Social Development of Adolescents: Identity

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  • 0:07 Self Concept
  • 2:31 Identity Status
  • 4:51 Influences on Identity
  • 5:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jade Mazarin

Jade is a board certified Christian counselor with an MA in Marriage and Family Therapy, and a certification in Natural Health. She is also a freelance writer on emotional health and spirituality.

Adolescents often go through a process of discovering what they believe and who they are. In this lesson, we will examine how a teenager develops his or her self concept and identity. We will also take a look at common factors that influence a teen's identity.


Adolescence is a unique time. It's the stage between childhood and adulthood, when many teenagers are trying to figure out who they are and what they're about. It's a time when they feel they should be given more responsibility than kids, but a time they do not yet feel ready for the duties of being an adult. With activities, school, home life and plans for their future, adolescence can be a turbulent but exciting time for teens to learn about themselves.

As already mentioned, part of the natural process of teenagers is the development of their self-concept. Self-concept refers to a set of abilities, opinions and thoughts by which we define and categorize ourselves. For adolescents, their self-concept begins being much more complex and tangible than it was when they were children. Let's say a researcher wanted to show the difference between the self-concept of a child and that of a teenager.

Eight years ago, Susan was seven years old and was interviewed with basic questions about her self-concept. When asked to describe herself, she said, 'I am nice,' and 'I am good at drawing and singing.' Even though she had just played a game with her brother that she had lost, she tells the researcher, 'And I won the game with my brother.' Fast-forward eight years, and Susan is now 15 years old.

When asked about herself, she says things like:

  • 'I'm nice to people, but sometimes I could be nicer.'
  • 'I'm not good at sports, but I'm pretty good at the artsy stuff.'
  • 'I lose every time I play card games with my brother.'
  • 'My friends say I'm fun to be around.'

Not surprisingly, adolescents like Susan are able to describe and define themselves with more complexity than they could as children. A child may not realize how she can be nice and not nice at the same time, but an adolescent can. He or she may not be able to think realistically, as Susan once said she beat her brother in a game. Adolescents are also much more focused on the way they are viewed by others, which can affect their self-esteem and self-concept.

A teen may point to their values and morals as part of who they are. They may talk about careers or goals, schools they want to attend, awards they have received or activities in which they excel. Other teens may point out they don't know yet who they are, or that they're still getting to know themselves. Teens are much more focused on what is expected of them and how they compare to others than they were as children.

Identity Status

In another lesson, we learned about Erikson's stage of identity development through our lifespan. Psychologist James Marcia focused on teen identity development and expanded on Erikson's concepts of identity crisis and identity confusion during adolescence.

He explained that teens go through four unique stages in their quest toward forming an identity and called each stage an identity status. Each status describes where an adolescent is in the process of exploring values, beliefs and goals that will make up their self-concept. Here we have a group of four high school seniors who are close friends, but each hold a different identity status. Let's meet Darla first. Darla is going through identity diffusion.

This means she has not explored any particular path or chosen to follow it. Her parents are putting pressure on her to go to college, but she is not sure what she thinks about continuing school. She doesn't know what she wants to do with her future, and she isn't interested in giving it much consideration. Her friend Lucy, however, is in identity foreclosure. This means she has not explored what it is she wants, but has committed to what is presented to her.

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