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Info For Parents on Teen Identity Development

Updated on July 20, 2014
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They may seem like boorish, know-it-alls, but the truth is that most teens are struggling significantly with their identity. As children enter their teenage years, many parents find that the child they once knew disappears and is suddenly replaced by a moody, secretive, and sarcastic adolescent. But, though your teenagers may present themselves like they have all the answers, the fact is that they are searching. They are searching for their own identity.

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The Teen Search for Identity

Dr. Les Parrott, Ph.D., describes five common ways in which teenagers demonstrate their struggle for identity. These are:

1. Through status Symbols. Wearing the right clothes and having the right possessions are vitally important to most teenagers. These status symbols help the teen to establish affiliations with specific peer groups, thereby, assisting in identity formation.

2. Through Rebellion. Teens often struggle to separate themselves from parents and other authority figures, while maintaining the acceptance of their peers.

3. Through Forbidden Behaviors. In an attempt to appear more mature, many teens will resort to behaviors that are typically associated with adults. This may include drinking, smoking, sexual activity, or even drugs.

4. Through Idols. Many teens emulate celebrities as they experiment with the various roles of society. Identifying with a well known celebrity often gives teens a sense of belonging.

5. Through cliquish exclusion. We all seen the intolerance many teens can have for those outside of their established group. The exclusion of peers serves to separate teens from those qualities or characteristics which they view as undesirable. In this way, teenagers seek to strength their own identities.

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Teen Identity Formation: What Does It All Mean?

The goal of identity formation is to form a clear sense of self. This often involves "trying on" various roles in various settings. If teen may seem to be a different person at home than at school. They may respond better to you behind closed doors than they do when their friends are around. All of these behaviors, which we typically define as moodiness or defiance, are part of of the identity formation process.

Teens have an increased need to "fit in." They are working hard to discover what makes them unique as well as what makes them accepted. They are exploring their ethics and values, their spiritual identities, sexual identities, racial identities, and gender identities. Identity formation can be difficult for every teen, but it is especially challenging for those who feel different in one or more of these areas.

How to Help Your Teen with Identity Formation

Many parents are looking for ways to assist their teen in forging a strong, positive identity.Thankfully, most children are taught the six pillars of character during their elementary years (trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship). Don't worry. Even if you did not teach your child these traits in this particular way, these are all positive values that most of us unconsciously pass on to our children as they age. This is a foundation for positive identity formation later in life.

Some helpful tips for helping your teen form a positive identity includes:

1. Give them space. All teenagers need room to grow and a safe place to test their emerging selves. Some teenager behavior may seem strange or annoying to parents, but it is important that they be given the space and opportunity to work things out. As long as these behaviors are not dangerous, allow your team to have the space they need to explore.

2. Be available. Your teen may act and even look like an adult at times, but the fact is they are still children. They may come across as if they don't want or need you any longer, but the fact is they do. Make yourself available for your child and make sure that they know it.

3. Help them find something they can invest in. Everyone has a skill, talent, or interest. Teens need something they can call their own. They need the opportunity to succeed and to feel good about something. They need to be able to say, "this is mine." If your teen seems to have no interests, it may be time to help them develop one or to remind them of something they use to enjoy doing. Remember, your teen is tying to find a place where they fit, and a place where their talents can blossom is ideal.

4. Promote Independence. Give your teen choices and allow them to make their own decisions. Give them responsibility and hold them responsible for the outcome.

Families have the potential to be an important stabilizing influence in the development of the teen identity. Teens should be encouraged to develop their own identity and provided with a secure base from which to explore that identity.

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    • Raine Law Yuen profile image

      Raine Law Yuen 2 years ago from Cape Town

      Thanks for this clearly written and informative article. My son is now fourteen and taught himself to program during the recent school holidays. I can see how having a special skill that other kids in his class do not have has helped to boost his self esteem.

    • Keisha Hunter profile image

      Keisha Hunter 2 years ago from Paradise and then some

      I enjoyed reading this hub, thanks.

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