Stage four is the latency stage, or the school-age child from
about six to twelve. The task is to develop a capacity for industry while avoiding an excessive sense of inferiority. Children
must "tame the imagination" and dedicate themselves to education and to learning the social skills their society requires
There is a much broader social sphere at work now: The parents
and other family members are joined by teachers and peers and other members of he community at large. They all contribute:
Parents must encourage, teachers must care, peers must accept. Children must learn that there is pleasure not only in conceiving
a plan, but in carrying it out. They must learn the feeling of success, whether it is in school or on the playground, academic
A good way to tell the difference between a child in the third
stage and one in the fourth stage is to look at the way they play games. Four-year-olds may love games, but they will have
only a vague understanding of the rules, may change them several times during the course of the game, and be very unlikely
to actually finish the game, unless it is by throwing the pieces at their opponents. A seven-year-old, on the other hand,
is dedicated to the rules, considers them pretty much sacred, and is more likely to get upset if the game is not allowed to
come to its required conclusion.
If the child is allowed too little success, because of harsh
teachers or rejecting peers, for example, then he or she will develop instead a sense of inferiority or incompetence. An additional
source of inferiority Erikson mentions is racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination: If a child believes that success
is related to who you are rather than to how hard you try, then why try?
Too much industry leads to the maladaptive tendency called narrow
virtuosity. We see this in children who aren't allowed to "be children," the ones that parents or teachers push into one area
of competence, without allowing the development of broader interests. These are the kids without a life: child actors, child
athletes, child musicians, child prodigies of all sorts. We all admire their industry, but if we look a little closer, it's
all that stands in the way of an empty life.
Much more common is the malignancy called inertia. This includes
all of us who suffer from the "inferiority complexes" Alfred Adler talked about. If at first you don't succeed, don't ever
try again! Many of us didn't do well in mathematics, for example, so we'd die before we took another math class. Others were
humiliated instead in the gym class, so we never try out for a sport or play a game of raquetball. Others never developed
social skills -- the most important skills of all -- and so we never go out in public. We become inert.
A happier thing
is to develop the right balance of industry and inferiority -- that is, mostly industry with just a touch of inferiority to
keep us sensibly humble. Then we have the virtue called competency.