Identity Development in Adolescence
Psychologically, all adolescents need room to grow and safe places to test their newly emerging selves. Using knowledge of the processes of exploration and commitment as a framework, counselors can start the assessment process by considering how the particular adolescent before them is going about meeting her needs for autonomy, relatedness, and competence. The ways in which adolescents try to meet each of these needs will look very different at age 14 than they did at age 8. Some teenage behaviors seem strange and annoying, but they might not be dangerous. Helping parents and others sort this out can be very helpful. In other cases when alternatives may be lacking, teenagers might try to meet their fundamental needs in ways that are potentially harmful. Helping adolescents find healthy and developmentally appropriate routes for expressing independence, for feeling part of a social group, and for experiencing satisfaction in accomplishment provides a sound basis for helping.
Based upon the material presented in this chapter, counselors should also keep in mind that the teenage years are a time of active exploration. Striving to make early college decisions or committing to a career path while in high school may be developmentally inappropriate goals for many adolescents who lack the life experience necessary to make personally meaningful choices. Although teenagers who make these decisions may appear mature to observers and may establish themselves as role models for their peers, their behavior may actually reflect a pseudo-maturity that is more akin to premature foreclosure in certain domains, such as vocational identity.
As we have seen, a certain amount of egocentrism appears to go with the adolescent territory. It is often quite a bit easier for parents and other adults to respond authoritatively, with love and limits, to children when they are young. Something in the nature of their open dependence makes adults feel needed, valued, and important. The task often gets harder during the teenage years, at least in cultures and families that value independence and opportunities for personal expression. Being an adult authority figure in an adolescent’s life may entail some hard times, when love and patience are put to the test. Sometimes adolescents’ self-absorption seems impenetrable. In what may mirror adolescents’ own sense of separateness, adults also can feel isolated.
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