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Adolescence is one of the most confusing stages of human lifespan development. Adolescents undergo profound physiological and psychological changes, which either facilitate or impede the development of effective social ties. This paper reviews the case study of Hyun-Ki’s family, which has recently moved to from Korea to the United States. The case study highlights the difficulties faced by Hyun-Ki in terms of socialization and, as a result, academic achievement. Poor self-regulation is stated as the primary problem experienced by Hyun-Ki in his relations with peers. Difficult adaptation to the new cultural environment is discussed. Interventions to enhance the adolescent’s self-regulation and documentation for the evaluation of the intervention are proposed. Implications for the analysis of ethnic minority adolescents’ adjustment processes in a new cultural setting are included.

Keywords: adolescent, lifespan development, self-regulation.

Lifespan Development

Psychology and sociology professionals use lifespan development as an effective prism, through which the growth and development of individuals can be adequately explored. Since the beginning of their lives, children are expected to grow into loyal and obedient citizens, who will contribute to their society through quality work and continuous learning (Sameroff, 2010). Lifespan development theories provide a perfect opportunity to monitor and interpret the patterns of development, socialization, education, and growth, as well as the ways, in which these patterns can be improved. Still, many aspects of human lifespan development remain confusing or underexplored. Adolescence is one of the most controversial aspects of human development. Adolescents undergo profound physiological, psychological, and emotional changes. Successful life management during adolescence is impossible without effective intentional self-regulation; unfortunately, it is due to the lack of self-regulation mechanisms that adolescents fail to adjust to the changing conditions of social performance.

Case Summary

The case describes the story of Hyun-Ki, a fifth grader, whose family came from Korea to the United States three years ago. He and his family currently reside on the West Coast, and the boy attends the local public school. Apart from being the youngest child in the family and the newcomer in the classroom, the boy experiences considerable language difficulties. Although he is not the only minority student in the classroom, he carries the main burden of teasing and mockery. As a result, his academic achievement suffers, and he cannot establish productive relationships with his peers. On the one hand, Hyun-Ki has a friend he sees every Sunday at church service. On the other hand, he does not understand why he cannot have such a friend in the classroom. Peter, the class leader, keeps teasing him during lessons but chooses a milder and even friendlier attitudes, when talking to Hyun-Ki in person. The boy feels confused and lost. Because of poor achievement results, he in is sent to the school’s child-study team.

Background Information, Theory, and Primary Issue

Theory and Background

This analysis is based on Erickson’s theory of psychosocial development over the lifespan. According to Schaffer (2009), Erickson’s theory of psychosocial development takes much from Freud’s vision of human growth, but the main advantage of Erickson’s vision is in that it treats humans as active, curious participants of the social reality. Moreover, Erickson’s theory places special emphasis on the social and cultural influences, which make it particularly suitable for the analysis of Hyun-Ki’s case. As mentioned earlier, the boy and his family left Korea three years ago, and the new cultural setting may hold a good explanation to the problems experienced by Hyun-Ki at this stage of personal growth. According to Erickson’s theory of psychosocial development, Hyun-Ki is currently at the stage of early adolescence, which is characterized by role confusions and is, actually, a crossroad between childhood and maturity (Schaffer, 2009). At the same time, a new motivational theory of life-span developed proposed by Heckausen, Wrosch and Schulz (2010) can greatly contribute to the analysis of the adolescent boy’s difficulties.

The stage of early adolescence has peculiar features, which make it distinctly different from other aspects of lifespan development. According to Kroger (2007), in early adolescence, individuals question earlier perceptions and values. The key conflict of any human in early adolescence is that between affiliation and abandonment – in other words, adolescents entering this stage of the life continuum become increasingly preoccupied with being liked or disliked by their peers (Kroger, 2007). It is also the time of social and identity disorganization, when adolescents seek to release themselves from the chains of the so-called “internalized parent”- the principles, conventions, and values dictated by their parents (Collins & Laursen, 2004). In the meantime, adolescents may experience the lack of self-regulation and motivation to pursue their goals, due to the poor fit between their psychosocial needs and the resources provided by the school environment (Cleary & Zimmerman, 2004).

Primary Issue

The primary issue facing Hyun-Ki in his new environment is the lack of independent self-regulation. Self-regulation is a complex construct that encompasses numerous elements and implies that individuals have enough capacity to set goals and achieve them (Cleary & Zimmerman, 2004). The importance of effective self-regulation is obvious, as only adolescents with high levels of independent self-regulation can establish and maintain productive relationships with the multiple levels of the social and cultural contexts, in which they are growing (Gestsdottir et al., 2010). The problem of poor self-regulation is further complicated by the lack of effective peer ties, although peer relations and friendships provide an essential context for adolescents’ identity development (Kroger, 2007). Finally, ethnicity plays one of the major roles in Hyun-Ki’s identity development at this age. In a multicultural world, he experiences a conflict between the natural striving for autonomy and the cultural environment, to which he belongs. Jensen (2003) suggests that Korean Americans remain compliant with their parents’ attitudes at all ages, which may prevent them from engaging in mutually beneficial interactions with their peers. At present, Hyun-Ki is in the state of diffusion, which is characterized by low levels of autonomy, identity, and self-esteem (Kroger, 2008). The absence of effective peer ties further impedes the development of independent self-regulation in Hyun-Ki (Trentacosta & Shaw, 2010). All these difficulties negatively impact the adolescent’s academic results.

Intervention and Learning Evaluation

The proposed intervention is based on the Self-Regulation Empowerment Program described by Cleary and Zimmerman (2004). The program can be readily used in the child-study team, to which Hyun-Ki was referred by the teacher. The program incorporates the elements of empowerment, learning, and feedback, which are aimed at developing an effective self-regulated learner (Cleary & Zimmerman, 2004). The proposed intervention successfully integrates the individual and school contexts into a holistic reality, in which positive changes through the lifespan impact academic achievement and results. The intervention will empower Hyun-Ki to reconsider his current position in the classroom and become stronger and better motivated in the analysis of his relationships with peers. The adolescent boy will understand that his academic and social failures are not fixed, and he can find a reasonable balance between personal uniqueness and the social norms to be followed in the classroom.  

The learning and progress will be evaluated with the help of the self-regulatory inventory developed by Moilanen (2007). The inventory is theoretically-based, and its incremental, concurrent and construct validity have been empirically proven (Moilanen, 2007). The inventory can be used to assess both short- and long-term self-regulatory mechanisms used by Hyun-Ki to deal with the early adolescence challenges. Additionally, changes in Hyun-Ki’s academic achievements will indicate possible improvements or their absence in the individual self-regulation patterns.


Lifespan development theories provide a perfect lens for analyzing and interpreting the quality of human psychological and social functioning. Hyun-Ki is facing a number of issues, the most essential being the lack of intentional self-regulation. The importance of self-regulation in early adolescence can hardly be underscored. Only self-regulated adolescents can successfully operate at multiple levels of the social and cultural contexts, in which they are growing. The proposed intervention does have the potential to facilitate the boy’s integration with his new cultural environment and, as a result, improve his academic results.

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