Adolescents: Finding Your Identity

As adolescents make the challenging journey from childhood towards adulthood one of their tasks is to find their identity.

Being age fourteen is recycling age two so there is a lot of saying “no” and being oppositional that goes with the teen years. For that two-year-old and the adolescent the “no’s” are about defining themselves and asserting their power. They are in a process of separating themselves from what their parents want from them.

It is a trying time for parents as the things their teens are opposing are often the values they hold dear. Things like attending church, appropriate dress, show respect towards elders and those in authority.  

The message from the teen is that, “I am not YOU!” It is hard for parents to not feel rejected because they, or at least their values are being rejected. Hold onto yourself and your values. And to do your best to not take things too personally. Hold the belief that your child is going through another stage of development and they will come out the other side.

This is also the time where adolescents may choose friends or groups to associate with that you do not approve of. It is wise for parents to not protest too much as that will propel your offspring to choose to be with them even more. They are looking for a strong negative reaction to reinforce that their choices are not the choices you would make.

Teens act out their feelings. And at this stage they have a lot of them. Expect more bouts of anger, anxiety, or the suppression of feelings that can show up as depression. Be watchful and seek professional help as they often can use someone to talk to about their struggles who is not their parent. This is part of the same struggle for independence where they are separating by expressing a need to not need your input or guidance. Even as they doubt themselves they will often respond to any inquiry with, “I’m fine, “nothing’s wrong” or the classic, “leave me alone.”

Often teens will disclose their struggles to someone outside the family. If other adults in their world can be there to support them and lend an ear that is good. That can be a favorite teacher, a coach, or other mentor who is not invested in them in the same way and the teen can feel will hear them without the judgement they can feel from parents.

If possible support the adolescent in exploring what the world has to offer and encourage them to volunteer to help out at a food bank, theater, music programs and the like where they can see if part of their identity is about being a helper to others, an artist, a future programmer, etc.

In a mythic sense, adolescence is a time for “the death of the old and the birth of the new.”

So, they are separating from their childhood and claiming a new identity as an adult. They are casting off0 some of the sense of dependence they have had on their parents. That is part of what is “dying.” It is also a time of morning, grief for parents as they wonder where their snuggly kid went. It is also a time of growth into a new sense of self and as they sort out who they want to be they are finding the elements of who they want to become.

As “good endings beget good beginnings” it is important that parents let go of the need for their adolescent stay the sweet kid and allow them to explore their new identity as they grow toward adulthood. They will return to the closeness that existed before but from a more clear adult place.

Click here to read more about adolescent counseling.