Helping Teens Answer the Question "Who Am I?": Social Development

By — University of Florida IFAS Extension
Updated on Jul 26, 2007

The journey from childhood to adolescence is very challenging. Between the ages of 10 and 17 there are major changes in physical, cognitive, social, and moral development. The major task for adolescents is to establish their self-identity. By determining--as best they can--a sense of who they are, they attempt to find a group that reflects or reinforces this self-identity. The group allows them to feel that they stand out from the crowd. This phase of development allows the adolescent to search for their sense of self. This is in order to answer the increasingly important question that they could not consider in earlier stages of development: "Who am I?"

Social Development

The next phase of adolescent development that is occurring at this same time is that of the teens social development. With the help of cognitive development, they begin to form an organized system of personality traits. These traits allow them to form a self-concept. Self-concept is a set of attributes, abilities, attitudes, and values that an adolescent believes defines who he or she is. The ability to think in new ways allows them to add new aspects of self-esteem (how they feel about their "self"). This can occur through life experiences such as learning to do a job, romantic appeal, and close friendships.

Self-esteem continues to rise during adolescence. As they gain confidence and self-awareness, they begin forming a self-identity. This sense of self makes them more comfortable with others. How they develop as a person is based on their perceptions of organized character sketches. These sketches come together through new perspective taking. This happens largely as the result of their social interactions. They become more able to develop friendships that are based on loyalty and intimacy. These are different than their younger friendships, which are based more on mutual trust and assistance. These social milestones occur slowly over time. Social experiences allow them to take on new adult-like behaviors. Remember, they are trying to learn how to function in a more grown-up world.

Peers and Friends/ Friends and Family

Peers are people who have certain aspects of their status in common, such as being the same age. For adolescents, peers can be a term used for other adolescents that make up a large network of their classmates, community members, or coworkers who are about the same age. Friends tend to be an adolescents peers, people who are about the same age, but all peers may not be friends. Friends are those peers that an adolescent has developed a valued, mutual relationship with (Arnett, 2001).

An interesting fact relating to adolescence is that as time spent with family decreases, the amount of conflict with parents increases (Larson & Richards, 1994). The level of warmth and closeness between parents and their children also typically declines during adolescence. All this usually results in adolescents moving away from spending time with their families and spending more time with their friends. This time is spent not only during the school day, but after school, in the evenings, on weekends, and even during summer breaks.

In fact, time spent with family decreases by about half from 5th to 9th grade, then drops even more from 9th to 12th grade. Time spent with friends increases. Time spent alone also increases, especially for boys. One study found that the average time adolescents ages 13-16 years old spend with their parents was only 28 minutes a day! Time spent with friends, however, was four times greater at 103 minutes per day (Buhrmester & Carbery, 1992).

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