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PRISM Case Study

Giacenta Shafer
College of Southern Nevada


As we spent two hours together, I noticed that Savannah, at fifteen years old, is fully

developed regarding physical appearance, emotions, intellect, social skills and morals. Savannah

has one older brother and two younger step-siblings. Savannah lives in a three-bedroom house

with her mother, stepfather, brother and step-brother; she had lived in this home since she was

two years old. Both her mother and stepfather work and would classify themselves as middle

class. English is the primary language in the home. I talked with Savannah in her home for

approximately 2 hours. Observing Savannah in her natural element would be a benefit, as I

would gain knowledge about how she interacted with her family and recording both verbal and

nonverbal cues.


Savannah is 5’2’ and weighs approximately 115 pounds. Her body has grown and

matured into a woman’s body frame rather than childlike or pre-pubescent. Her height and

weight gain have seemed to subside, which (DSHS Fosterparentscope, 1993) states are typical

characteristics of 12-15-year-old physical development. Snowman & McCown (2013) reported

that “Significant and large changes in physical development occur during adolescence.

Adolescent males and females add pounds and inches at a prodigious rate” (p. 65). She is very

active playing three high school sports and eats a well-balanced diet. She often chooses healthy

choices as opposed to fast food and likes to try new things. She likes to exercise regularly to stay

healthy. When asking about sleep patterns, she stated: “I’m like a baby, I need at least one nap a

day!” She said on average she gets eight hours sleep per night with a two-hour nap. Savannah

takes pride in her appearance and healthy lifestyle choices.

While observing Savannah, we discussed sex, lifestyle choices, pregnancy and sexually

transmitted diseases. She described the awareness of her personal sexual desires and how her

body has changed. She has witnessed teen pregnancy, lesbian and gay relationships and has

heard rumors of teens having STDs at her high school. The Child Development Guide (DSHS

Fosterparentscope, 1993) stated there is an “increased likelihood of acting on sexual desires” and

Snowman & McCown (2013) also said “Many adolescents become sexually active” (p. 65).

From what I could gather she is not interested in acting on sexual desires and is well informed of

the ramifications and birth control options. From my observation, Savannah does meet the

physical, developmental milestones for her age.

Abraham Maslow’s theory of human motivation is built on the idea that humans have

different needs. The first four levels of needs are physiological, safety, belongingness and love,

and self-esteem, they are referred as deficiency needs. The need that is unmet and at the top of

the pyramid is self-actualization and referred to as the growth need (Snowman & McCown p.

248). To ensure positive appropriate development in the physical aspect, according to Maslow’s

theory the only recommendation I would have is to ensure Savannah continues to eat a well-

balanced meal and gets appropriate rest. As a female teenage it is very easy to begins poor health

habits that may lead to other physical and emotional problems.


After interviewing Savannah, she said she was once very concerned about her appearance

and popularity among both male and females. She admitted to making mistakes but has learned

from them. She appears to be very confident in her life outlook and can be stubborn with her

views when they oppose from her parents or siblings. She seeks affection and attention from

peers, parents, and siblings. She is very silly and has a laid-back approach; she loves to be

surrounded by family and friends. Worrying about appearance, popularity and challenging

authority are characteristics of healthy emotional development according to the Child

Development Guide (DSHS Fosterparentscope, 1993). Snowman & McCown (2013) stated

“Many psychiatric disorders either appear or become prominent during adolescence. Included

among these ate eating disorders, substance abuse, schizophrenia, depression, and suicide” (p.

67). I find Savannah is confident with her healthy body image and is emotionally stable. She

does not appear to have indicators of an eating disorder, depression or suicide.

When we discussed drugs and alcohol, Savannah admitted the summer before her

sophomore year she and a friend had tried marijuana but has never experimented with alcohol or

other drugs. Snowman & McCown (2013) claimed: “Thirty-eight percent had used marijuana at

least once during their lifetimes, and 19.7% had used marijuana one or more times in the

proceeding 30 days” (p. 67). Based on the Child Development Guide and the psychologists’

guidelines in our text I believe Savannah does meet the emotional developmental milestones for

her age per the Child Development Guide.

According to Erikson, Savannah may be having identity vs. role confusion and different

identity statuses become apparent (Snowman & McCown, 2013, p.65). In order for Savannah’s

parents to continue to support her in the esteem range of Maslow’s theory, her parent must

continue to be hands on and available. Reassure her she is loved, smart and funny and most of all

she is a good person. When Savannah makes, mistakes be there to support her and when

Savannah experiences successes be there to encourage her.


Savannah has a semi clear plan for her life’s direction; she knows what her goals are, and

where she wants to attend college but, she is unsure of a career choice. Per the Child

Development Guide, “normal 12-15-year-old intellectual/cognitive development, children thrive

on arguments and discussions. Have increasing ability to memorize, think about concepts,

engage in introspection, probing into own thinking and plan realistically for the future. (DSHS

Fosterparents Cope, 1993) Savannah will debate in any discussion that is prevalent to her.

While observing her, Savannah engaged in a political debate with her Mother, as well as sports

debate with her stepbrother. Snowman & McCown (2013) stated: “Between the ages of 12 and

16, political thinking becomes more abstract, liberal and knowledgeable” (p. 68). Savannah made

clear and concise points that were about her stance. I believe Savannah does meet the

intellectual/cognitive developmental milestones for her age per the Child Development Guide.

Piaget has concluded schemes evolve through four stages: sensorimotor, preoperational,

concrete operational and formal operational. The age range for Formal Operational are ages 11

and older. The characteristics are “able to deal with abstracts, form hypotheses, solve problems

systematically, and engage in mental manipulations” (Snowman & McCown, 2013, p. 25). Based

on Savannah’s age she is in the formal operational stage. Piaget stated, “Students at this stage

can generalize from a particular instance to a general form” (Snowman & McCown, 2013, p.27).

I observed Savannah using sarcasm, analogies, and metaphors in her daily language which

demonstrates she is in Piaget’s formal operational stage.


Vygotsky’s theory of cognitive development outline social interactions shape a child’s

cognitive development and cultural values are passed on. “Typically, then, parents and schools

shape children’s thought processes to reflect that which the culture values” (Snowman &

McCown, 2013, p. 32). He believed social interaction was the primary cause of cognitive

development. While observing Savannah and her mother interact, I find that she meets

Vygotsky’s theory through their non-verbal body language as they prepared a meal together.

There was not any direction spoken just an automatic response to each other’s responsibilities

from prepping the food, cooking, setting the table and expressing their cultural values of family

style dining.

Sternberg’s Triarchic theory of intelligence includes three parts.: practical ability,

creative ability and analytical ability. “Sternberg believes that each of these abilities can be

improved through instruction and that students learn best when all three are called into play”

(Snowman & McCown, 2013, p. 74). Savannah exhibits behaviors in all three areas of

Sternberg’s theory. When describing her recent driving lesson, she applied practical ability as

she could maneuver the car throughout her environment. When Savannah came to a four-way

stop, she was unsure when it was her turn to go, by using the right of way method she displayed

creative ability. Finally, the capacity to return home safe, showed mastery in analytical ability as

she could use previous experience and knowledge to learn new information.

Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences (or MI theory) describes eight types of

intelligence which include: logical-mathematical, linguistic, musical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic,

interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist (Snowman & McCown, 2013, p.75). Each of this

intelligence is independent of one another. According to Gardner, I find Savannah falls under the

interpersonal intelligence. The core components are “capacities to discern and respond

appropriately to the moods, temperaments, motivations, and desires of other people” (Snowman

& McCown, 2013, p.75). I have come to this conclusion through my observations of her in her

home where she plays the peacekeeper role, and her desires to want to make everyone happy.

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs “Self-actualization depends on satisfaction of

lower needs and belief in certain values” (Snowman & McCown, 2013, p.252). Savannah’s

parents can continue to help Savannah by encouraging her beliefs about her currant ability to

carry out specific actions and tasks, as well as continue to guide her to be future-oriented.


Per the Child Development Guide, “normal 12-15-year-old social/psychosocial

development, children often withdraw from parents who are invariably called "old-fashioned."

Usually feels parents are too restrictive and rebels, needs less family companionship and

interaction. Has less intense friendships with those of the same sex, and has many friends. Girls

show more interest in opposite sex than do boys and are annoyed by younger siblings.” (DSHS

Fosterparents Cope, 1993). When interviewing Savannah on this topic, she agreed she is less

influenced by peer pressure and seeks her parents or teacher advice for “real issues” and agrees

that her friend's influence is significant when it comes to clothing. She admitted she FaceTime’s

her friend every morning so they can show each other their outfit for the day before school to get

approval. While observing Savannah, she doesn’t seem to withdraw from her parents as they are

not too restrictive, she depends on family companionship. Savannah said, “I want to be a part of

everyone’s lives in my family.” At times Savannah appears annoyed by her younger siblings but

is willing to help and play with them. Savannah stated, “I used to have a lot of girlfriends. Girls

can be catty and mean; I have a few close friends; I am happier!” I believe Savannah does meet

the social/psychosocial developmental milestones for her age per the Child Development Guide.

According to Erikson’s theory, Savannah should be in identity versus role confusion.

“Erikson believed that our sense of who we are is the result of three factors: being comfortable

with our physical self, knowing what we want to do with our life, and knowing that whatever our

choice, we will be encouraged and reinforced by those who play a significant role in our life”

(Snowman & McCown, 2013, p. 20). From my observation, I concluded that Savannah in

identity versus role confusion. Savannah is very comfortable with herself and surrounds herself

with people who have her best interest at heart. As far as what she wants to do with her life she

admitted “I have no idea, when I was a kid I wanted to be a rapping detective, as I am getting

older I am leaning towards a cop or paramedic. I’m only 15 I still have a few years to figure it


James Marcia extended on Erikson’s theory of personality development, which include

four identity statuses: identity confusion, foreclosure, moratorium, and identity achievement.

Marica believed “proposed that attainment of a mature identity depends on two variables: crisis

and commitment” (Snowman & McCown, 2013, p. 21). Based on Marcia’s theory Savannah is in

the “Foreclosure” status. Savannah has not experienced doubts in her identity. She accepts the

values her parents have instilled. Savannah said she could be close-minded, feeling superior to

her classmates and is dependent on her parents. (Snowman & McCown, 2013, p. 21). Savannah

stated “I am stubborn and think I am always right. I can find fault in others, at times it is hard to

see my flaws. I usually need to sleep on it first, when I’m less emotional I can figure it out.”

Savannah’s needs of love and belongingness are reaffirmed daily by her parents, peers

and other positive adults in her life. The only recommendation I could give would be to continue

to keep the lines of communication open and show her you will love her no matter what she does

with her life.



Savannah shows empathy towards others when talking about those less fortunate or

students that are victims of bullying. Savannah knows right from wrong and can understand

consequences. When asking her how does she make important decisions she stated: “I ask my

parents, teachers, and friends for advice but I ultimately do what I feel is right. When I make a

mistake, I try to learn from it and not repeat it.” Savannah is on target per the Child Development

Guide, “normal 12-15-year-old social/psychosocial development, knows right and wrong, tries to

weigh alternatives and arrive at decisions alone. Savannah is concerned about fair treatment of

others, usually reasonably thoughtful, is unlikely to lie.” (DSHS Fosterparents Cope, 1993).

According to Piaget’s analysis of the moral judgment “Beyond the age of 12, adolescent

increasingly affirm that reciprocal reactions or “getting back” should be a response to good

behavior, not bad behavior” (Snowman & McCown, 2013, p. 41) I find this to be an accurate

measure as Savannah stated “I am more likely to right thing when I feel I am respected by people

who have authority over me”.

Kohlberg identifies six stages of moral reasoning: “Stage 1: Punishment- obedience

orientation, Stage 2: Instrumental relativist orientation, Stage 3: Good boy-nice girl orientation,

Stage 4: Law-and-order orientation, Stage 5: Social contract orientation, Stage 6: Universal

ethical principle orientation” (Snowman & McCown, 2013, p. 42). Based on these finding

Savannah would fall under stages 6 “you need to weigh all the factors and then try to make the

most appropriate decision in a given situation.” (Snowman & McCown, 2013, p. 42). I came to

this conclusion during my interview questions. I asked her is stealing was right or wrong,

Savannah replied: “Stealing is wrong.” Then I asked if what if a young mother took medicine for

her baby that was sick and she could not afford it, she replied: “Stealing is still wrong, but I

understand why she would be forced to do it, her baby’s health is more important than the

consequence of stealing.”

Gilligan argued “many adolescent females have a different primary concern. They care

less about separation and independence and more about remaining loyal to others through

expressions of caring, understanding and sharing experiences” (Snowman & McCown, 2013, p.

43). From my observation of Savannah, I feel she meets Gilligan’s moral development based on

her love and loyalty towards her family, friends, and teammates.

Noddings developed the care theory, “care theory focuses on the whether a caring

relationship exists” and “[caring orientation] to social and moral development is an alternative to

the orientation of justice, fairness, and individual rights that have emerged from Kohlberg’s

theory, and one that may lead to more socially just practices and policies” (Snowman &

McCown, 2013, p. 44) While observing Savannah, she displays tremendous heart for her family,

friends, and peers. She is very caring, respectful and referring to the school bullying conversation

mentioned earlier I feel her actions coincide with Noddings findings.

My recommendation for Savannahs continued moral development would be to continue

to stay strong in her personal beliefs. Educate her that times are hard and are going to get

confusing but she always needs to have a trusted support system and she can go to for

accountability and support.


While observing Savannah, I looked for key elements or asked specific questions to get

her perspective in five essential areas: physical, emotional, intellectual, social and moral. After

compiling a plethora of data: I then, compared my observations to the Child Development Guide,

Piaget, Erikson, Kohlberg, Gillagan, Noddings, Marcia, Sternberg, Gardner, and Maslow as the

expertise of the five domains. I found that Savannah is developing in to a wonderful young

woman that has a good head on her shoulders and surrounds herself with love and positive

reinforcements. Continuing this pace, I have no doubt she will be anything less than an

successful member of society.


DSHS Fosterparentscope Training: Child Development Guide: Twelve to Fifteen Years. (1993).

Washington State Department of Health and Social Services. Retrieved from


Snowman, J., & McCown, R. (2013). Ed psych. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Appendix A

Savannah Observation Notes

 15 years old

 1 older brother, 1 step brother (lives with) and 1 step sister

 Lives with her step parents

 Medium class

 English speaking and writing

Environment & Time Spent

 In Savannah’s home

 2 hours asking questions and observing


 5’ 2” fully developed

 Takes pride in appearance

 Plays 3 high school sports


 Aware of healthy eating and exercising

 Likes trying new foods

 Sleeps 8 hours a night with a 2-hour nap

 Not interested in boys and defiantly does not want to get pregnant, is aware of birth



 Confident, cares about appearance and popularity

 Stubborn but learns from mistakes

 Silly and laid back

 Loves surrounding herself with family and friends

 Help younger siblings with routine and homework helps Mom with cooking and cleaning

 Has clear goal for her future with the exception of career choice


 Engages in debates with parent/siblings on several topics

 Proud of her family standing and grades

 Very sarcastic

 Can memorize music

 Described learning to drive


 Savannah Facetime’s her friend every morning to get approval of her outfit

 Seeks parents and teachers for advice


 Not as influenced by peer pressure as she once was

 At times feels better than peers

 Loves family time with both parents and siblings


 Show empathy for others when talking about less fortunate or students being bullied

 Understands right from wrong and consequences

 Seeks advice and guidance but makes her own decisions

 Learns from mistakes

 If she feels respect she more likely to do the right thing