Identity Development for the Adolescents

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            Ask an average teenager what his or her activities for the weekend are and more or less you’ll get the same, a little bit varied though, answers. The unusually animated teen wakes up at around an hour or less before noon because apparently they are not morning people, and they will drag themselves to the kitchen to get something to eat. If there are no adults inside the premises, they would gobble food in front of the television, flicking the remote and unmindfully changing the channels, not watching anything in particular. Statistics even show that by the time teens reach eighteen years of age, they would have consumed 22,000 hours in front of the television (Stephenson, 2002). They are not conscious of what they eat, as long as it makes them full and it satisfies their appetite, it will suffice and they will be contented. Sometimes, being oblivious to the food they eat, they become obese. Obesity in adolescents is about 17% in 2001 to 2004 (National Center for Health Statistics, 2006). This can prod them to binge eating and/or anorexia, already the third most common chronic illness (South Carolina Department of Mental Health, 2006). The phone will ring, or they will be texting with friends, asking what the plans for this afternoon are. Or they could probably be on-line chatting with classmates and friends, still planning. Is it going to be a movie or shopping? Will it be an all girl night out or a double date with their boyfriends? Really, being a teenager is a no-brainer, especially if you have got the world cupped carefully in your hands.

However, some teens are not predetermined to be like this. Some are suffering from low self-esteem, confusion, depression, abnormalities that seem to be plaguing more and more teenagers as we speak. Some teens even lack the confidence needed to look at their faces in front of the mirror. Some subject their existence to question, what their purpose in life is. Some cannot help but be in awe as to why they are different, so to speak. Some, like Peg, feel like she does not have anything in spite and despite of her family being well off and privileged.

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            Fourteen year old Peg looks in front of the mirror and does not exactly see someone who can make her privileges work to her advantage, unlike her older sister and brother. She doubts herself much, lacks confidence, and is easily distracted. And this should be deemed normal, nothing worth noting is wrong with her, nor should her parents have reacted and worried the way they did. Growth and development of human beings vary so much that no two are alike. Albeit there are parameters wherein the progress of an infant’s gross and motor development, among many others, can be measured against, but there are no certainties as to its accuracy. These merely serve as guides, even physicians such as pediatricians wait for more severe signs or symptoms before considering that there is really a developmental delay. Suffice it to say that each individual is unique, as distinct as our thumbprints. Peg may have been a little off to start her adolescent life, but we should give her more credit to it than her parents are giving her. Just because her older sister and brother have readily committed to their identities in such a short period of time it does not mean that Peg will do the same. All she possibly needs is guidance, someone to stir her in a direction that she would have likely wanted to choose, someone who can assist her by being her manual, a life’s guidebook.

            The doubt that clouds Peg’s parents could probably be brought about by how their first two children grew up.  Jane, at 18, has committed herself to athletics and academics combined, and so did sixteen year old Jim. If you try to imagine a typical day inside their household, both siblings could always find something to keep them busy, and since their parents are both working, Peg will certainly have more time alone. And like any other teen who is already presented with such expectations, she will begin to doubt herself and ask why she is not behaving the way her siblings are. Given Peg’s young age, she’s probably be going through a phase, as figuratively as that sounds, it is an excuse given by most people. But little do they know that psychologically speaking the phrase, going through a phase, is actually true. Peg behaves the way she does because she is going through a phase. For some teenagers this phase varies, in length, in manifestation, etc. It’s possible that Peg’s parents never noticed neither Jane nor Jim’s phasing, or maybe it manifested in them differently. Again, every individual has their own way of going through certain phases in their lives. We are not the one to judge, but the individuals themselves. The way Peg sees it, she falls short of everyone’s expectations, and she does not like it that way.

            With the way things are going inside their household, it seems that Peg does not have a lifeline, or a guidebook. She does not seem to have developed close ties with the people inside their immense house because her siblings could have been very busy doing their own activities and her parents seem to be consumed by their work also. Suffice it to say that Peg does need help, but it does not necessarily mean that she needs to go see a counselor. It does not matter if her family is wealthy enough to pay for anything that they think can help their children. It does not always work that way. What Peg needs is someone to help her go through this, and not some stranger, it should be from her family. Family ties and bonds can hardly be destroyed and trust is always present. If Peg trusts someone enough to criticize her without hurting her, to tell her and to encourage her to involve herself in activities that she has not experienced yet, then it will help her develop interests to define her. Familial ties are often neglected at these certain areas. People have come to assumptions that there are activities or interests that are better done with friends. True, certain proceedings do exist, but these should start within the family first. One of the worst committed parental mistakes is judging their children and compares them to other children, worse, compare them to their siblings. This should not be the case because as aforementioned, everyone is an individual, and most developments are relative. Some teenagers go through a phase and stay longer there compared to others; some go through others phases in a lesser time.

            Identity development for the adolescents, as theorized by Erik Erikson as a developmental task to be identity versus role diffusion, is their primary task in this period of their lives (Muss, 1996). Just like any developmental task conjectured by Erikson, if an individual fails to commit to the positive task, he or she falters and recedes to the negative one. This reveals certain downfalls for the individual as he or she progresses in her life. Failure in such developmental task can be accounted for certain misbehaviors, and acts that prove to be deviations from the norms. It can result to identity diffusion, which is described by Erikson as a lack of direction and goals, and a feeling of confusion (Muss, 1996).  Almost similar but elaborated is Marcia’s theory, wherein he states several stages that an adolescent goes through in his or her search for identity. The first stage in identity development is called identity diffusion, the stage wherein the adolescent is susceptible to any kind of influence, and we see that Peg is not being influenced by anyone in anyway. She is not trying to be someone, nor is she getting to know anybody that seems to pique her interest. This is the most promising time for her to discover the world, a period where she needs help the most. If her sister or her brother will influence her, then this will help her see clearly what she’s missing, or if she isn’t into athletics and academics, what she’s not. When Peg has decided on what her identity is, she will foreclose on it, and will commit to this newly found identity. But not so much that she cannot be persuaded to look at different alternatives. Moratorium stage will follow thereafter, and she will see that she still explore even with her chosen path. Since she is now clearly seeing what trail she is following, she will realize the trail will always branch out to different one. Let’s say Peg is not athletic like her siblings and realized her dislike for sports when her sister plays with her. She will now venture into a different area, music, perhaps. She realizes that she loves listening to classical pieces and pursued learning how to play the violin. She has foreclosed on this interest. But after a while, she sees that violin is not just intended to be played in an orchestra, it can blend in a band performing rock, loud music. And so she creates one. That is a total turnaround from classical violin playing, albeit she still plays the violin.  Identity is finally achieved once she has settled on this new endeavor of hers, a four piece rock band named Classics do not Die. Identity does not stop there, this is just one trail that she pursued, and she can simultaneously grasp additional endeavors, new paths to explore.

A healthy sense of identity is an identity which is not afraid to try new paths, but is very well aware which ones are not to be taken. The factors that influence the adolescent are as important as the one searching for the identity. Stirred in the proper direction away from drugs, alcohol abuse, premarital sexual acts, stealing and other petty crimes, eating disorders and depression, an adolescent can have a healthy identity. The parents should always be wary that they are being looked at and observed by their adolescent children, and if they are giving the proper examples to their teens, they will have no problems. They have to make their teens decide for themselves, although parents should offer insights on the matter. They have to show support, but also prod them towards the better choice. Unhealthy identities for teens arise from parental conflict, prompting rebellion and suicide. The parents, the siblings, even the whole family probably does not know that their opinions and judgments matter so much that they can change the course of the life of the teen. They can guide or destroy identities. Saving teens from threats of having an unhealthy identity is the hardest job that parents have to fulfill. But if they do well, they will be rewarded.


Muss, E.R. (1996). Theoretical Expansion and Empirical Support for Erikson’s Theory. In Theories of Adolescence 6th Edition. USA: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Muss, E.R. & Porton, D.H. (1998). Adolescent Behavior and Society ` A Book of Reading`.
5th Edition. USA: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

National Center for Health Statistics. Chartbook on Trends in the Health of Americans. Health, United States, 2006. Hyattsville, MD: Public Health Service. 2006.

South Carolina Department of Mental Health. (2006). Eating Disorder Statistics. Retrieved September 15, 2008, from

Stephenson, B. (2002). State of the Adolescent Nation. Retrieved September 15, 2008, from


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Identity Development for the Adolescents. (2016, Oct 15). Retrieved from