Who Am I?

   Written by on June 1, 2017 at 10:22 am
Cheryl Gowin and Dennis Gowin.  Call us at our counseling practice with your feedback, comments, issues, or questions at 434-808-2637.

Cheryl Gowin and Dennis Gowin.  Call us at our counseling practice with your feedback, comments, issues, or questions at 434-808-2637.

Do you feel like your teenager is struggling to define who he or she is?  Is he or she searching for a unique identity?  In the 1940’s, psychologist Erik Erikson researched the development of personal identity and its effect on emotional health.  Through his studies, Erikson determined that the search for identity is a teenager’s primary focus.

The challenges presented during the teen years make the establishment of an identity a difficult task.  Physical changes can make your teen feel like he or she has undergone a metamorphosis overnight.  Social changes, like moving from middle school to high school, can make your teens feel their world has undergone a seismic shift.  Even though it may not seem like it, a teen’s cognitive ability is growing and improving.  As a teen matures, his or her thinking changes and allows for a deeper view of life.  This can be a very unsettling event for a teen.

There are several common elements in a teen’s search for identity.  Your role as a parent is to help your teen develop their personal identity without over focusing on the elements of their identity.

Developing a personal style.  Teens are developing a personal style.  Teens’ identity includes wanting to wear just certain styles of clothes and having the right possessions, from cell phones, to headphones, to sneakers.  The goal is to define personal style without developing a need for prestige through status symbols.

Exhibiting adult behaviors.  A teen’s identity means moving from acting as a child to acting like an adult.  Teens begin this process by engaging in practices they associate with adulthood.  Some actions are helpful, such as getting a job and paying for their own expenses.  A teen’s attempt to act like an adult may include misguided “adult-like” behavior.  The goal is to not move to unhealthy behavior such as smoking, drinking alcohol, or use of drugs.

Demanding independence.  Separating from parental authority is a normal part of the growth through the teen years.  Teens show their growing sense of identity by differentiating themselves from parents and authority figures.  However, independence can grow from healthy independence to rebellion.  Rebellion becomes significant when attitudes and behavior begin to isolate a teen.  Although teens often move away from family roles, the family influence on identity is crucial.  The goal is to maintain healthy family influence and for the teen to maintain a healthy connection with parents and siblings while developing independence.

A parent’s task is to notice when a teen needs help.  Teens will test roles and boundaries.  This is natural.  This exploration can lead to healthy emotional development or to unfortunate conflicts.  Establishing an identity is not an easy process.  There are difficult and confusing choices at every step of the way.  Identity struggles can contribute to a teenager developing significant emotional problems.  Defiance, rage, anxiety, and depression can emerge.  These factors can result in destructive behavior, the most extreme being suicide, which is the third leading cause of death for teens.  It is important to detect these problems early and take action.

You can help your teens discover the most stable aspects of their identity by becoming aware of what they are going through, the ways in which they attempt to mold their identities and being a strong role model by showing your patience.  You can also help by guiding your teen to the right setting to build his or her identity.  A great example of health setting for teens is YoungLife.  At YoungLife, your teen has an opportunity to incorporate faith in their search for identity.

Providing a portrait of healthy adulthood, patience, and prayer will help your teen develop a healthy identity.

Be honest in your estimate of yourselves, measuring your value by how much faith God has given you.  Just as there are many parts to our bodies, so it is with Christ’s body.  We are all parts of it, and it takes every one of us to make it complete, for we each have different work to do.  So we belong to each other, and each needs all the others.  God has given each of us the ability to do certain things well.  Romans 12:3-6

Call us with your feedback, comments, issues, or questions; our phone number is 434-808-2637.

About Cheryl & Dennis Gowin

Cheryl Gowin, Counselor and Dennis Gowin, Director of Discovery Counseling Center. Contact us with your feedback, comments, issues or questions at 434-808-2426 or dgowin@discoverycounseling.org.


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