Adolescence: Psychosocial Development

 The Self & Identity    "Who Am I?"

    During adolescence, the goal of many teens is to establish an identity.

    Identity: A consistent definition of one’s self as a unique individual, in terms of roles, attitudes, 
beliefs and aspirations.

    The 1st step in the identity process is to establish the integrity of personality - that is, to align emotions, 
thinking, & behavior be consistent no matter what the place, time, circumstances or social relationship.

    As they try to establish identities, adolescents encounter Identity vs Role Confusion: Erickson’s 5th stage 
of development in which the person tries to figure out "Who am I" but is confused as to which of the 
many roles to adopt.

    Throughout adolescence, a teen may experience more than one Identity Status:

    Identity Achievement: Erickson’s term for attainment of identity-ideally established by reconsidering the 
goals and values set by the parents and culture, then accepting some and rejecting others. Four specfic aspects 
/ areas of identity achievement follow.

•  Religious 
 •  Sexual / Gender 
  •  Political / Ethnic 
   •  Vocational  

    Foreclosure: When adolescents accept their parents or society’s roles and values without questioning 
them or exploring alternatives.

    Negative Identity: When adolescents adopt an identity that is opposite what is expected of them. Usually 
occurs when adolescents feel that the roles their parents and society expect them to fulfill are unattainable 
or unappealing, yet they cannot find any alternatives that are truly their own.

     Identity Diffusion: When an adolescent does not seem to know or care what his identity is. Typically, these 
teens have few commitments to the goals or values of their parents, peers, or larger society.

Identity Moratorium: Erickson’s term for a pause in identity formation that allows young people to explore 
alternatives without making final identity choices.

      Institutions that permit a moratorium on finding identity:

    * College
     * Military
      * Peace Corp
       * Religious Missions
        * Internships 

Society & Identity

    Finding an identity is affected by forces outside the individual. The surrounding culture can aid identity 
formation in two major ways:

    *     By providing values that have stood the test of time and that continue to serve their function.
    *     By providing social structures and customs that ease the transition from childhood to adulthood. 

Multiple Selves    

   Adolescents display three distinct types of multiple (false) selves. (Harter et. al. 1996)  
 •  The acceptable false self arises from the adolescent's perception that the real self is rejected by parents 
 & peers. May cause a sense of worthlessness, depression, & hopelessness. 
 •  The pleasing false self arises from a wish to impress or please others. Quite common. Better than false 
 self arising from rejection. 
 •  The experimental false self arises from the need to "try out" different identities to see how they feel. 
 A.k.a the  possible self. 

Family & Friends

    Adolescence is often a time when the values and behaviors of young people are said to become 
increasingly distant and detached from those of their parents and other adults.


    Generation Gap: The distance between generations in values, behaviors, and knowledge. The gap is 
typically small by objective measures.

    Generational Stake: The need of each generation to view family interactions from its own perspective, 
because each has a different investment in the family scenario.Adolescents have a stake in believing that their parents 
are limited, old-fashioned, and out of touch. This divergence happens with good reason, adolescents do need to break 
free from their parents to find their own way.

Parent- Adolescent Conflict

    Usually occurs when a young persons drive for independence clashes with the parents’ traditions of control. 
Typically emerges in early adolescence particularly with daughters and mothers.

Bickering: repeated petty, peevish arguing, more like nagging than fighting.

Other Family Qualities

Conflict is only one aspect of parent-teen relationships, Other aspects include

    * Control: Parental Monitoring: - Parental awareness of what one’s children are doing, where and with whom. 
         - Too much parental interference & control can be a strong predictor of adolescent depression. 
         - Do parents encourage or limit autonomy?
    * Support - do they rely on each other?
    * Communication - can they talk openly with each other?
    * Connectiveness - How close are they? 


    Relations with peers are vital to the transition from childhood to adulthood. Adolescents help each other 
"grow up" in many ways.

Brown (1990) identified four special, constructive functions performed by peer relationships. They follow.

    * Pubertal self-help - re. physical changes
     * Social support - protection against turmoil
      * Identity formation - mirror
       * Values clarification - sounding board 

    Contrary to Brown's four constructive functions is the notion of Peer Pressure. Peer Pressure is the social 
pressure to conform with one’s friends or contemporaries in behavior, dress, and attitude; usually considered 
negative, as when adolescent peers encourage each other to defy adult standards.

      The idea of peer pressure is exaggerated in three ways:

    * Peer-group pressure is not strong forever, but only for a few years ( to 14).
     * Peer-group conformity is not always destructive it can be constructive.
      * Peer standards are not necessary negative they can be positive. 

    Conflict between peers & family is likely to arise in ethnic groups that revere closeness to family, respect for 
others, and self-sacrifice. These ideals clash with peer group emphasis on adolescent freedom & self-determination. 
It is not surprising that minority individuals often have trouble establishing their identities.

    Boys & Girls will act on their attraction to each other and come together. These romantic relationships augment 
rather than replace same-sex friendships.

Adolescent Suicide

    Ψ  Adolescence is usually an OK time, but for some, serious problems plague this period of life. Unfortunately 
    most adolescence problems have comorbidity. Comorbidity is the presence of one or more disorders (or diseases) in 
    addition to a primary disease or disorder. The term dual diagnosis is often applied to the comorbid existence of both a 
    mental disorder & substance abuse.

    Adolescents think about suicide often - a sign that depression is prevalent during these years.

Ψ  Terms    
    Comorbidity: The presence of one or more disorders (or diseases) in addition to a primary disease 
    or disorder. The term "comorbid" currently has two definitions: 1) to indicate a medical condition existing 
    simultaneously but independently with another condition in a patient (this is the older & more "correct" definition) 
    2) to indicate a medical condition in a patient that causes, is caused by, or is otherwise related to another 
    condition in the same patient (this is a newer, nonstandard definition & less well-accepted).

    Rumination (mental) is contemplation or reflection on a particular topic. If very persistent or repetitively focused on 
    problems, it is thought to play a role in the development of clinical depression. It is more common among females than males.
   Suicidal Ideation: Thinking about suicide, usually with some serious emotional and intellectual overtones.So common 
   that it can be considered "normal"  for teenagers.

    Parasuicide: A deliberate act of self-destruction that does not end in death. Parasuicide can be fleeting, such as 
a small knife mark on the wrist, or potentially lethal, such as swallowing an entire bottle of pills. Usually carried 
out in a state of extreme emotional agitation & confusion.

Ψ  Whether or not suicidal ideation leads to a plan, a parasuicide, or death depends on

    * Availability of lethal means, especially guns
    * Parental supervision
    * Alcohol & other drugs
    * Attitudes about suicide in the culture 
    * Gender

    Note: Adolescent romanticism underlies many cluster suicides.

Ψ  A number of factors have been found to be related to adolescent suicide. Adolescents may have psychological 
problems such as depression, drug related problems, or feeling of helplessness. They may show behavioral 
symptoms , such as antisocial behavior, social isolation & withdrawal, & difficulties with family & peers.

Ψ  Usually suicide is preceded by events or feelings (precipitators) that may include problems with relationships, 
bouts of depression, or drinking (drug usage).

Ψ  Suicide is usually considered an emotional internalizing problem, because completed suicides are the ultimate 
example of self-harm; however, some use suicide to "get-back" at others thus acting outward (externalizing).

    Program proposed by therapists to help identify risk factors & prevent suicide:

     1. Identify risk factors, including depression, drug abuse, previous attempts, recent suicide of a friend & major 
life stressors, such as family turmoil or parental separation.
     2. Crisis management (intervention following a suicide)
     3. Suicide hot-line services (24 - 7)

    Note: Adolescents do NOT have the highest rate of suicide, the elderly because of their often serious health 
problems do.

Breaking the Law

     Psychologists believe that adolescent crime is an indication of the emotional stress that adolescents feel.

     Incidence data reveals that adolescents have the highest criminal arrest rate.

     Prevalence: how widespread within a population a particular behavior is

     Incidence: how often a behavior occurs.

     Adolescents are actually far less often criminals than adults are.
    The term adolescent-limited offender is used for a juvenile delinquent who is likely to become law-abiding 
once adulthood is attained.

     Adolescents commit their crimes most often against other adolescents.

Key Questions

1. What is the difference between foreclosure and negative identity?
2. What is the difference between identity diffusion and moratorium?
3. In what ways can society or culture help adolescents form their identities?
4. Why is identity formation especially difficult for minority group adolescents?
5. What factors correlate with parent-adolescent conflict? Why does each lead to disruption?
6. How do peer and friendship groups aid teenagers?
7. What is peer pressure and how does it affect adolescents' behavior?
8. What gender differences in suicidal ideation, parasuicide, and completed suicide exist? What might explain these differences?
9. What do the incidence & prevalence of delinquency tell us about preventing serious crime?
10. How and why do public attitudes about adolescent suicide and adolescent crime differ from the facts? 
11. In your experience was your adolescence difficult, dangerous, and self destructive? Why or why not?

                                                          Robert C. Gates