Adolescence, Identity Crisis, CultureBy Angela Egbikuadje on January, 18 2012
Views: 2664 | Comments: 0(An Extract: Dissertation 2005: Angela Egbikuadje,MA). The period of adolescence is marked by physiological, environmental, sociological, and cognitive challenges. Adolescents undergo dramatic and rapid physical changes; their bodies develop into those of adults. Adolescents also experience cognitive growth.
According to Piaget and other cognitive developmental theorists, adolescents begin to think more abstractly, transcending from concrete reasoning to hypothetical reasoning (Inhelder & Piaget, 1958; Berger, 1998; Berk, 2001; Feldman, 2003; Rice, 2001). The maturity of adolescents, however, is determined by their interactions with peers, parents, and authorities. Berk (2001) asserted that adolescent’ psychosocial growth-- that is, the manner in which they relate to their parents, their friends, and society and their commitment to themselves—enables them to attain adult status and maturity.
Adolescents respond to the physical, cognitive, and psychosocial challenges with a variety of emotions: fear, anxiety, depression, confusion, or anger. The many changes the adolescent experiences raise for them the question “Who am I.” Therefore this literature review examines adolescents’ social and personality development and culture and identity formation as well as theories of adolescent psychosocial development.
Social and Personality Development
The concept of identity is crucial in adolescent development. Several authors attested that adolescents in search of their true selves experience different possible selves, which do not determine who they really are (Berger, 1998; Berk, 2001; Feldman, 2003; Rice, 2001). This means that adolescents interact differently in different situations (home, school, church, etc.) and with different people (peers, parents, teachers, mentors, etc). According to Livesley and Bromley (1973), adolescents behave differently in different situation and with different people because their focus is on what people think about them, how other people feel about them, and how they are able to maintain their identity within the group or in the environment. Harter (1999) posited that adolescents exhibit their false selves more than their true selves even if they are sure of their true selves.
The researchers gave the following three reasons:
1. Adolescents perceive that their peers will reject their true selves, and their parents and they have problems appreciating themselves. This makes them feel worthless, hopeless, and they therefore sometimes engage in inappropriate behaviors. They try to hide who they really are so that they can be accepted.
2. Adolescents may exhibit their false selves because of their intent to please others or gain favors from others. Adolescents who act in this way tend to have an understanding of who they are and what they represent.
3. Adolescents may adopt false selves for the purpose of experimentation. The goal of this behavior is to understand and experience how it feels to behave in a certain way. The adolescents in this category, compared to the adolescents in the first and second group, have higher levels of self-esteem and understanding. As adolescents mature, they may experiment or take on different roles according to their different selves. They assume positions of responsibility, believing their choices can have long-term implications for their lives. They begin to think in more complex ways, addressing some of their carrier options and questioning their religious commitments, political options, and sexual values. They tend to analyze how their views fit into their ambitions for the future. Harter (1999) divided adolescents into three stages: early (ages 11-13), middle (ages 14-16), and late adolescence (ages 17-19). Early adolescents are able to identify their social roles and how they conflict with one another, whereas middle adolescents perceive the conflicts among their roles but they cannot resolve those conflicts. Middle adolescents are concerned with their behaviors; they behave differently in different roles. For example, they behave differently when their father is present as compared to when only their mother is present.
They view contradictions as normal. Furthermore, late adolescents tend to view their romantic relationships as constituents of their false selves. However, they are less likely to display their false selves in their behaviors or interactions with their parents or close friends. The classic model for understanding adolescent psychosocial development is Erick Erickson’s. Erickson suggested eight stages of human development. Each stage has a challenge, a task that must be accomplished before an individual can advance to the next stage. The primary challenge of adolescence is “their inability to settle on an occupational identity” (Erickson, 1968, p. 132). According to Erickson, adolescents’ struggle to keep themselves together causes them to “temporary overidentify with the heroes of cliques and crowds to the point of an apparently complete loss of individuality” (Erickson, 1968, p. 132). Erickson discusses the reasons for adolescence behavior in the identity-versus-identity-confusion stage. In Erickson’s view, adolescents seek to determine what is unique and distinctive about themselves. They sometimes rely on their friends and peers for information, concerning themselves more with how they appear before their peers, while their dependence on adults declines (Erickson, 1977). Through the use of the concept of ego identity, Erickson described the problems of decision making that befalls the adolescents. Ego identity is defined as the awareness of the fact that there is a selfsameness and continuity to the ego’s synthesizing methods and that these methods are effective in safeguarding the sameness and continuity of one’s meaning for others (Erickson, 1977, p. 22). For Erickson, adolescents’ conscious feeling of a personal identity is based on two variables: “the immediate perception of one’s selfsameness and continuity in time; and the simultaneous perception of the fact that others recognize one’s self sameness and continuity” (Erickson, 1977, p. 22). Erickson believes that adolescents in the identity-versus-identity-confusion stage are not only concerned about their identity or existence, but the quality of their existence (Erickson, 1977). During this period, adolescents make choices between alternatives. They make those choices either to resolve the crises they are experiencing or to explore opportunities and possibilities. In the course of that exploration, many adolescents take a psychosocial moratorium. This is “Erickson’s term for: a delay of adult commitments ... a period that is characterized by selective permissiveness on the part of society and of provocative playfulness on the part of youth, and yet it often leads to deep, if often transitory commitment on the part of youth, and ends in a more or less ceremonial confirmation of commitment on the part of society. (Erickson, 1968, p. 156)
Adolescents may explore jobs, meet new people, or develop new relationships. Some take time off (a year, a semester, etc.) to travel. Others enter college or military service.Many adolescents are unable to experience a psychological moratorium due to economic reasons. They take up part-time jobs to meet their financial obligations. These adolescents have less time to explore their identities. However, Feldman (2003) believed that adolescents who do not experience psychological moratorium are not psychologically damaged. Rather, their ability to hold part-time jobs gives them a feeling of success that is as valuable in establishing identity as exploration of various roles. Therefore, it appears logical to assume that adolescents who assist their parents infected with the AIDS virus are not necessarily damaged by their inability to explore their identities like other teenagers. Following Erickson, other developmental theorists emerged, such as James Marcia (1966, 1980). Feldman (2003) and Berk (2001) examined adolescent identity in terms of Marcia’s four statuses: (a) identity achievement, (b) identity foreclosure, (c) moratorium, and (d) identity diffusion. Identity achievement is signified by the adolescent’s commitment to a clear set of rules and goals whereas moratorium means “delay or holding pattern” (Berk, 2001, p. 392). Adolescents in the moratorium stage delay the commitment process.
Identity foreclosure refers to the adolescent's commitment to a set of goals or values without exploring differing alternatives. Identity diffusion is a stage at which adolescents neither commits to a set of values or goals nor takes time to explore values or goals or how they reach them. Adolescents in this stage “lack clear direction” (Berk, p.392). Adolescents can shift from one identity status to another until identity is achieved (Berk, 2001). Berk believed that many adolescents begin with identity foreclosure and diffusion, and by late adolescence they have experienced moratorium and identity achievement. Research suggests that despite adolescents’ high score on identity development, moratoriums and achievements do not appear before the senior year in high school (Marcia, Waterman, Matteson, Archer & Orlofsky, 1993). Identity statuses correlate with various measures of adolescents’ cognitive and psychological developments. For example, the diffused adolescent is withdrawn, perhaps deliberately avoiding parental contact by sleeping or listening to music on headphones when the rest of the family is together; the moratorium adolescent is not withdrawn as much as independent, busy with his or her own interests; both the forecloser and the achiever are loving, but the forecloser evidences more respect and deference, while the achiever treats parents with more concern, behaving towards them as an equal or even as a caregiver rather than only as a care-receiver. (Berger, 1998, p. 440)
Adolescents in the identity diffusion stage are usually seen as apathetic, not caring about anything and rebelling against everything. Some adolescents in the foreclosure stage prematurely “take on the identity their parents urge on them, while others choose totalitarian groups – such as a religious cult or a doctrinaire political organization” (Berger, 1998, p. 441; Marcia, Waterman, Matteson, Archer & Orlofsky, 1993). Berger (1998) referred to adolescents who have achieved and those who have foreclosed as having a high “sense of ethnic identification, seeing themselves as proud to be Irish, Italian, Latino, or whatever” (p. 440). Adolescents in the identity foreclosure stage scored higher in prejudice than adolescents in the identity achievement stage. The reason is that adolescents in the identity achievement stage are more secure in their ethnicity, to the extent that they do not engage in denigrating the ethnicity of others (Berger, 1998).
Culture and Identity Formation
Adolescents’ identity development is influenced not only by environmental, cognitive, and physiological factors, but also by cultural variables. Several authors (Berger, 1998; Berk 2001; Feldman, 2003; Rice, 2001) agree that culture determines to a large extent the identity of the adolescent. Berger (1998) claims the surrounding society was a major influence in the adolescent’s identity formation in two ways: “by providing values that have stood the test of time and that continue to serve their function, and by providing social structures and customs that ease the transition from childhood to adulthood” (p. 441).
However, cultural variables influence adolescent identity only to the extent that the adolescents are exposed to their cultural values, beliefs, customs, and norms, and the level of cohesiveness that exists within the society. For example, in a culture in which almost all the members of the society have similar moral values, beliefs, and norms, social change is slow and identity is not difficult to achieve. According to Berger (1998), “Most young people in a traditional society simply accept the social roles and values they grew up with, the only roles and values they have every known” (p. 442). Many adolescents in Nigeria live in such a cultural environment. However, the influence of technological advancements (especially in the oil industry) and the increasing number of people from overseas residing in the country have made identity formation difficult for some adolescents. In pluralistic societies. In sophisticated, modern, and industrial societies, identity formation is a difficult task for the adolescent because of the presence of multiple cultural groups. For example, in the U.S., which contains people from a number of different ethnic groups, the existence of majority and minority groups complicates the matter.
Adolescents in the U.S. from minority populations, especially African American adolescents, struggle with identity formation more than Anglos or Caucasians (Rice, 2001). Berk (2001) blamed the problems of minority adolescents on the society, suggesting that adults and peers communicate in ways that promote multicultural thinking and high level decisions. Berk called for adults to provide opportunities for adolescents to explore the practices, values, beliefs, customs, and norms of ethnicities other than their own. On the other hand, Rice believed that “high achieving black students must assume a ‘raceless’ persona if they wish to succeed academically. This racelessness occurs when they empty themselves of their cultures, believing that the door of opportunity will open if they stand raceless before it” (2001, p. 291). The implication of this way of thinking is that minority adolescents such as African Americans who wish to achieve success must adopt the values of the majority culture (e.g., of Caucasians). Influence of parents and peers. Not only the larger society, but the smaller groups of family and peers play roles in adolescent identity formation. There is a relationship between adolescent development and the cultural values, beliefs, customs, and norms of the people with whom they grow up. Parenting styles contribute greatly to adolescents’ ability to assimilate and integrate the teachings and values of their parents.
Depending on the cultural heritage, adolescents have different attitudes toward parents who implement the authoritative parenting style and those who implement the authoritarian parenting style. Sometimes parenting styles can reduce conflict between adolescent and parent. Berger (1998) noted “some evidence that for Chinese-, Korean-, and Mexican- American teens, stormy relations with parents may not surface until later in adolescence” (p. 446). This may be due to the cultural value of respect for authority and elders that is stressed in these cultures. Peers may be as influential as parents in adolescent identity formation. Adolescents are inclined to listen to their peers more than to their parents. The strength of peer pressure as well as adolescent egocentrism affects identity formation. Traumatic experiences also have an impact on adolescents’ views of their identity. Among the most traumatic, of course, is death, especially death of a family member.
Berger, k. S. (1998). The developing person through the lifespan. (4th ed.). New York: McGraw Hill
Berk, L. (2001). Development through the lifespan. (2nd ed.). Boston: Allyn & BaconErickson, E. H. (1968). Identity Youth and Crisis. New York: NortonErickson, E.H. (1977). Childhood and society. Cornwall, U.K.: PaladinFeldman, R. S. (2003). Development across the lifespan (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson EducationHarter, S. (1999). The construction of the self: A developmental perspective. New York: Guilford.
Inhelder, B., & Piaget, J. (1958). The growth of logical thinking from childhood to adolescence. New York: Basic Books.
Livesley, W. J., & Bromley, D. B. (1973). Person perception: Childhood and adolescence. New York: Wiley
Marcia, J. E., Waterman, A. S., Matteson, D. R., Archer, S. L., & Orlofsky, J. L. (1993). Ego Identity: A handbook for psychosocial research. New York: Springer-Verlag
Rice, F. P. (2001). Human development: A lifespan approach (4th ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall
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