The Formative Years

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Biological and behavioral scientists who study the development of the human organism have emphasized the early years, because this is the time individuals of Hispanic origin may be of any race.

I Males M females

I Males M females

Age (Years)

Figure 1-1 Estimated United States Population in April 1997 by Chronological Age.

(Based on unpublished data from the U.S. Bureau of the Census, April 1, 1997.)

Age (Years)

Figure 1-1 Estimated United States Population in April 1997 by Chronological Age.

(Based on unpublished data from the U.S. Bureau of the Census, April 1, 1997.)

when the individual develops most rapidly. The so-called "law of primacy" that first events and experiences are the most important has been applied to human development in all its forms—physical, cognitive, emotional, social, and so on. The emphasis on the first few years of life did not, however, originate in science. Philosophers, theologians, poets, novelists, and teachers of many stripes have underscored the formative significance for later development of the first 5 or 6 years after birth. Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, and Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), may not have agreed on many things, but one thing on which they did concur is the importance for psychological development of the preschool period. Loyola's statement, "Give us the child for the first six years of life and you may have him after then, for he will forever remain a good Jesuit" and Freud's assertion that "the child is father to the man" are both recognitions of the lasting effects of early childhood experiences. Freud, in particular, emphasized that the roots of adult personality and psychoneuroses are to be found in early childhood.

So if the formation of the personality and character of the individual is essentially complete by early or even late childhood, what is the purpose of psychological investigations of adulthood? To begin, not everything of importance to the psychological well-being of the individual occurs during child hood and adolescence. Among the significant events or tasks of adulthood that require decisions and adjustments on the part of the individual and have serious consequences for his or her survival and happiness are

1. Training or becoming educated for a vocation or career.

2. Entering the career and adapting to the conditions associated with it.

3. Establishing a relatively permanent sexual/love relationship with a partner.

4. Having and rearing children.

5. Maintaining and reinforcing ties with family and friends.

6. Keeping up with events in the community and the world.

7. Establishing a secure financial base, making judicious purchases, and planning financially for the future.

8. Caring for and educating one's children and making plans for their future.

9. Engaging in satisfying leisure activities.

10. Attending to one's spiritual development, ethical code, andphiloso-phy of life.

11. Adjusting to age-related physical changes, illnesses, and injuries.

12. Adjusting to the deaths of friends and relations, and preparing for one's own death.

These are not the only tasks of adulthood, but this list should suffice to demonstrate why this period of life is worthy of study in its own right. The question is, what are the processes by which people meet these challenges successfully while continuing to grow as human beings and attain personal happiness?

A few years ago, I found a student assistant of mine crying on her twentieth birthday. Somewhat uncertain as to whether they were tears of joy or sadness, I asked her why she was crying on what should be a happy day-a milestone and a cause for celebration. She confessed that she was not crying for joy but because of a feeling of sadness at no longer being a happy-go-lucky teenager. I hope that by now she has discovered that adulthood is a new beginning rather than an end, and is continuing to have experienced many exciting and rewarding things. If she is like the rest of us, not everything that has happened to her has been delightful, but I trust that by having met and mastered the bad experiences and remembering and being grateful for the good ones, she has become a more secure, self-satisfied person.

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