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Post from Jerah

Teenagers and their quest for identity

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In today’s world it is easy to see the search for identity in the world of kids, if you look carefully. They are trying different color hair, different tattoos, different personas, different friend groups, different hobbies, clubs at school, etc. There actually isn’t much in their life that is not constantly changing; some dictated by their own actions and some simply created by their circumstances of family, school, etc. So much is in flux for them, it is important that they have a focal point. Similarly, when you are spinning around in circles, you need something to hold your gaze, so you don’t completely lose who you are and where you are in the current moment.

 

However, this complex process of identity-seeking can often leave parents very confused as to what they are thinking, what they are truly trying to accomplish, and how destructive the pattern will become before intervention is needed. One of the first things I learned as a psychology major is Erikson’s stages of development. He explains that kids in their in preteen and teenage years are going through a stage called "identity versus role confusion", which they move through from age 12 to 18. This huge gap in age means this stage is starting to bud around age 12 and could even continue after age 18, as research is telling us that the age of adolescence is actually extending longer for kids.

 

This stage is a very crucial part of children's development. It will either stabilize them or lead them to a lifetime of searching for who they are and what they want to be about. What are they searching for, you ask? The good news is it is something you can provide for them in their own homes. Belonging and acceptance. Kids are trying to find people in their world who will accept them and understand them - where they are in that moment. Not the future version of themselves, the present version of themselves. They are trying out all kinds of interests, personalities, and ideas, exploring what is accepted and what is not. This may look alarming from the outside, of course, but not if you know what they are seeking. This sense of belonging is crucial for them to know that you are loving them right where they are in the thick of things. That does not mean there should not be boundaries, consequences and limits.  But it does mean that despite everything that happened in their day, they can count on coming home and being a valuable part of the family, no matter what. Of course, if you say this to a teenager, they will most likely roll their eyes and say- “No, I just felt like dying my hair today".  But, that may be because they don’t want you to have figured them out so quickly ;) But you can simply smile knowingly, and think through how you can ensure they feel your true affection and acceptance of them. One of my favorite pastors, Matt Chandler, always says, “You have to love the kid you have, not the kid you wish you had.” Something I often say to parents and families. This of course is very difficult since your dreams and hope for your child exceed their wildest imaginations, but they are also trying to communicate to you who they want to be, and it's important to listen to that.

 

***Disclaimer: This blog is the opinion of an individual and does not constitute professional advice or a professional relationship to the reader. If you are seeking mental health services, please contact a therapist in your area. If you are experiencing an emergency, please go to the nearest hospital or call 911.***