meiosis is a different type of cell division in which eggs and sperm, or gametes, are formed. During meiosis, a cell duplicates its chromosomes, but then divides twice, resulting in a cell with 23 unpaired chromosomes. During fertilization, an egg and sperm combine to form a single cell, zygote, with information from both the mother and the father.

The combination of the unpaired chromosomes leads to variability in the population because no two people are exactly alike, even in the case of identical twins. A person’s genetic make-up is called their genotype; this is the basis for who you are on a cellular level. A person’s phenotype is what a person’s observable characteristics are. Each genotype can lead to a variety of phenotypes. There are dominant and recessive genes contained in the genetic material that we acquire. For example, brown eyes are dominant over blue eyes, so if the genetic code is available for both, brown eyes will prevail.

Abnormalities can also be linked to the chromosomes and genes that are inherited from your parents. Some examples are down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, and spina bifida. This is caused when either chromosomes or genes are missing, mutated or damaged.

Genetically, I received my height and brown eyes from my mother, and my brown hair from both my parents. As far as I know, I don’t have any abnormalities linked to my chromosomes or genes that were passed down during my conception.

Prenatal/Post-partum:

The prenatal stage starts at conception, lasts approximately 266 days, and consists of three different periods: germinal, embryonic and fetal. This is an amazingly complex time that allows a single cell composed of information from both the mother and the father to create a new human being.

The first period of the prenatal stage occurs in the first two weeks after conception and is called the germinal period. During this time the zygote (or fertilized egg) begins its cell divisions, through mitosis, from a single cell to a blastocyst, which will eventually develop into the embryo and placenta. The germinal period ends when the blastocyst implants into the uterine wall.

The second period of prenatal development that occurs in weeks two through eight after conception is called the embryonic period. During this time, the blastocyst from the first stage develops into the embryo. Within the embryo, there are three layers of cells that form: the endoderm, which will develop into the digestive and respiratory systems, the ectoderm which will become the nervous system, sensory receptors and skin parts, and the mesoderm which will become the circulatory system, bones, muscles excretory system and reproductive system. Organs begin to form in this stage also. During this stage, the embryo development is very susceptible to outside influences from the mother such as alcohol consumption and cigarette usage.

The fetal period is the final period of the prenatal stage which lasts from two months post conception until birth. It is the longest period of the prenatal stage. During this period, continued growth and development occur. At approximately 26 weeks post conception, the fetus would be considered viable, or able to survive outside the mother’s womb. If birth would occur at 26 weeks, the baby would most likely need help breathing at this point because the lungs are not fully mature, but all organ systems are developed and can function outside of mom.

The brain development during the prenatal period is also very complex, and if you think about it, an amazing thing. When a baby is born, they have 100 billion neurons that handle processing information. There are four phases of brain development during the prenatal period: formation of the neural tube, neurogenesis, neural migration and neural connectivity.

During the prenatal period, a wide variety of tests can be performed to monitor the development of the fetus. The extent to which testing is used, depends on the doctors’ recommendations as well as the mothers age, health and potential genetic risk factors. One common test utilized is the ultrasound. This is a non-invasive test that is used to monitor the growth of the fetus, look at structural development and determine the sex of the baby. Other tests that are available, but are more invasive and riskier for both the fetus and the mother, include Chorionic villus sampling, amniocentesis, fetal MRI, maternal blood screening.

The mother’s womb is designed to protect the fetus during development. However, if a mother doesn’t take care of herself, it can have a negative impact on the developing fetus. A woman should also avoid x-rays and certain environmental pollutants during the pregnancy. A woman should avoid alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, drugs and teratogens. They should also have good nutrition during the pregnancy as the fetus relies solely on the mother for its nutrients during development. Along with good nutrition, extra vitamins are also recommended during the pregnancy period, the main one recommended in folic acid. Emotional health is also very important. Higher degrees of anxiety and stress can also be harmful to the fetus and have long term effects on the child.

The birth of a child marks the transition from the prenatal to post-partum stage, which last from approximately 6 weeks, or until a mother’s body is back to her pre-pregnancy state. During this time a woman may be sleep deprived due to the demands of the baby and trying to take care of any other family members. There are also hormonal changes that woman experiences as well as the uterus returning to its normal size. Emotional adjustments are also occurring during this stage. It is common for most women to experience the post-partum blues, in which they feel depressed. These feelings can come and go, and usually disappear within a couple of weeks. If major depression occurs beyond this time, this is referred to as postpartum depression and it is important for a woman to get treatment to protect herself and her baby.

My prenatal development and delivery were fairly uneventful for my mother. The only complication that was had during her pregnancy was low iron levels which would cause her to pass out. Once she started on iron pills, this problem was eliminated. During her pregnancy, since it was in the early 1970’s, it wasn’t common for any testing or ultrasounds to occur unless there were major complications. As my mom said, you get pregnant and have a baby. After I was born, my mom said that she had no complications from post-partum depression or baby blues.

Infancy:

Infancy is the period of time between birth and two years of age. During this time, extraordinary growth and development occur following a cephalocaudal pattern (or top down) and a proximodistal pattern (center of body to extremities). A baby can see before it speaks, move its arms before its fingers, etc. An infant’s height increased by approximately 40 percent by the age of 1. By the age of 2, a child is nearly one-fifth of the its weight and half its height as they will be as an adult. Infants require a great deal of sleep, with the average in this period of 12.8 hours a day. The sleep an infant gets can have an impact of their cognitive functions later in life, such as improved executive function (good sleep) or language delays (poor sleep).

Proper nutrition during this period is also imperative for infant development. Breast feeding an infant exclusively during the first six months of life provides many benefits to both the infant and the mother including appropriate weight gain for the infant and a reduction in ovarian cancer for the mother. However, both breast feeding and bottle feeding are appropriate options for the baby. As the infant gets older, appropriate amounts of fruits and vegetables are important for development as well as limiting junk food.

Motor skills development is thought to follow the dynamic systems theory in this the infant assembles skills based on perceptions and actions. For example, if an infant wants a toy, he needs to learn how to reach for that toy to grasp it. An infant is born with reflexes, which are required for them to adapt to their environment before they learn anything, such as the rooting reflex and sucking reflex for eating. Some of these reflexes are specific to this age, some are permanent throughout their life, such as blinking of the eyes. Gross motor skills are the next major skill that an infant develops. These involve the large muscle groups and are skills such as holding their head up, sitting, standing, and pulling themselves up on furniture. The first year of life, the motor skills help the infant provide themselves independence, while the second year is key to honing in the skills they have learned. Fine motors skills develop secondary to gross motor skills. These include activities such as grasping a spoon and picking up food off of their high-chair tray.

Infant senses are not developed during the prenatal period. Visual acuity in the infant that is comparable to an adult, occurs by about 6 months of age. A fetus can hear in the womb, but is unable to distinguish loudness and pitch which is developed during infancy. Other senses are present, such as taste and smell, but preferences are developed throughout infancy.

Jean Piaget’s theory on cognitive development is one that is widely used. This theory stresses that children develop their own information about their surroundings, instead of information just being given to them. The first stage of Piaget’s theory is the sensorimotor stage. This stage involves infants using their senses to coordinate with their motor skills they are developing. There is some research that has been completed that states that Piaget’s theories may need to be modified. For example, Elizabeth Spelke endorses a core knowledge approach, in which she believes that infants are born with some innate knowledge system in order for them to navigate the world in which they are born into.

Language development begins during this stage also and all infants follow a similar pattern. The first sounds from birth is babbling, crying and cooing which are all forms of language. First words are usually spoken by about 13 months with children usually speaking two word sentences by about two years. Language skills can be influenced both by biological and environmental considerations in the infant.

An infant displays emotion very early in life. The first six months of their life you can see surprise, joy, anger, sadness, and fear. Later in infancy, you will also see jealousy, empathy, embarrassment, pride, shame and guilt. The later developed emotions are emotions that require thought, which is why they don’t develop until after the age of 1. Crying can indicate three different emotions in an infant – basic cry – typically related to hunger, anger cry and pain cry. A baby’s smile can also mean different things – such as a reflexive smile or a social smile. Fear is an emotion that is seen early in a baby’s life. One that is often talked about is “stranger danger” or separation protest.

There are three classifications of temperaments of a child that were proposed by Chess and Thomas. These include an easy child, difficult child, and slow-to-warm up child. These temperaments can be influenced by biology, gender, culture and parenting styles. The remaining personality traits that are developed in the period include trust, developing sense of self and independence. Erik Erickson first stage of development occurs within the first year of life with his trust vs mistrust theory. The concept of trust vs mistrust is seen throughout the development of a person and is not limited to this age group. The second year of life Erickson’s theory of autonomy vs shame and doubt. As an infant develops his skills, they need to be able to do this independently or feelings of shame and doubt develop. The development of autonomy during infancy and the toddler years can lead to greater autonomy during the adolescent years.

Social interactions occur with infants as early as 2 months of age, when they learn to recognize facial expressions of their caregivers. They show interest in other infants as early as 6 month of age, but this interest increases greatly as they reach their 2nd birthday. Locomotion plays a big part in this interaction allowing the child to independently explore their surrounding and others that may be around them. Attachment theories are widely available. Freud believes attachment is based on oral fulfillment, or typically the mother who feeds them. Harlow said that attachment is based on the comfort provided based on his experiment with wire monkeys. Erikson’s theory goes back to the trust vs mistrust theory which was talked about earlier.

As a new baby is brought into a family, the dynamic of the household changes. There is a rebalancing of social, parental and career responsibilities. The freedom that was once had prior to the baby is no longer there. Parents need to decide if a parent stays home to take care of the child or if the child is placed into a daycare setting. Parental leave allows a parent to stay home with their child for a period of time after their birth, but then requires them to be place in some type of child care setting. Unfortunately, the quality of child care varies greatly. Typically, the higher the quality, also the higher the price tag. A parent needs to be an advocate for their child and monitor the quality of care they are receiving, no matter the location they are at. There has been shown to be little effect on the children who are placed in child care instead of being cared for by a full-time parent.

As an infant, I was a bottle-fed baby. My mother was able to be home with me full time, so I was not exposed to outside childcare settings. Unfortunately for my parents, I was very colicky until I was about 6 weeks old. This was very stressful for my parents as they were adjusting to life as a family with a new baby. After the colic ended, I was a very happy, easy baby when I wasn’t sick. I developed febrile seizures about the age of 7 months and they lasted until about 2 years when I was put on phenobarbital to control them. I talked and walked at a very young age (~9 months). I was very trusting of everyone and had no attachment issues. I was happy to play by myself if no one was around, but if company was over, my parents said I always wanted to be in the middle of the action, I was especially fond of adult interactions.

Early childhood:

The next developmental stage is early childhood which lasts from around the ages of 3-5. During this stage, height and weight are slowed from the infancy stage, but a child still grows about 2 ½ inches a year and gains 5-7 pounds per year during this stage. The brain continues to develop by combining the maturation of the brain with the external experiences. During this stage, increased. The size of the brain doesn’t increase dramatically during this or subsequent periods, but the local patterns within the brain do. The most rapid growth occurs in the prefrontal cortex which is key in planning and organization as well as paying attention to new tasks. The growth during this phase is caused by the increase in the number and size of the dendrites as well as the myelination continuing during this stage.

Gross motor skills continue to increase with children being able to walk easily as well as beginning movements of hopping, skipping, climbing, etc. Fine motor skills continue to improve as well with children being able to build towers of blocks, do puzzles, or writing their name.

Nutrition is an important aspect in early childhood. Obesity is a growing health problem in early childhood. Children are being fed diets that are high in fats and lower in nutritional value. They are eating out more that they have historically. Parents need to focus on better nutrition and more exercise for their children. Childhood obesity has a strong correlation to obesity later in life.

Piaget’s preoperational stage lasts from age 2 to 7, is the second stage in his theory of development. During this stage, children begin to represent things with words, images and drawings. They are egocentric and hold magical beliefs. This stage is divided into the symbolic function substage (age 2-4) and the intuitive thought substage (age 4-7). In the symbolic substage, the child is able to scribble designs the represent objects, and can engage in pretend play. They are limited in this stage by egocentrism and animism. The intuitive thought substage, the child begins to use primitive reasoning and is curious. During this time, memory increases as well as their ability to improve their attention span.

Language development during this phase is great. A child goes from saying two word utterances, to multiple word combinations, to complex sentences. They begin to understand the phonology of language as well as the morphology. They start to also apply the rules of syntax and semantics. The foundation for literacy also begins during this stage, using books with preschoolers provides a solid foundation for which the rest of their life successes can be based.

There are many early childhood education options available to parents. One option is the child centered kindergarten which focuses on the whole child. The Montessori approach allows the children more freedom to explore and the teacher is a facilitator rather than an instructor. There are also government funded programs such as Project Head Start available for low-income families to give their children the experience they need before starting elementary school.

Erickson’s stage of development for early childhood is initiative vs guilt. This stage the child has begun to develop an understanding of who they are, but also begin to discover who they will become. Usually children of this age describe themselves in concrete terms, but some also begin to use logic and emotional descriptors. Children also begin to perceive others in terms of psychological traits. Children begin to be more aware of their own emotions, understand others emotions and how they relate to them and are also able to begin regulating emotions during this stage.

Moral development also begins during this stage. Freud talks about the child developing the superego, the moral element of personality, during this stage. Piaget said children go through two distinct stages of moral reasoning: 1) heteronomous morality and 2) autonomous morality. During the first, the child thinks that the rules are unchangeable and judge an action by the consequence, not the intention. The autonomous thinker thinks about the intention as well as the consequence.

Gender identity and roles begin to play a factor during this stage. Social influences on gender roles provide a basis for how children think. This can be through imitation of what they see their parent doing or can be through observation of what they see around them. Parental and peer influences on modeling behavior is apparent. Group size, age, interaction in same-sex groups and gender composition all are important aspect of peer relations and influences.

Parenting style vary differently. Diana Baumrind describes four parenting styles in our book: authoritarian, authoritative, neglectful and indulgent. She shows a correlation between the different parenting styles and the behaviors in children.

Play is important in the child’s cognitive and socioemotional development. Play has been considered the child’s work by Piaget and Vygotsky. This allows a child to learn new skills in a relaxed way. Make-believe play is an excellent way for children to increase their cognitive ability, including creative thought. There are many way a child can play – including sensorimotor and practice play, pretense/symbolic play, constructive play, and games. Screen time is becoming more of a concern in today’s world. They are good for teaching, but can also be distracting/disruptive if screen time is not limited.

As a young child, I was very curious about thing and loved to play pretend. I attended preschool for two years, which aided in my cognitive development. My parents said I was able to read and do age advanced puzzles by the time I was 3. I was able to regulate my emotions and understand the emotions of others. My parents utilized an authoritarian style of discipline when I was younger, being the first child, they wanted their kids to be perfect. This relaxed as my siblings came along and as we got older.

Middle/late childhood:

During this period, children maintain slow, consistent physical growth. They grow 2-3 inches per year until the age of about 11, and gain about 5-7 pounds per year. The size of the skeletal and muscular systems is the main contributor to the weight gain.

The brain volume stabilizes by the end of this stage, but changes in the structures continue to occur. During this stage, there is synaptic pruning, in which some areas of the brain which are not used as frequently lose connection, while other areas increase the amount of connections. This increase is seen in the prefrontal cortex which orchestrates the function of many other brain regions.

Development of both gross and fine motor skills continue to be refined. Children are able to ride a bike, swimming, skipping rope; they can tie their shoes, hammer a nail, use a pencil and reverse numbers less often. Boys usually outperform girls in their gross motor skills, while girls outperform boys in the fine motor skills. Exercise continues to be area of concern at this age. Children are not getting the exercise they need. Studies have shown that aerobic exercise, not only helped with weight, but also with attention, memory, thinking/behavior and creativity.

Obesity is a continued health concern for this age group which leads to medical concerns such as hypertension, diabetes, and elevated cholesterol levels. Cancer is the second leading cause of death of children in this age group. The most common childhood cancer is leukemia.

Disabilities are often discovered during this time as many don’t show up until a child is in a school setting. There are learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia; attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and autism spectrum disorders, such as autistic disorder and Asperger syndrome. Schools today are better equipped to handle children with these disabilities to help them receive the education they need.

This stage of development as described by Piaget Cognitive Development Theory is the concrete operational stage. The child in this stage can reason logically, as long reasoning can be applied to concrete examples. In addition, they can utilize conservation, classification, seriation and transitivity.

Long term memory increases during this stage, in part in relation to the knowledge a child has with a particular subject. Children are able to think more critically and creatively during this period as well as increases in their metacognition. Along with the topics already mentioned: self-control, working memory and flexibility are all indicators of school readiness/success.

Changes occur during this stage on how a child’s mental vocabulary is organized. They begin to improve their logical reasoning and analytical abilities. They also become have more of metalinguistic awareness, or knowledge about language. Reading foundations are important during this stage. Two approaches currently being explored are the whole-language approach and the phonics approach. The whole-language approach teaches children to recognized words or whole sentences. The phonic approach teaches children to translate written symbols into sounds.

The child during this stage, begins to better understand themselves and are able to describe themselves utilizing psychological characteristics and can describe themselves in reference to social groups. High self-esteem and self-concept are important for this age group. Low self-esteem has been correlated to instances of obesity, depression, anxiety, etc.

Erickson’s fourth stage of development, industry vs inferiority appears in this stage. Industry refers to work and children wanting to know how things are made and how they work. Parents who dismiss this interest can create a sense of inferiority in their children.

Emotional development during this stage involves the child becoming more self-regulated in their reactions. They understand what lead up to an emotional reaction, can hide negative reactions and can demonstrate genuine empathy. They are also learning coping strategies to learn to deal with stress. Moral development continues also during this stage as proposed by Kohlberg’s 6 stages of development.

Gender stereotypes are prevalent in this development phase. They revolve around physical development, cognitive development and socioemotional development of a child.

This stage of life, parents are usually less involved with their children although they continue to remain an important part of their development. They become more of the manager, helping the child learn the rights/wrongs of their behaviors. If there is a secure attachment between the parent and the child, the stress and anxiety that is involved in this phase is lessened.

Friendships are important during this stage of a child’s life. Friends are typically similar to the child in terms of age, sex, and attitudes towards school. School is a sign of new obligations to children. As with the younger age group, there are different approaches to school at this stage. A constructivist approach focuses on the learner and having the individuals constructing their knowledge. A direct instruction approach is more structured and teacher centered. Accountability in the schools is enforced through the application of standardized testing. Poverty plays a role in the learning ability of children, oftentimes creating a barrier to learning for the student, including parents with low expectations, not able to help with the homework of inability to pay for educational materials.

My parents said that by this age I was able to reason logically with them, and in my day to day life. I remained curious about what things were and how they worked. My mom told me about a test I took for an accelerated learning program (ULE) in my elementary school. I missed one question, I couldn’t answer what a wheelbarrow was. After that, my mom said I was interested in learning what they were and what they were used for. The ULE program helped me satisfy my curiosity above and beyond what was taught in school by providing additional learning opportunities.

Adolescence:

Adolescence lasts from about 12 – 18 years of age. The primary physical change during adolescence is the start of puberty. This is a brain-neuroendocrine process that provides stimulation for rapid physical changes that take place. This is when a child takes on adult physical characteristic, such as voice changes, height/weight growth for males and breast development and menstruation begins for females. Females typically enter puberty two years prior to males. The process is hormonal driven and include actions from the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. During this time, adolescents are preoccupied with their body image, as their bodies are rapidly changing. Females are typically more dissatisfied with their bodies than males, however, body image perception becomes more positive for both genders as they end the adolescent period.

Brain development during this time includes significant structural changes. The corpus callosum thickens, improving their ability to process information. The prefrontal lobes continue to develop, increasing reasoning, decision making and self-control. The limbic system, specifically the amygdala is completely developed by this stage.

This stage also marks a time of sexual exploration, forming a sense of sexual identity, managing sexual feelings, and developing intimate relationships. Most adolescents are not emotionally prepared for sexual experiences and can lead to high risk sexual factors. Contraceptive use is not prevalent in this age group, even though it can lessen or eliminate the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy. Teen pregnancy, while reduced from years past, is still too high. Sex education continues to be a topic of discussion as to what is most appropriate for the schools – abstinence only or education that emphasizes contraceptive knowledge.

Health during this stage of development is of concern as bad health habits learned here, can lead to death in early adult life. Obesity due to poor nutrition and lack of exercise remains a consistent theme. Sleep is also important for this age group as most reported getting less than 8 hours of sleep per night. Substance use is also seen in this age group. Another health concern is eating disorders including both anorexia and bulimia, these disorders can take over a person’s life due to distorted body images.

Piaget’s final stage of cognitive development occurs during this stage – the formal operational stage. Adolescents are not bound by concrete thoughts or experiences during this stage. They can think abstractly, idealistically, and logically.

Executive function is one of the most important cognitive changes that occurs in this stage. This involves an adolescent ability to have goal directed behavior and the ability to exercise self-control.

The transition between elementary school to junior high school during this stage can be very stressful for adolescents. It occurs during a period of time when many other physical changes (puberty) are occurring at the same time. This can create stress and worrying for the child.

Erickson’s fifth developmental stage that corresponds to this period in life is Identity vs identity confusion. This stage is aided by a psychosocial moratorium, which is the gap between adolescence and adulthood. This period a person is relatively free of responsibility to determine what their true identity is. This is the path that one takes toward adult maturity. Crisis during this stage is a period in which a person is identifying alternatives. Commitment is a personal investment in an identity. It is believed that while identity is explored during this stage, finalization does not occur until early adulthood, with life review.

Parents take on a managerial role during this stage; monitoring the choices that are made regarding friends, activities, and their academic efforts. Higher rates of parental monitoring leads to lower rates of alcohol and drug use. The adolescents need for autonomy can be hard for a parent to accept. The parents feel like the child is “slipping away” from them. There is also gender differences as far as it relates to how much autonomy is granted, with males receiving more autonomy than females. Conflict during this escalates during the early adolescent stage, but then lessens towards the end of the stage.

Friendships during this stage are often fewer, but more intimate than in younger years and take on an important role of meeting social needs. Positive friendships are associated with positive outcomes, including lower rates of substance abuse, risky sexual behavior, bullying and victimization. Peer pressure at this stage in life is high, with more conformance to peer pressure if they are uncertain about their social identity. Cliques and crowds emerge and provide a more important role during this stage of development. Dating and romantic relationships begin to evolve. Juvenile delinquency is a problem that emerges, with illegal behaviors being noted. This can be due to several factors including lower socioeconomic status, sibling relationships, peer relationships, and parental monitoring. Depression and suicide also increase during this stage of life.

During this stage of my life, I was very goal oriented, more so academically than socially. I chose to take higher level classes that weren’t required and continued to work with a program that allowed me to do projects outside of school. During this time, I began to think about what direction my life would take. I decided that I would attend college to major in pharmacy, a decision that would later be reviewed and changed.

Early adulthood:

Becoming an adult involves a lengthy transition. Early adulthood occurs from 18 to 25 years of age. During this time, an individual is still trying to figure out “who” they are, exploring career paths, determining their identity and understanding what kind of lifestyle they want to live. Early adulthood is characterized by 5 key features as explained by Jeffrey Arnett. These include: identity exploration, instability, self-focused, feeling in-between and the age of possibilities – basically they can transform their lives. In the US, entry into adulthood is primarily characterized by holding a permanent, full-time job. Other countries consider marriage the marker for adulthood. Just as going from elementary school to middle school causes stress in adolescents, the transition from high school to college can evoke the same emotions.

Peak physical performance is often reached between the ages of 19 and 26. Along with physical performance decline, body fatty tissue increases and hearing begins to decline in the last part of early adulthood. Health during early adulthood is subpar. Although most know what is required to be healthy, many fail to apply this information to themselves. The bad habits started during adolescence are increased in early adulthood, including inactivity, diet, obesity, sleep deprivation and substance abuse. These lifestyles, along with poor health, also have an impact on life satisfaction. Obesity continues to be a problem in this developmental stage. Losing weight is best achieved with a diet and exercise program rather than relying on diet alone. Exercise can help prevent diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. Exercise can also improve mental health as well and has been effective in reducing depression. Alcohol use appears to decline by the time an individual reaches their mid-twenties, but peaks around 21-22 years of age. Binge drinking and extreme binge drinking are a concern on college campuses. This can lead to missing classes, physical injuries, police interactions and unprotected sex.

Sexual activity increases in emerging adulthood, with most people having experienced sexual intercourse by the time they are 25. Casual sex is common during this development stage involving “hook-ups” or “friends with benefits”.

Piaget’s stages of development ended with formal operational thought that was discussed in the adolescent stage. However, he believes that this stage covers adults as well. Some theorists believe that it is not until adulthood that formal thoughts are achieved. An additional stage has been proposed for young adults – post-formal thought. This is reflective, relativistic, contextual, provisional, realistic and influenced by emotion.

Careers and work are an important theme in early adulthood. During this time an individual works to determine what career they want to pursue in college by choosing a major. By the end of this developmental stage, most people have completed their training and are entering the work force to begin their career. Determining one’s purpose, can help ensure that the correct field of study/career choice is made. Work defines a person by their financial standing, housing, how they spend their time, friendships and their health. Early jobs can sometimes be considered “survival jobs” that are in place just until the “career job” is obtained.

Erickson’s sixth stage of development that occurs during early adulthood is intimacy vs isolation. Intimacy, as described by Erickson, is finding oneself while losing oneself in another person, and it requires a commitment to another person. Balancing intimacy and independence is challenging. Love can take on multiple forms in adulthood. Romantic love, or passionate love, is the type of love that is seen early in a relationship, sexual desire is the most important ingredient in romantic love. Affectionate love, or compassionate love, is when someone desires to have the other person near and has a deep, caring affection for the person, typically a more mature love relationship. Consummate love involves passion, intimacy and commitment, and is the strongest of all types of love.

Adults lifestyles today are anything but conventional. Many adults choose to live alone, cohabitate, or live with a partner of the same sex in addition to the conventional married lifestyle. Divorce rates continue to remain high in the US, with most marriages ending early in the course of their marriage. Divorced adults have higher rates of depression, anxiety, suicide, alcoholism and mortality. Adults who remarry usually do so within three years of their divorce, with men remarrying sooner than women. Making a marriage work takes a great deal of commitment from both parties. John Gottman determined some principals that will help make a marriage successful. These include: establishing love maps, nurturing fondness and admiration, turning towards each other instead of away, letting the partner influence you and creating shared meaning. In addition, to these a deep friendship, respect for each other and embracing the commitment that has been made are things that will help to make a marriage last.

During early adulthood, many become parents for the first time. Sometimes this is well planned out, other times it is a complete surprise. Parenting is often a hybrid of utilizing techniques that their parents used on them and their own interpretation of what is useful. The average age an individual has their first child is increasing and the number of children they choose to have is declining. This is due to women wanting to establish their careers prior to becoming a mom. The results of this is that parents are often more mature and able to handle situations more appropriately, may have more income, fathers are more involved in the child rearing but also children spend more time in supplemental care than when mothers stayed home to provide the child care.

During early adulthood, I went to college, decided that a pharmacy major wasn’t for me and ended up obtaining a degree in microbiology and a minor in chemistry. I met my first husband during college and we ended up marrying a couple months before I graduated. After graduation, we had a child and eventually ended up getting a divorce. I think the stress of going right from college to marriage to having a family took a toll on us. We were able to maintain civility to co-parent our son even though we were not able to make our marriage work. The first few years after our divorce were very hard, being a single-mom, trying to get a career established and make sure I was providing for our child. Thankfully I had a huge support system with my parents and siblings that were able to get us through the tough times. About 10 years later, I met my now husband and was able to find the intimacy again that was needed in my life. We both have brought children from previous relationships into our marriage and have also had two children together. This has created some conflict of its own, but we work through it all together. I feel that we are much more equipped and mature to be parents of our younger children than we were when our older ones were little.

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