In 2017, a study came out that showed girls start to doubt their abilities in math and science as early as age six. There is very little difference in the abilities between boys and girls, but certainly a difference in confidence. As early as six, stereotypes about gender begin to set in.
That may be hard to believe, but this topic might show why stereotypes affect children as young as six. I’m going to be talking about the fourth stage of Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development. If this is the first time you are hearing about these stages, I recommend checking out some other pages on psychosocial development first for context.
The fourth stage of Psychosocial Development is known as “Industry vs. Inferiority.”
What Is The Industry vs. Inferiority Stage?
Between the ages of 5-12, after children have completed the “Initiative vs. Guilt” stage, they enter into a new psychological crisis. For many Americans, this is the time in which a child enters grade school. They aren’t just answering to parents or family members anymore – they’re also answering to teachers.
All of a sudden, the child’s performance is measured. In previous stages, they were learning basic skills and engaging in play. While they certainly hit certain milestones (their first words, walking, etc.) measurement wasn’t involved. Through the fourth stage of development, they are getting report cards, grades, and more feedback from teachers. And they are beginning to see their peers getting all of these things, too.
Example of Industry vs. Inferiority Stage
Between the ages of 5-12, a child begins to compare themselves to others and understand the consequences of good and bad performance. They observe the praise, suggestions, and punishments that teachers are giving other students in the class. Children may also observe adults who are also “good at math,” “smart,” or accomplished. This includes people who come visit for assemblies or people that they watch on TV.
Erikson pointed out that this stage is vital to a person’s self-confidence. If a person is consistently praised or encouraged, they will develop self-confidence. They will see that their industriousness, or diligence, pays off. The basic virtue developed during this stage is competency. When a child believes that they are competent (on top of trust, autonomy, and the confidence to take initiative,) they will likely become more productive members of society. Remember the study of Learned Helplessness in the Autonomy vs. Shame stage? The test subjects only made efforts when they believed that they could and that their efforts would pay off.
Unfortunately, not all children exit this stage with a strong sense of self-confidence. While some children may compare themselves to others and see themselves as successful, others may look at other children and see themselves as a failure. They may feel inferior. Like the girls in the study I mentioned earlier, they may not see themselves suited for certain jobs, talents, or careers.
Industry vs. Inferiority
Like I mentioned regarding the Initiative vs. Guilt stage, either extreme is not healthy for development. Experiences that may make a child feel inferior may really humble them. Someone who has only been told that they are the best at every skill can quickly develop a sense of arrogance. And being industrious isn’t just about being good at something. If someone is industrious, it means that they are diligent and hard-working. Confidence without industry may lead to some big reality checks down the road.
Difference Between Stages 3 and 4 of Psychosocial Development
You may think that these stages overlap, just like this Reddit user on the Mcat subreddit. But u/Coconut19 provided a great description to help you tell the two apart:
“I think the main difference between stage 3 & 4. Is that stage 4 is more about development in a school sense. Here’s what I have in my notes: hope it helps:
3.Initiative vs. Guilt
(3-6): can I act? Conflict leads to either being too afraid to act or overcompensating by showing off
school stage (ages 3–6 years), they are capable of initiating activities & asserting control over their world through social interactions and play.
4.Industry( competence ) vs. Inferiority
(6-12): can I be competent? Conflict leads to low self esteem and self efficacy
During their elementary school years kids begin to compare themselves with their peers to see how they measure up. They either develop a sense of pride and accomplishment in their schoolwork, sports, social activities, and family life, or they feel inferior and inadequate because they feel that they don’t measure up.”
What Can Parents and Teachers Do to Encourage Competency?
Parents, neighbors, extended relatives, and teachers all play a part in this stage of psychosocial development. It’s important for all of these parties to encourage children, even if they are struggling. Trying a math problem in a new way or bringing home an improved grade are all worthy of praise. The more a child hears that they are not good enough, the more they will believe it.
Open dialogues with children about success and failure can also help children during this stage of development. Parents should be in contact with their child’s teacher and see how the teacher is encouraging (or discouraging) the child at school. If the teacher is not providing extra assistance or advice to the child, and the parents also fail to offer this support, the child is more likely to feel inferior and lost as they move forward with their studies.
Unconditional love, separate from achievement or performance in school, is also crucial. A child needs to understand that they are still loved and supported even if they bring home a poor grade. Separating love and affection from report cards will help a child’s development no matter how they are doing in school. There are many reasons why a child might struggle at school, from stress to bullying and beyond. Adding the fear of letting one’s parents down won’t help the child magically get better grades.
What Happens After the Industry Vs. Inferiority Stage?
Things will only continue to get confusing as the child moves into adolescence. Like the ones before it, the Industry vs. Inferior stage will set a foundation for how the adolescent moves through their life and develops a stronger sense of identity. If a child is already self-confident and hard-working, they will have an easier time with the identity that they want to explore. If they feel inferior, they might feel that their options are limited.