“It’s a Phase”
It is no surprise that people go through stages in life. People often make comments about the teenager who is “going through a phase.” Developmental psychologist Erik Erikson furthered the work of his colleagues by identifying standard stages children and adults confront as they age.
All of the stages he described are important, but successful resolution of conflicts in earlier stages of life provide all but necessary qualities for resolution of later stages.
Identity vs. Role Confusion
By 12- to 18-years-old, children have the basic ability to observe themselves from another person’s perspective. They begin asking themselves “who am I?” Adolescents and teenagers appropriately explore options for identity.
Peers become some of the most influential people in adolescents’ and teenagers’ lives, and teens search for their place in their social networks. The cliché cliques in high school demonstrate the differentiation teenagers are searching for in identities. Those differentiations seem to provide clarity and comfort for children.
Most of us can relate to this period if we reflect on the different ways we may have tried to fit in with friends during those years. Have you looked back at a picture from those years and cringed? Most of us have!
Although this stage is a normal part of development, the outcomes can vary. Erikson theorized that young adults leaving this stage do so with either a sense of identity or a confusion about who they are.
Most mental health professionals agree that exploration of identities is healthy. It allows children make decisions about who they want to be as people. This provides direction for future pursuits and an organized sense of themselves. However, if exploration does not resolve for some reason or is restricted in some way, it may result in what Erikson termed “role confusion.” An individual with role confusion may feel insecure about himself, struggle to commit himself to something, and struggle to accept others with ideological differences. Furthermore, he may struggle to resolve future stages of development.
How to Help
As parents, you can help your child by allowing some exploration in identity. I am not advocating for allowing your child to do anything that will be damaging. However, I do suggest avoiding getting into power struggles about clothing or music that you just don’t like.
Sometimes adolescents and teens may demonstrate problematic levels of worrying, sadness, irritability, and other symptoms of anxiety and depression during this phase. As a psychologist, I specialize in working with adolescents and teenagers struggling in this phase of their life. Psychotherapy is a process in which a teenager can learn to develop a positive sense of self to set the strong foundation needed to resolve the challenges that come next… and for many, that is college.
At Restorative Psychological Services, we offer individual therapy and parent training to help parents and children improve their lives and their relationships. We are a psychotherapy practice devoted to helping adolescents, teens, and adults find more ease in their lives. We serve Waldwick, Ridgewood, Upper Saddle River, Ho-Ho-Kus, and the rest of Bergen County and Northern New Jersey.