Changes in Sense of Self From Childhood to Adolescence

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  • 0:21 James Marcia
  • 1:23 Marcia's Four Identities
  • 1:37 Diffusion
  • 2:08 Foreclosure
  • 2:40 Moratorium
  • 3:55 Achivement
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Valerie Houghton, Ph.D.

Valerie holds a Ph.D. in Health Psychology.

In this lesson, we will be exploring James Marcia's theory of identity in relation to the sense of self changing from childhood to adolescence. You'll study the four ways in which children navigate their identities into adolescence: foreclosure, moratorium, achievement, and diffusion.

Changing Self from Childhood to Adolescence

Think back to when you were four years old. What did you want to be when you grew up? Perhaps you wanted to be a famous actor or a ballerina. Chances are, your sense of self at four years old was different from who you are now. This is because the sense of self is a dynamic developmental process.

James Marcia

In this lesson, we will be discussing James Marcia's theory of identity in relation to the sense of self changing from childhood to adolescence. According to Marcia, it is the adolescent stage that is critical in the development of the self for two reasons. First, it is the transitional zone between childhood and adulthood. The childhood values no longer work for teenagers, and the values of adults do not quite fit into their reality. It is during the teenage years that the adolescent literally needs to revisit childhood values and ideas and determine if those ideas will continue to serve them as they grow into adulthood.

The second reason that adolescence is a critical developmental stage is because the sense of self that is formed during this stage will linger into adulthood. This is the period of time where the teenager emerges as a new person. It is when they decide who they want to be and what they want to do with their lives.

Marcia's Four Identities

According to Marcia, there are four ways a teenager can navigate through the transition of childhood to adolescent. The four ways are diffusion, foreclosure, moratorium, and achievement.


Identity diffusion can be thought of as 'the undecided.' The diffusion stage of identity development occurs when people don't really know what choices are out there, and they aren't ready to figure out who they are as a person yet. In the diffusion stage, the person doesn't have any strong opinions. He isn't thinking, 'Maybe I'll be a doctor,' or 'Maybe I'll be a lawyer.' Instead, he's thinking, 'I don't know what I'll be when I grow up. Nothing sounds very interesting to me!'


Identity foreclosure can be thought of as 'a done deal.' Foreclosure is the first stage of self-development and occurs during the childhood up into the teenage years. If the child is in the foreclosure stage of self-identity, he or she becomes a mini-me of the parental figure and is inflexible of changing. They have learned their parent's ideas and values, and they do not question those family norms. For example, 'My father is a Buddhist auto mechanic, and that is who I am, and that is what I'm going to do.'


Identity moratorium can be thought of as 'the audition.' It is in this stage that the teenager is no longer a child, yet he or she is not quite an adult. It is during this stage where teenagers try out many different identities. One week they like rap music, and the following week they like country music. During this process, they are trying out a variety of different beliefs and values.

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