Adolescence is a period of life in which critical psychological and physiological changes occur. It is also the time when identity, “a unified sense of self characterized by attitudes, beliefs, and ways of acting that are genuinely one’s own “(Insel, 1994), forms. The theory of Eric Erikson describes the psychological development of identity as a developmental stage in which “individuals are faced with finding out who they are, what they are all about, and where they are going in life.”(Santrock, 1997)
During this stage, adolescents are trying to find an answer to the question “Who am I?” and making important life choices, such as career, intimate commitments, or morality. The identity formation period is very critical and it will affect the individual throughout the adulthood. “If adolescent arrives at a positive path to follow in life, then a positive identity will be achieved; but if a positive future path is not defined, then identity confusion reigns.” (Santrock, 1997)
I interviewed a 13 year old girl from a well educated family. The interview was done in the privacy of her house in her own room and took about 40 minutes. During the interview, the teen was asked to answer a list of questions and encouraged to use as much details as possible. Each answer was carefully recorded and evaluated. The questions I asked her targeted fundamental self aspects that build the feeling of identity. The interview examined the following aspects: role experimentation, self certainty, peer relationships, family relationships, sexual orientation, career, and leadership.
The girl I interviewed had a strong sense of uniqueness-she wants to be different and expresses herself colorfully. I found that appearance is very important, such as adoption of different fashions and “in” hair styles. Girls are very conscious of how they look. While admitting that appearance is crucial, the teen made a point that “maintaining a sense of confidence and self-esteem is important for your future.” Also, I was informed that it is substantial to “try everything and put your butt here and there.” It appears that teenagers think they should experiment with smoking, drinking, sexual activity, and other “adult’s stuff.”
In addition, the significance of the “successful” role model, a father in this case, was emphasized. Furthermore, the teen stressed that she considers herself a “very sociable individual who likes to mix with different groups.” She also feels that she is “the woman of the 90s” and plans to depend on herself. She also claimed to possess some leadership qualities in her nature, which will become “more and more evident as she will mature.” I also found that it is “crucial” to have a sense of direction in one’s own life. Together with that, she indicated that she feels that the involvement in the intimate relationship, “having a boyfriend”, means “a big deal” to her. She added that it is important to have “someone to talk to and do stuff with.”
Adolescents are obsessed with their looks and they are expected to do that because it is through these symbols, wearing the right clothes and having cool sunglasses, that their identities are formed. Adolescents are expected to view self-esteem as crucial; after all, it plays a big role in their quest for identity. As teenagers begin their quests for identity, they experiment with different roles, various social postures, and self-images (this is what Erikson would call a search for identity).
Teens often feel that appearing mature will bring recognition and acceptance, so they begin to engage in behavior associated with adults, such as smoking, drinking, and sexual activity. Experimenting with different roles is expected in Erikson stage and having a role model is not uncommon. During the early adolescence, a role model is usually one of the parents. ( Insel, 1994)
Teens often are very social at this stage and that is expected because socialization contributes a lot to a teen’s search for identity. Some teens have already developed a strong sense of self-worth and it is not uncommon, although it is not necessarily expected for them to develop a sense of self worth at such a young age. Today, the percentage of teens who engage in sexual activities is increasing every year together with the incidents of teen pregnancy and STDs. And this is expected because intimate relationships are a big part of the search for identity. As teens begin their journey through adolescence, members of the opposite sex become more and more interesting and relationships with people of the opposite sex become more important than the close friendships earlier made with people of the same sex.
The increasing availability of drugs has made the temptations for a teenager more widespread. Alcohol, such as beer, among teenagers is perceived as a good thing and associated with fun, good times, beach parties, and adulthood. The quest for identity is a very hard journey: it can ‘make’ a person or ‘break’ a person.
- Barnet, S., & Bedau, H. (1996). Sex education: should condoms be distributed in schools? Current Issues and Enduring Questions. (pp.292-299). Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press.
- Finkel, A. J., & Kunz, J. R. M. (1987). Special problems of adolescence. The American Medical Association Family Medical Guide. (pp723-729). New York: Random House.
- Insel, P. M., Peterson, R. A., McKay Rollins, L., & Roth, W. T. (1994). Mental health. Core Concepts in Health. (7th ed.). (pp.36-53). California: Mayfield Publishing Company.
- Santrock, J. W. (1997). Life-span development (6th ed.). Madison: Brown & Benchmark.