Thesis: Identity Development During Adolescence

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Identity Development in Adolescence

Adolescence is the period in the human life growth process when we experience more physical and psychological changes than any other period in the life cycle. Some experts hold that adolescent psychological development of identity in a complex western society is a vastly differently, intricate, and almost fragile process (Moshman, David, 1999, p. 6). It is a self-constructed identity that is formed around the social norms of the society like morality and rationality (Moshaman, p. 6), but it is also logical to infer that an adolescent's self-constructed identity is influenced by elements of that complex society that are unique to the individual's own environment and atmosphere of social interaction in the family, school, church, and in his or her social relationships with their peers on an individual and group basis. Adolescence is a time when forming an identity becomes of a revelation of the personality that has emerged from the infant, the toddler, the young child, and all of the care, attention, and nurturing that went into helping the child to feel safe, secure, well nourished, loved, respected, and understood will manifest in the adolescent's identity as confidence, leadership, curiosity in learning, and establishing what will perhaps his or her life long role in asserting their selves into the social dynamics of the world around them.

This essay is an examination of the adolescent identity, and the factors that impact the self-constructing process of forming adolescent identity. Much has been written about adolescent identity, and this essay will rely upon that body of expertise and research in demonstrating that adolescent identity is a self-constructed process manifesting the environment around them, included family, physical environment, socioeconomic conditions, communication, and other indications of nurturing and normalcy in their world that impacts their self-constructive process. This paper will examine how morality, rationality, and an adolescent's ability to communicate are integral to constructing their identity.

Communication

Underscoring the significance of family in each of our lives, social researchers Christ Segrin, and Jeanne Flora (2005) says that there are no individuals in this world, only fragments of families (p. 3). This suggests that family is as a large part of the adolescent self constructed identity. Early childhood experiences remain with individuals throughout their lives, and help to provide a framework within the adolescent will ultimately identify their selves (p. 3). Sergrin and Flora say, too, that shortly after the individual leaves their immediate family, they normally go about the process of establishing a new "family (p. 3)." This new family is one that is built around the individual's perceptions of their own family, their experiences, and perhaps even the individuals with whom they were closest to in their immediate families.

But even before they leave home, the individual experiences adolescence, and in adolescence the individual is building a peer group around them that will in some ways, reflect the family that they are going to build for their selves later in life. In many instances, the adolescent relationships carry over into their adult life, and it is not uncommon to find adolescents building long-term bonds and relationships with one another that last well into, and throughout their adulthood. These bonds are the people with whom the individual most identifies with as an adolescent. They are able to relate to, and communicate with their adolescent peer group on a level that and in ways that is comfortable, and often times supports what are perceived to be shared commonalities amongst them. The commonalities tend to be interactive family patterns, and communication is between the peers is often a reflection of the lack of or the strength of communication as learned through the family system.

Just as there is a definition for the "family," so, too, becomes the definition of the adolescent's community of peers that for that period of time seems to block out all areas of influence in the adolescent's life. The peer group becomes the adolescent's family, and their center of communication with, and even through, in order to express his or herself. Segrin and Flora say:

Structural definitions lay out specific criteria that make clear who is in the family and who is not (Fitzpatrick & Badzinski, 1994). Structural definitions do not depend on the quality of the family interaction or task performance, and they are not dependent on subjective feelings of group identity or affection. Rather they define family simply by form. Popenoe's (1993) definition of family illustrates one classic example of a structural definition. The criteria for membership are clear and, common to many structural definitions, a hierarchy of family members is assumed. According to Popenoe's definition, family is "a relatively small domestic group of kin (or people in a kin-like relationship) consisting of at least one adult and one dependent person" (p. 529). This definition implies that family shares a household and that a dependent (e.g., most commonly a child, but possibly a handicapped or elderly adult) who is related by blood (or a bloodlike relationship, as in the case of adoption) must be present. Popenoe's definition implies that a sexual bond is not necessary or sufficient to form a family. As one of the more narrow structural definitions, Popenoe's definition does not consider a married or cohabitating couple a family. However, a single parent (whether married previously or not) who lives with one or more dependents is considered a family (p. 5)."

These observations and conclusions as they pertain to the family and developing an identity based on the family parameters would ostensibly carryover to the adolescent relationship of his or her selected peer group, which has a tendency to overshadow the adolescent's immediate family during that period in their lives. Just as in the family setting, there are often times strong individuals in the peer group that dominates and influences the overall identity of the group as a whole.

Take for instance what we know about one of the now more infamous peer groups in America, the group young men who attacked their fellow students at Columbine High School, in Littleton, Colorado. As most people now know, the young men who committed this horrendous act of violence felt camaraderie with one another in their sense of rejection by the larger student body (Peterson, Terrence L, and Hoover, John H., 2005, p. 249).

In the aftermath of the violence, one young man, Brooks Brown, who was a friend of the assailants, was later the subject of intense investigation and suspicion within the community because of that friendship (p. 249). Brown says that he and his Dylan Klebold were often the subjects of ridicule and harassment at school, especially during times when students were less controlled by classroom environments, like the lunch recess period (p. 249). Brown's identity was adolescent identity was formed around his peer groups, both those of which he was a member, and those from which he was ostracized for reasons that probably have more to do with adolescent immaturity, and bullying (p. 249). The end result was that the perpetrators of the violence at Columbine, Darryl Klebold and Eric Harris, apparently feeling so ostracized, and bullied to humiliation, that they went on a revenge rampage, aiming their anger and pain at the individuals, the institution, really, that they perceived as the source of their pain (Brown, Brooks, and Merrit, Rob, 2002).

It is, however, the communication that was shared between these adolescents, Klebold, Harris, and Brown. The friend related to one another, and they formed identities that were, as demonstrated by Harris and Klebold, so expressive of one another and intertwined that they could not extricate their selves from those identities. Their shared identity involved a shared perception of the world around them. There were common factors, personal factors, that they shared that arose out of their family and social settings that made communication between the adolescents easy, comfortable, and helped to form the bond between them such that Klebold and Harris would elect to die together in suicide following their killing rampage at Columbine.

What is also interesting, is that the parents of the young boys stood in shock with the rest of the community, unaware of the pain of their children, and especially unaware that the pain was so intense as to cause the adolescents to plan and carry out the murder of their peers, and school officials.

Klebold and Harris, and to some extent, Brown, too, were able to communicate with one another, but not with their families, and especially not with the larger student body within which they moved socially for the majority of their school day. The Columbine case shines a bright light on the needs of adolescents to be able to experience group relationships that help them to for identities that are consistent with the larger group. It reveals, too, that ostracism from that larger group identity is painful and harmful to the adolescent's individual identity, which is then capable of manifesting itself in very harmful and extreme ways. University of Connecticut Associate Professor Antonius H.N. Cillessen… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Identity Development During Adolescence.  (2009, January 25).  Retrieved December 9, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/identity-development-during-adolescence/2018146

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"Identity Development During Adolescence."  Essaytown.com.  January 25, 2009.  Accessed December 9, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/identity-development-during-adolescence/2018146.