Self Identification in Teens

by Ms Shwu Tiinn
0 comment 8 mins read

Have any parents wonder how would you define yourself if you were asked for an introduction? As a mature adult, you might start by introducing your work, your family, your background or even your personal goals. Let’s imagine, if you have gone back in time, the time where you were still focusing on your studies and was at the teenage stage of growing into an adult. Would you define yourself like how you will in the future? Or would you stay the same?


The question of “Who am I” is related to self-identification, where one would define his/herself based on areas like gender, career, role in family, goals, personality etc. The identification is important to maintain one’s character, to know their strengths and weaknesses and to understand the ways one would act in the society. Self-identification develops during the teens’ phase and is often the key on how the teens would think who they are and how they would perceive themselves.

Psychosocial Theory

Erik Erikson’s psychosocial theory is one of the famous developmental theory that talks about identity. In his theory, the lifespan of the individual is divided into eight developmental stages. Individual will encounter crisis occurred at each stage and they would need to resolve the crises before moving from one stage to another. These crises are the results of interaction between the individual and the context: the individual’s interests, motivation, desires and wishes would draw them towards a particular subject and topic, the involvement of the individual in these topic and subjects might or might not contribute to their identity formation.

For instance, the teen is interested in basketball. He had joined the school’s basketball team and had won a basketball competition in the KL region. This positive experience builds up his will to work hard in future matches. Also, he might pursue a sport course after graduating from high school. He identifies himself as a basketball player in school and may want to be one if possible.

According to Erikson’s theory, teens will be facing identity vs role confusion at the adolescent stage (12-18 years old). They would struggle to find their unique self while trying to “fit in” the social groups. For example, the teen’s group of friends enjoy K-Pop (Korean pop) music alot. They will discuss about the songs and singers everyday in school. But the teen prefers J-Pop (Japanese pop) instead. Whenever his/her friends are discussing about K-pop, the teen can only sit by and listen to their discussion. Hence, to be able to join in the conversation, the teen started listening to K-pop music. At the same time, he/she would introduce J-pop songs to the friends. The teen is able to establish his/her own identity and also being able to be accepted by his/her own social circle.

In contrast, teens who are unable to identify who they are and who they want to be may experience role confusion. They face identity crisis and is uncertain about their position in the society. They may have lower self-esteem compared to those who have clear understanding of themselves. As a result, they may be blindly following whatever the majority thinks of and decide on. The long-term suppression of their actual thoughts and desire can make them feel like they are disconnected from people. Continuing with the above example, instead of making an effort to understand the K-pop music and trying to share his/her own interest, the teen did not talk about his love for J-pop. He/she hide his/her interest and just follow whatever conversation or activities that are going on in the group. Gradually, the teen found his/her place in the group  yet there are times where he/she feels lonely as no one can share the same music interest; the teen thinks that he/she is “weird” for listening to non-mainstream (in group) music but the teen is also glad that he/she is able to hide his/her own interest so no one would see him/her as “different” or a “weirdo”.  This habit mindset can affect how the teen behave in school later on and the behaviour will continue until college and in working years.

Social Experiences & Unhealthy Behaviours

Identity formation is a phase that everyone needs to go through, yet it can only happen if we actively explore social experiences. For instance, they learn about their subjects or career goals by involving in curriculum activities and interest clubs; they learn about making and maintaining friendships by meeting new people and staying in contact with old friends; they learn about falling in love and being in a relationship; they also learn about how to interact with families when growing up as an adult.

However, not all social experiences are safe. They may encounter unhealthy behaviours such as smoking, drugs, sex, drinking, uncontrollable dieting etc. These acts can lead to damage in their physical and mental health such as addiction, anorexia, bulimia and more. Hence, it is utterly important for parents to decide when and when not to allow the teens to experience the risks.

  • Respect the teen’s opinions and choices

Parents can do so by knowing what activities/events the teens are trying to involve in and what is the event about. Parents can suggest some opinions so that they will be more expose to different ideas. In between, parents can help teens to weigh up pros and cons of their behaviours and what can be the best possible solutions. However, parents should let the teens to make the final decision as these are the teen’s personal experiences.

  • Establish family rules

When establishing family rules, parents can let teens join in so that they will know why these rules are made to be followed. Also, it is a way to deepen the understanding between both parties. For example, smoking is prohibited in the family. If the rule is broken, both parties should bear the consequences. This will help the teens to develop a sense of responsibility, to always think further and to know what is okay and what is not okay when gaining experiences.

Article by Lam Hoi Mun (MSc Applied Behaviour Analysis)

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