Identity Development during Adolescence

Social and Emotional Development during Adolescence

Learning Objectives: Social and Emotional Development in Adolescence

  • Summarize the primary psychosocial task of adolescence – identity versus role confusion.
  • What are the four identity statuses Marcia posits?
  • In what domains does identity development take place?
  • What is the nature of the typical parent-teen relationship during adolescence?
    • Discuss the importance of autonomy and attachment in parent-teen relationships.
  • Explain the importance of peers in adolescence.

Developmental Task of Adolescence: Identity vs. Role Confusion

Erikson believed that the primary psychosocial task of adolescence was establishing an identity. As formal operational thinking unfolds, bringing with it adolescent self-consciousness and the ability to reflect on one’s own attributes and behaviors, teens often struggle with the question “Who am I?” This includes questions regarding their appearance, vocational choices and career aspirations, education, relationships, sexuality, political and social views, personality, and interests. Erikson saw this as a period of uncertainty, confusion, exploration, experimentation, and learning regarding identity and one’s life path. Erikson suggested that most adolescents experience psychological moratorium, where teens put on hold commitment to an identity while exploring their options. The culmination of this exploration is a more coherent view of oneself. Those who are unsuccessful at resolving this stage may either withdraw further into social isolation or become lost in the crowd. However, more recent research, suggests that few leave the adolescent period with identity achievement, and that for most of us the process of identity formation continues all during the years of emerging and young adulthood (Côtè, 2006).

Exploration and commitment. Expanding on Erikson’s theory, James Marcia (2010) identified two key processes of identity development: exploration and commitment. By exploration, he meant the processes though which youth imagine, consider, try out, and try on different possible facets of their identity, experimenting with a variety of attitudes, looks, activities, friends, school subjects, and hobbies. If you happen to have photos of yourself at ages 13, 14, 15, and 16, you may see some pretty big changes in the way you were dressing and acting at those ages. Those different “personas” you were trying on, that would be a process of exploration. Exploration of different facets of identity may also be staggered over the adolescent, emerging adulthood, and early adult years (and beyond) as you initially work on appearance, attitude, and friendships, and then move on to romantic relationships and vocation. Commitment refers to a consolidation and acceptance of who you truly are, as you begin to recognize, understand, and feel comfortable with your multi-faceted authentic self, both in its individual facets (e.g., of personality, sexual orientation, ethnic/racial, gender identity, and so on) and in an overall picture of how each of those dimensions of identity fit together, complement each other, and are integrated (e.g., how your sexual orientation fits with your religious beliefs). You can see why the process of commitment is an ongoing work in progress for so many years!

Marcia identified four identity statuses that represent the four possible combinations of the dimensions of commitment and exploration (see Table 7.3). You can think of them as snapshots of where adolescents and young adults are in the identity development process at any given moment.

Table 7.3 Marcia's Four Identity Statuses

Commitment to an identity Absent Present
Absent Identity Diffusion Identity Moratorium
Present Identity Foreclosure Identity Achievement

adapted from Lally & Valentine-French, 2019

The least mature status, and one common in many children, is identity diffusion. Identity diffusion is a status that characterizes those who have neither explored their options, nor made a commitment to an identity. Those who persist in this identity throughout adolescence and young adulthood have basically not taken on the crucial developmental task of grappling with who they are and who they want to become, so they run the risk of drifting aimlessly with little connection to those around them or having little sense of purpose in life.

Figure 7.10. Identity development

Those in identity foreclosure have made a commitment to an identity without having explored the options. Some parents may make these decisions for their children and do not grant their teen the opportunity to participate in these choices. In other instances, teens may strongly identify with parents and others in their life and wish to follow in their footsteps. The potential problems with foreclosure are twofold. On the one hand, without active exploration, the adolescent or young adult may have missed the opportunity to really get to know themselves– their passions, preferences, and interests in life. Without this information, they may make a commitment to a (vocational, sexual, political, etc.) identity that is not really a good fit for their true self. On the other hand, even if the identity to which they are committed is authentic, it is possible that, without active and intentional consideration of multiple alternatives, their commitment may not be as strong or durable.

Identity moratorium is a status that describes those who are activity exploring in an attempt to construct an identity but have yet to make any commitment. This can be an anxious and emotionally tense time as the adolescent experiments with different roles and explores various beliefs. Nothing is certain and there are many questions, but few answers. As discussed later, identity development is a highly social process, influenced by parents, extended family, peers, friends, classmates, teachers, coaches, mentors, social media, and societal messages. For many adolescents, aspects of their identity are not necessarily viewed as acceptable by these social partners. For example, an adolescent who has a passion for art and theatre is part of an extended family who expects her to go into medicine or business. Such mismatches between internal information about who you feel you really are and what the social world wants you to be can extend the period of moratorium for specific aspects of identity development, while the adolescent or young adult attempts to negotiate and reconcile these mismatches.

Identity achievement refers to those who after exploration have made a commitment. This is a long process and, as mentioned previously, is not typically achieved by the end of adolescence.

Changes in identity status. During high school and the college years, teens and young adults move from identity diffusion and foreclosure toward moratorium and achievement. The biggest gains in the development of identity typically take place in college, as college students are exposed to a greater variety of career choices, lifestyles, and beliefs. Exposure to so many  alternatives is likely to spur questions regarding identity. A great deal of the identity work we do in adolescence and young adulthood is about values and goals, as we strive to articulate a personal vision or dream for what we hope to accomplish in the future (McAdams, 2013). During these later periods, emerging adults also focus some of their energy in the task of identity development on achieving more coherence and integration among the different facets of one’s identity, striving to fit passions (like music) into a vocation that will support them financially, or finding a balance between family, school, and work.

Even after an identity has been established, life events during adulthood and even into old age can reignite the process of identity development. For example, when a middle-aged man loses his job and it seems as if that line of work is being phased out, he may begin the process of reimagining a new vocational identity. Or when a middle-aged woman’s children move out of the house, she may begin to rekindle the parts of her identity that were fascinated by creative writing or building a business. Retirement is a common time for couples to figure out who they want to be and what they want to do in the next chapter of their lives.

Because identity development can be considered an ongoing process that we revisit and re-examine at many times in our lives, researchers have given this process its own name:  MAMA cycling or moving back and forth between moratorium and achievement. This cycling between exploration and achievement is common in identity formation (Grotevant, 1987) and considered a normal and healthy process of development.

What is Identity?

One of the fascinating things about human psychology is our ability to reflect on ourselves as objects of our own thinking. We have seen how this ability makes it possible, starting in early childhood, to have thoughts about the self and to develop a self-concept that includes the “I” self and the “Me” self. In adolescence, our thinking about ourselves begins to involve more abstract categories and characteristics. Identity occurs in multiple areas of our life. These domains include academic, religious, ethnic, and social identity. Identity encompasses our personal preferences and characteristics and our group memberships.

Identity has been described as the individual’s answer to the question, “Who am I?” It has been depicted as a mental structure or representation of the self. But identity is only partially about who and what we are. It also includes what we do, what we like, and even how we feel. So identity is more than a mental model. It is full of meanings, emotions, desires, and goals.  Identity is only partially stable, because it is also flexible across situations and malleable over time. Identity is somewhat like a thing and a lot like a process. It is our conceptualization of a network of associations and mental events that we use to think about and talk about ourselves and other people.

The multiple personal and social identities we hold play out in a variety of domains and situations in complex ways. One way in which we incorporate the social world into our views of ourselves is through our positionality in the social hierarchies in our society. This suggests that a useful approach to understanding this complexity and unraveling some of the interconnections is to examine identity in terms of the intersections between aspects of our positions, such as where we fall in terms of race, gender, and class (Crenshaw, 1989; 1991). From this perspective, it is the intersection among our positions on these hierarchies (as well as others, such as immigrant and disability status, age, and so on) that influence our experiences (e.g., the conditions under which we live, the opportunities we enjoy, and how we are treated) as well as how we see ourselves (based in part on society’s messages about our value). For example, the experiences of black women may be different in many ways from those of black men. And the experiences of rich black women will be different from those lower in socioeconomic status. These experiences involve overlapping and interacting systems of social structure and meaning, where layers of identity are not just additive or compounded, but instead create specific niches that are emergent and unique (as well as changing as society’s prejudices and hierarchies shift). The intersectionality approach has been applied in research on identity processes, antecedents, and consequences, and has resulted in many fascinating and unexpected empirical findings.

Some researchers who study the self insist that it is not a fixed entity or trait at all, but instead a dynamic system that is held in place partly by our beliefs that it is real. From this perspective, a possible direction for identity development would be to “get over” or “transcend” the ego-centric idea of a unitary isolated self, and expand one’s dynamic agentic presence to connect with other people, the natural world, and the past and future. What a mind-blowing idea!

Facets of Identity Development

Developmental psychologists have researched multiple different areas of identity development. Some of the main areas include:

  • Figure 7.11

    Ethnic-Racial identity refers to how people come to terms with who they are based on their ethnic and/or racial ancestry. “The task of ethnic identity formation involves sorting out and resolving positive and negative feelings and attitudes about one’s own ethnic group and about other groups and identifying one’s place in relation to both” (Phinney, 2006, p. 119). When groups differ in status in a culture, those from the non-dominant group are typically cognizant of the customs and values of those from the dominant culture. The reverse is rarely the case. This makes ethnic-racial identity far less salient for members of the dominant culture. In the United States, those of European ancestry engage in less exploration of ethnic-racial identity, than do those of non-European ancestry (Phinney, 1989). However, according to the U.S. Census (2012) more than 40% of Americans under the age of 18 are from ethnic and racial minorities. For many ethnic and racial minority teens, discovering one’s ethnic-racial identity is an important part of identity formation.

  • Cultural/Bicultural/Multiracial Identity. Ethnic minorities must wrestle with the question of how, and to what extent, they will identify with the culture of their family and with the dominant culture of the surrounding society. Phinney (2006) suggests that people may handle this negotiation in different ways. Some may keep these identities separate, others may combine them in some way, while others may reject some of them. Bicultural identity means the individual sees himself or herself as part of both the ethnic minority group and the larger society. Those who are multiracial, that is whose parents come from two or more ethnic or racial groups, have a more challenging task in current society. In some cases, their appearance may be ambiguous. This can lead to others constantly asking them to categorize themselves. Phinney (2006) notes that the process of identity formation may start earlier and take longer to accomplish in those who are not mono-racial. For both multicultural and multiracial adolescents, the task of identity development is made more complicated by society’s current difficulty in recognizing these identities as legitimate. Some adolescents are continually asked “No, which one are you really?” or are categorized according to their phenotypic appearance. Sometimes their identity is challenged if they do not embody the prototype of a category (e.g., are not fluent in their heritage language). Luckily, society is starting to shift in its understanding of multi-ethnic, -racial, and -cultural identities, as seen, for example, in questions about race/ethnicity, where people are allowed to “check all that apply” instead of being forced to select only one category.

It is also important to note that those who do commit to an ethnic-racial identity may periodically reexamine the issues of race and ethnicity. It is especially common to do so when you have children, at which time you may reflect on the values, history, and traditions of your ethnic and racial heritage that you wish to pass on to your children. This cycling between exploration and achievement is common not only for racial and ethnic identity formation, but in other aspects of identity development (Grotevant, 1987) and as mentioned previously is referred to as MAMA cycling or moving back and forth between moratorium and achievement.

  • Gender identity: Acquiring a gender identity is becoming an increasingly prolonged task as attitudes and norms regarding gender keep changing. The roles appropriate for males and females are evolving, and the lack of a gender binary allow adolescents more freedom to explore various aspects of gender. Some teens may foreclose on a gender identity as a way of dealing with this uncertainty, and they may adopt more stereotypic male or female roles (Sinclair & Carlsson, 2013). For youth who attend college, exposure to a wider variety of options and role models may allow them to re-open questions about their own gender identity, initiating further exploration and new commitments.
  • Sexual identity: According to Carroll (2016), by age 14 most adolescents become interested in intimate relationships, and they may begin sexual experimentation. Many adolescent feel pressure to express interest in opposite-sex relationships, even if they are not ready to do so. This pressure can be especially stressful for those adolescents who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or questioning their sexual identity. Many non-heterosexual adolescents struggle with negative peer and family reactions during their exploration. A lack of parental acceptance can have especially adverse effects on the gay, lesbian or bisexual adolescent’s emerging sexual identity, and can result in feelings of self-doubt, depression, and alienation. In cases where families are unsupportive, adolescents may seek support from online communities or wait until they leave home to work on this aspect of their identity. In contrast, adolescents whose families and peers support open exploration of their sexual identities have better psychological and mental health outcomes.
  • Vocational identity. While adolescents in earlier generations envisioned themselves as working in a particular job, and often worked as an apprentice or part-time in such occupations as teenagers, this is rarely the case today. Vocational identity takes longer to develop, as most of today’s occupations require specific skills and knowledge that will require additional education or are acquired on the job itself. In addition, many of the jobs held by teens are not in occupations that most teens will seek as adults. Rapid changes in the nature of employment, and the fact that most adults will hold multiple jobs over their working lives, also suggest that this identity may be re-negotiated several times over the lifespan.
  • Religious identity. Adolescence is a time when teens normatively question their participation in religious practices. At the same time, most teens end up adopting religious views that are similar to those of their families (Kim-Spoon, Longo, & McCullough, 2012). Most teens may question specific customs, practices, or ideas in the faith of their parents, but few completely reject the religion of their families.
  • Political identity. The political ideology of teens is also influenced by their parents’ political beliefs. A new trend in the 21st century is a decrease in party affiliation among adults. Many adults do not align themselves with either the Democratic or Republican parties but view themselves as more of an “independent.” Their teenage children are often following suit or become more apolitical (Côtè, 2006). Trends in voting among young adults suggest that most of them are questioning whether it is meaningful to participate in the current political system.
  • Negative Identity. A negative identity is the adoption of norms and values that are the opposite of one’s family and culture, and it is assumed to be one of the more problematic outcomes of identity development in young people (Hihara, Umemura, & Sigimura, 2019). Those with a negative identity hold dichotomous beliefs, and consequently divide the world into two categories (e.g., friend or foe, good or bad). Hihara et al. suggest that this may be because teens with a negative identity cannot integrate information and beliefs that exist in both their inner and outer world. In addition, those with a negative identity are generally hostile and cynical toward society, often because they do not trust the world around them. These beliefs may lead teens to engage in delinquent and criminal behavior and prevent them from engaging in more positive prosocial acts that could be beneficial to society

Developmental Processes in the Task of Identity Formation

As we discussed in the class on gender identity, all these features of identity have their start in early childhood, as children are taught to make distinctions among identity-relevant categories (e.g., male vs. female or Black vs. Latinx) and then locate themselves among those categories. During early childhood, these processes, sometimes called identification, are largely declarative and descriptive, as children figure out who belongs to which “club” and the concrete differences in club members’ appearance, behaviors, activities, and equipment (e.g., toys, games). Although children notice differences in valence, status, and privileges, it is as if youngsters are just taking notes and not necessarily reflecting on or evaluating the categories to which they have been assigned or the differences in treatment they observe and experience.

However, as the cognitive developments of formal operations begin to emerge during adolescence, thinking becomes more abstract, psychological, complex, and integrated. With increased skills at perspective taking, adolescents are more able to see themselves through the eyes of imagined others, which also makes them more self-aware, self-conscious, self-evaluative, and prone to social comparison. It is as if, during the shift to formal operations, adolescents “wake up” to these features and categories of identity, and how they are viewed in society. This newfound awareness imbues them with deeply personal meaning, value, and emotion. Depending on the messages that children and adolescents have received about their attributes and the categories to which they belong, the process of negotiating an identity can be more or less complex and rocky.

Although the development of an identity of one’s own seems like a very personal and private task, it is also highly social, shaped as much by external and interpersonal factors as it is by internal intrapersonal ones. In fact, we can say that this task is negotiated at the nexus between internal and external forces. Internally, adolescents have access to their history of interests, preferences, impulses, proclivities, temperament, and intrinsic motivations, in other words, all the interactions that provide them with information about the nature of their genuine and authentic self. These experiences are now evaluated more analytically and translated into psychological constructs, like personality traits or values, that are nominated for inclusion into a personal identity. At the same time, this information, much of which is based on social interactions and experiences, is filtered through the lens of the messages adolescents receive about the salience and value of these attributes and identity categories. Society even has opinions about what categories are available for use in constructing identities, for example, as mentioned previously, society is only just catching up with categories like multiracial or multicultural, and multiple genders and sexualities. Close relationships, including relationships with parents, siblings, and other family members, play a major role and as children approach and go through adolescence, peers, friends, and classmates play increasingly important roles as well.

Strands of identity development. The task of identity development is complex because it involves the integration of three different strands.

  1. First, adolescents are seeking an identity that is authentic, that is, that reflects their true and genuine self. From this perspective, their identity needs to correspond with information they are receiving about themselves from deep temperamental, emotional, and motivational processes– what they like (to do, play, learn about, read, etc.), how they spontaneously react to various situations, their interests and passions, their gifts and faults. To be satisfying, a personal identity needs to be anchored in what is real and true about an adolescent’s individuality. This first strand could be labeled “Who I discover myself to be,” with the goal of “To thine own self be true.”

    How Do I Know What My “Authentic Self” Really Is?

    It is not easy to come to know our true selves. By the time we start thinking about these questions in adolescence, we already have many years and hundreds of thousands of experiences incorporated into our multi-faceted view of who we are. These include information from our true selves, but they are wrapped in layers of messages and social evaluations we have experienced and observed.

    When people wonder about the nature of their “real” and “true” self, researchers sometimes send them back to photos and memories of their 10-year-old selves. At that age, many of our actual characteristics and interests are at the surface, because we have not yet developed the self-consciousness that tells us to hide features of who we really are in order to fit in. As adults are doing identity work, they can sometimes be aided by photos of their 10-year-old selves, often fully and unself-consciously expressing a range of opinions, interests, and identities, and bursting with confidence. Photos and memories of that time period can serve as guides about what it might mean to be truly authentic.

    Other people can “get in touch with themselves” through creative acts, like journaling about your thoughts and feelings, expressing yourself by writing songs or short stories, painting, reading or improvisational theatre. Another interesting activity is the illustrated discovery journal, where you just find photos, drawings, poems, or sayings that speak to you, and put them into a collage, journal, or sketchbook. These images and words, collected for no reason other than you like them, can provide windows that help you get to know yourself better.

    Other people get to know themselves through activities. They look for ways to be involved in the world that seem fun and meaningful, like gardening, building houses for Habitat for Humanity, dropping into the community center and taking a class, or volunteering somewhere. The most important aspect here is to look at options until you find something that resonates– something you really want to do. That impulse saying, “Wow, that would be fun, I really want to do that,” can be seen as a message from your true self. And don’t worry, since your true self is developing too, you will have plenty of time to get re-acquainted over and over again!

  2. At the same time however, there is a second strand, now available to adolescents through their new-found perspective-taking skills. This set of processes is based on social desirability and acceptance– what others (real and imagined) think about me, my personality, appearance, interests, and societal categories (gender, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, class, and so on). This strand involves adolescents coming to grips with the societal messages that they have already learned about these various attributes and categories. Up to now, the catalogues of social evaluations children have experienced and observed have been understood as largely descriptive (e.g., society likes their girls pretty and their boys strong), but now they are becoming deeply personal and meaningful– “Am I pretty enough?” “Am I strong enough?” Adolescents are tasked with constructing an identity that is socially acceptable, one that family, friends, classmates, teachers, online communities, and society at large will validate as “good.” If the first strand is labeled, “Who I think I am,” then this second strand can be called, “Who others think I am” or more precisely, “Who I think others think I am.”
  3. The third strand of identity is kind of a “35,000-foot view” of both of these strands and how they fit together. It consists of a summative personal and social evaluation of this whole identity that the adolescent has put together– “Do I feel good about myself?” You can see how these three strands can be in tension or conflict, and how fitting them together might require some active negotiation. This is especially true when authentic characteristics of children (like their sexual orientation, appearance, ethnic background, disability status, or grand passions) are stigmatized, devalued, or evaluated by society as “less than,” or even dismissed as non-existent (e.g., gender fluidity or transgender identities). Adolescents are faced with an impossible choice: They can either be true to themselves or create an identity that is socially valued. Initially it seems that all the options here are problematic. Adolescents can deny or dismiss the parts of themselves that society devalues, leading to a socially-acceptable identity that, from the adolescents’ internal perspective feels hollow or fake. Unsatisfying and inauthentic. Or they can be true to themselves, accept society’s judgements about people like themselves, and conclude that this self they have been handed is authentic but inferior. In this case, we can say that adolescents have internalized the stigma and biases imposed by families, friends, or society in general.

However, there are other options for healthy identity development. For adolescents to successfully negotiate these dilemmas, they need local social contexts that believe and communicate messages that are very different from the ones broadcast by society more generally. These are messages such as “girl power,” the treasure of racial and ethnic heritage and tradition, LGBTQ+ pride, disability rights, and the inherent value and worth of all people. Parents and families play key roles in these efforts, by providing racial and ethnic (gender, sexual, religious, disability, etc.) socialization that counteracts biased messages, instills pride, and teaches children about histories of struggle against unjust treatment and discriminatory social narratives. Such socialization allows youth to externalize harmful societal messages, and come to view these characteristics as badges of honor, motivating them to affiliate with similar others and to participate in social justice movements. When families of origin are not supportive, young adults often create their own “families of choice” when they leave home. These families can include older adult mentors and role models, peers and close friends who adore them for exactly who they are, and younger adolescents whom they can mentor through processes of identity development. You can see why social contexts are such integral parts of identity development.

Social Factors in the Development of Identity

To provide a framework for thinking about social factors, we can turn to contextualist views, like Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological model and Spencer’s phenomenological variant of ecological systems theory. These models remind us that ecologies are complex and multi-layered. We can begin by considering the important role of microsystems, like families, peer groups, and schools. But we should also consider mesosystem forces, and especially, factors from macrosystems that are structured according to societal status hierarchies, such as those based on race and ethnicity, class, and gender. We will review some general information about the crucial roles of parents, peers, and schools. And then consider in more detail the development of ethnic and racial identity, where the best research has been conducted to date on the role of societal status hierarchies. This body of research is relatively recent, because developmentalists, who were largely white, did not recognize the centrality of ethnic-racial identity development. We conclude with some thoughts on ethnic-racial identity in white adolescents, about which not much is currently known.

Parents. Much of the research on social influences on identity development focuses on caregivers. When all goes well, caregivers are the ones who can, starting with attachment processes, communicate warmth, affection, and unconditional love. They get to know a child’s inborn temperament, come to value them as complex interesting individuals, and find ways to provide a good match to their idiosyncrasies and quirks. Through emotion coaching, they help children develop the vocabulary to talk about their genuine feelings and desires, and work with them to develop strategies for seeing that their own needs are considered while also considering the needs of others. They provide role models and offer young children opportunities to play, explore their favorite activities, and follow their own interests.

Using the idea of the “styles of parenting,” we can see that adolescents whose parents employ a largely authoritative parenting style, will likely have an easier time with the tasks of identity development. These adolescents have generally received strong messages of love and support for their genuine selves, while also learning how to follow true moral rules and act with kindness, honesty, and responsibility. The role of autonomy support is equally important, as adolescents are given both freedom and parental support when they explore different facets of their personal identities.

It is also clear that other kinds of parenting may contribute to a rockier process of identity development. Parents who are more authoritarian, and do not allow deviation from rigid standards can make it more difficult for children to participate in the exploratory processes that are so central to this task. Strong negative views of particular identities (e.g., sexual orientation, gender, political views) can throw up roadblocks to the adolescent’s authentic self. You can imagine that this style of parenting could lead to premature foreclosure when the adolescent just submits to parental wishes, or moratorium when youth get stuck in committing to an identity they cannot really endorse. Or even rebellion, when adolescents then lose some of the close connections with family that can provide them support during this process.

So called “helicopter” parents, who prevent children from taking risks and trying out new things, likewise curtail independence and exploratory activities, thus interfering with key processes of identity development. There are parts of permissive or indulgent parenting that may seem like they could facilitate identity development (e.g., warmth, love, and a philosophy of “anything goes”) by encouraging children to do whatever feels right to them. However, as we discussed in the lectures on parenting, limits are good for children. Firm and reasonable limits help children learn to get along with others and respect others’ rights. Children with permissive parents tend toward immaturity, self-centeredness, and lack of achievement and mastery. These attributes can interfere with the adolescent’s eventual decisions to commit to values, activities, and relationships that are important parts of identity development.

Finally, neglectful caregivers, who basically ignore children, undermine the development of the security, self-confidence, and self-knowledge adolescents will need to make good decisions about who they are and who they want to become. Sometimes this history can leave adolescents wandering in “identity diffusion” where they are somewhat aimless and do not really take ownership for the next steps in their life.

Peers. Much has been made about the importance of peers to processes of identity development, and for good reason. Relationships with friends and with members of peer groups are an important context for the development of identity during adolescence. Communication and interactions with peers provide opportunities to elaborate on possibilities, play out tentative exploration, and test commitments against others’ perspectives. Friendships and peer groups can be safe contexts for exploration, made up of freely chosen and mutually supportive equals.

Peers are important to all three strands of identity development. In the first strand, the process of self-discovery, adolescents communicate honestly with each other within these relationships. By giving and receiving information, they become more aware of the diversity of characteristics, preferences, and viewpoints found among their agemates. Through this communication, they develop clarity about their own characteristics and get a better sense of who they are. Research has found that adolescents who have higher quality peer relationships, who interact more frequently with their peers, and are more involved in activities with agemates also experience greater identity development and commitment.

In the second strand, as a local social context of being seen, heard, and responded to by others, peer relationships are crucial sources of recognition, validation, and support for autonomy, as well as feedback about social desirability of attributes and preferences. Through processes of mirroring and social comparison, adolescents become aware of both similarities and differences to their own friends and peer groups, and with other agemates. There is a desire to bond with like others and to find affinities, but this does not necessarily lead to blind conformity. Adolescents also embrace ways in which they are individually distinctive. They have a desire to be unique. The dynamic tension between similarity and individuality varies between individuals and changes across development. Most teens seek, to some extent, both to fit in and to stand out. Early adolescents are usually more susceptible to peer influence and conformity, while later in adolescence distinctiveness tends to be more highly valued, even within relationships primarily based on affinity or similarity.

In the third strand of identity development, at the societal level of factors and processes that affect identity development, peers also play a part. Adolescents share their perspectives and react to societal norms, values, lifestyle choices, and social hierarchies within their peer relationships. These interactions affect identity development by helping teens clarify their own beliefs and preferences. Peers can also be agents for the impact of negative social forces, when they express stigma, prejudice, or discrimination. This can come from other non-affiliated agemates in the social context, and sometimes even from within an individual’s own group.

As it has been in relationships with parents, identification is also a process at work in adolescent peer relationships, and it contributes to identity formation. Identification involves being drawn to and seeing your potential self in admired others, and then emulating their behaviors and characteristics. A good friend or popular peer group member, for example, may serve as a role model. In connection with the burgeoning importance of social aspects of life at this age, adolescent identity development also involves social identification, the valuing and adoption of group behaviors and group characteristics. Teens often adopt the dress, slang, mannerisms, attitudes, and activities of a crowd, which is a larger group or social category within their school context, or they may jointly emulate values and behaviors from a segment of popular culture.

Schools. Although we talk more about schools in the section on education, it is important to emphasize here that, although schools may not always think of themselves as important socializers of identity, they nevertheless play key roles in identity construction. They provide experiences, interaction partners, and messages to children about their academic identities (e.g., how smart they are), interests (e.g., writing, robotics, math, music), and vocational identities (whether they are college bound or able to hold certain jobs). These experiences happen in and out of class, with teachers and classmates, and include after school, extra-curricular, and recreational activities. Schools can facilitate identity development when they offer rich and varied opportunities for exploration that expose children to different communities of learners and do-ers (e.g., community organizers, professionals, scientists, gardeners, plumbers, child-care workers, creative artists). Especially meaningful are extra-curricular activities with real responsibilities and opportunities to take leadership roles.

Middle and high school can be tricky places for the healthy development of all students, but they can be especially problematic for adolescents who do not meet all the narrow societal “norms” endorsed by status hierarchies. Parents and educators are often horrified at the vicious social messages that come from adolescents and target other adolescents who are perceived to be lower on social status hierarchies. However, if you wonder where adolescents get their ammunition, adults should examine the higher-order hierarchies of human worth that are currently endorsed by the larger society at this historical moment. Adolescents may be the “police” who enforce these rigid values, but they are enabled and trained by society at large. It is not an accident that adolescence is a time during which youth start to actively question and sometimes reject the social messages that society prescribes about the value, status, and privileges associated with particular personality characteristics, activities, physical appearances, and status categories.

For many parents, their goals are to get their adolescents out of these school contexts as soon as possible, to protect them from experiences of bullying and peer discrimination, and to find alternative more supportive subcultures for them in other settings (like creative arts centers or workplaces). For some students, online communities allow them to find like-minded friends and peers, and adults also create social messages, such as the “It gets better” campaign aimed at LGBTQ+ youth. The importance of “schools” continues on after high school, since universities often provide a wide range of role models and opportunities for students to explore and engage in identity development activities. Students who attend rigid narrow high schools are often astonished at the freedoms they find at college, where they can discover and explore many facets of their identities through friendships, clubs, and classes. Especially important, they can seek out and choose their own “family” of adults (teachers, advisors, mentors, etc.) and peers, who encourage them to be themselves and love them for exactly who they are.

To continue up the layers of social contexts, we turn to the higher-order contexts we have been discussing throughout this class. One area in which a great deal of important theorizing and research has been conducted focuses on a specific aspect of identity, namely, the development of ethnic-racial identity during adolescence and emerging adulthood.

Structural Racism and the Study of Ethnic-Racial Identity

The study of ethnic-racial identity within the field of developmental psychology has undergone a series of transformations in response to a growing awareness of the social-structural and historical contexts and related challenges adolescents face in negotiating this task. Several perspectives have emerged, with each providing unique insights and generating relevant empirical findings. Three major contributions are: (1) Phinney’s model of ethnic identity formation (Phinney, 1990), based on Marcia’s developmental process dimensions of exploration and commitment; (2) extended bioecological models inspired by Bronfenbrenner, including Spencer’s PVEST (Phenomenological Variant of Ecological Systems Theory), and Garcia Coll and colleagues’ Integrative Model for the Study of Developmental Competencies in Minority Children; and (3) multidimensional conceptualizations, which focus on the content and structure of ethnic-racial identity. An overview of each of these approaches follows. Additional information is available in the supplemental readings given at the end of the chapter.

Phinney’s model of ethnic identity formation is based on Erikson’s and Marcia’s model of identity formation (Phinney, 1990; Syed & Juang, 2014). Through process of exploration and commitment, individuals come to understand and create an ethnic identity. Phinney suggests three stages or statuses with regard to ethnic identity:

  1. Unexamined Ethnic Identity. Adolescents and adults who have not been exposed to ethnic identity issues may be in the first stage, unexamined ethnic identity. This is often characterized by a default preference for the dominant culture, or where the individual has given little thought to the question of their ethnic or cultural heritage. This is similar to diffusion in Marcia’s model of identity. Included in this group are also those who have adopted the ethnicity of their parents and other family members with little thought about the issues themselves, similar to Marcia’s foreclosure status (Phinney, 1990).
  2. Ethnic Identity Search. Adolescents and adults who are exploring the customs, culture, and history of their ethnic group are in the ethnic identity search stage, similar to Marcia’s moratorium status (Phinney, 1990). Often some event “awakens” a teen or adult to their ethnic group: perhaps a personal experience with prejudice, a highly profiled case in the media, or even a more positive event that highlights the contributions of someone from the individual’s ethnic group. Teens and adults in this stage will immerse themselves in their ethnic culture. For some, “it may lead to a rejection of the values of the dominant culture” (Phinney, 1990, p. 503).
  3. Achieved Ethnic Identity. Those who have actively explored their culture are likely to have a deeper appreciation and understanding of their ethnic heritage, resulting in progress toward an achieved ethnic identity (Phinney, 1990). An achieved ethnic identity does not necessarily imply that the individual is highly involved in the customs and values of their ethnic culture. One can be confident in their ethnic identity without wanting to maintain the language or other customs. The development of ethnic identity takes time, with about 25% of youth from ethnic minority backgrounds having explored and resolved these issues by tenth grade (Phinney, 1989). The more ethnically homogeneous the high school, the less adolescents explore and achieve an ethnic identity (Umana-Taylor, 2003). Moreover, even in more ethnically diverse high schools, teens tend to spend more time with their own group, reducing exposure to other ethnicities. This may explain why, for many, college becomes the time of ethnic identity exploration. “[The] transition to college may serve as a consciousness-raising experience that triggers exploration” (Syed & Azmitia, 2009, p. 618). Colleges can facilitate this process by requiring ethnic studies courses as part of their core curricula, and by supporting ethnic studies programs and student centers organized around ethnic affiliation.

Extended bioecological systems models, inspired by Bronfenbrenner. There are two of these models, the first being the Phenomenological Variant of Ecological Systems Theory (PVEST), developed by Margaret Beale Spencer (2006). PVSET is an identity-focused developmental theory that situates identity formation within the social context, where risk and protective factors act as supports or stressors and create individual vulnerability, based on social position and personal experiences, as well as culture. Individuals play an active role in coping with their perceptions and vulnerability and forming identities that make sense in response to their experiences. PVEST is a model of overlapping and interacting systems. PVEST includes the role of individual experiences and perceptions and active responses and sense-making, and the reciprocal effects of the individual on their context and future experiences.

The Integrated Model of Garcia-Coll and colleagues incorporates the social and contextual factors of position and structure, risk and promotion, and emphasizes the role of adaptive cultures and the family context, as well as individual child characteristics, in the production of various competencies as positive developmental outcomes for minoritized children and youth (García Coll, Lamberty, Jenkins, McAdoo, Crnic, Wasik, & Garcia, 1996). The Integrated Model includes ethnic-racial identity as both a component of adaptive cultures and as an important positive outcome of development. A large body of research over several decades has applied these extended bioecological models to the study of marginalized, minority, and immigrant youth, and produced solid empirical evidence of the importance of contextual factors and individual responses, as well as evidence of the benefits of strong ethnic-racial socialization and identity (Hughes, Watford, & Del Toro, 2016).

Multidimensional conceptualizations of ethnic-racial identity have their roots in attempts to create scales to measure ethnic-racial identity. A productive approach has been the five dimensions described by Sellers and colleagues, who developed a questionnaire measure of Black racial identity for use in studies of antecedents, consequences, and optimizing social programs and interventions (Sellers, Smith, Shelton, Rowley, & Chavous, 1998). This approach focuses on the structure and content, rather than on the development of ethnic-racial identity. The five dimensions described by Sellers and colleagues are:

  1. Centrality or the importance of ethnic-racial identity to self-definition;
  2. Salience or importance of ethnic-racial identity in the situation;
  3. Public regard or perceptions of others evaluations of one’s ethnic-racial group(s);
  4. Private regard or self-evaluations of one’s own ethnic-racial group(s); and
  5. Ideology or beliefs about how the group(s) should behave.

Differences have arisen in how these dimensions have been applied to different racial and ethnic groups and how they are considered to be related to developmental processes. For example, the Ethnic Identity Scale, which is widely used in the study of multiple ethnicities, includes two subscales, namely, exploration and resolution, that assess the developmental process of identity, and a third subscale, affirmation, that assesses evaluative identity content (Umaña-Taylor, Yazedjian, & Bámaca-Gómez, 2004).

The Ethnic and Racial Identity in the 21st Century Study Group undertook a comprehensive review and reconceptualization of racial and ethnic identity that resulted in the publication of a new integrative multidimensional conceptualization (Umaña-Taylor, Quintana, Lee, Cross, Rivas-Drake, Schwartz, Syed, Yip, & Seaton, 2014). This new perspective includes the multiple dimensions of both identity content and developmental processes, and is applicable to both racial and ethnic categories. An important contribution of the 21st Century Study Group was to combine the concepts of ethnic identity and racial identity into a single hyphenated construct, referred to as ethnic-racial identity. Historically, the concept of race has been applied to the study of US-born blacks and whites, but it has become clear that racial categories are socially constructed when specific characteristics and group affinities are “racialized.” Ethnicity, on the other hand, is a concept applied to a multitude of groups of people with shared cultural heritage, values, and traditions, and sometimes language, and is transmitted across generations.

Both race and ethnicity have consequences for social experience and psychological development. They are often overlapping and interdependent. The hyphenated term, ethnic-racial identity, indicates that both race, as racialized categories within society, and ethnicity, as cultural heritage, are relevant, and that they are closely related in terms of similar processes and outcomes. This perspective underscores the principle of intersectionality, in that it highlights the specificity of ethnic-racial identities as particular combinations of racialized characteristics, ethnicity, cultural background, and immigration status (Crenshaw, 1989, 1991). It would suggest, for example, that Black adolescents night have very different identities (along with experiences and treatment) if they come from families who have lived in the US for centuries, compared to recent Jamaican or Haitian immigrants. This perspective encourages researchers to acknowledge and examine the wide heterogeneity inside groups that up to now may have been combined into categories like “Black,” “Latinx,” or “Asian American.”

Required Reading: Development of a Strong Positive Ethnic-Racial Identity as a Protective Factor for Children and Youth

This short paper provides an overview of the importance of positive ethnic-racial identities and ethnic-racial socialization for the healthy development of children and youth. These assets protect children and youth from discriminatory experiences and messages, and provide a strong foundation for long-term resilience and thriving.

Abstract. Experiences of racial and ethnic discrimination pose significant threats to the development and wellbeing of racial and ethnic minority children. Fortunately, not all youth who experience discrimination are susceptible to its harmful effects. Growing evidence points to several racial and ethnic factors that promote positive youth development and protect against the potentially damaging effects of racial and ethnic adversity. This article summarizes emerging research trends and conclusions regarding the “promotive” and “protective” effects of racial and ethnic identity, ethnic-racial socialization, and cultural orientation, as well as some of the mechanisms that may account for their salutary properties. The article concludes with a brief discussion of important considerations and directions for the future study of racial and ethnic resilience processes in ethnic minority youth.

Neblett Jr, E. W., Rivas‐Drake, D., & Umaña‐Taylor, A. J. (2012). The promise of racial and ethnic protective factors in promoting ethnic minority youth development. Child Development Perspectives6(3), 295-303.

Do White People Possess an Ethnic-Racial Identity?

Researchers who study ethnic-racial identity often say that in the US, many white people are “un-racialized” in that their race is not a salient part of their identity, and they have not examined or explored their own experiences and treatment through a racial lens. Historically, many white Americans have focused on their ethnic identity– they or their ancestors are members of specific immigrant and religious groups, many of whom have experienced oppression and marginalization, including Jewish, Irish, Polish, and Italian immigrants. But white adolescents have typically thought much less about their racial heritage. Dominant groups, who assume that they are the default or prototype group in a given society, often racialize out-group members (i.e., non-white groups) while resisting the idea that they too have a racial identity. For example, you will notice that African-Americans and Asian-Americans are often referred to using a hyphenated label, whereas we read much less about European-Americans. Social movements today provide white European-Americans opportunities to reflect on and construct a racialized identity.

Today, there are a subgroup of white people who are experiencing a different kind of awareness of their ethnic-racial identity, based on perceived threats stemming from rapid social change and uncertainty about status and privilege. Although the source and nature of these experiences may not be readily apparent, we don’t want to underestimate their psychological and social consequences in the lived experiences of real people and those with whom they interact. Experiences of threatened evaluative status of personal and group identity are familiar to members of marginalized groups. This area has been studied by psychologists using several concepts and theoretical perspectives. One important concept is stereotype threat, which is a process by which people internalize (usually negative) messages from others about their own subgroups (i.e., stereotypes), then when their identity is made salient or they are faced with challenging tasks, those internalized evaluations are triggered. The mental activation of stereotypes (i.e., threat) can have adverse personal consequences, such as increased self-doubt, reduced performance, or giving up. Social psychologists have emphasized responses to threat by members of threatened or marginalized groups that take the form of increasing the status of one’s own group (ingroup) or derogating members of other groups (outgroup).

Threats to identity are particularly relevant in adolescence and early adulthood, when identity is crystallizing, and in times of change and transition, either personal or societal. Perceived threat is complex and challenging to study when it occurs in the experience of privileged groups. For example, a research literature has emerged focused on the study of threats to masculinity. Some of the research on white ethnic-racial identity comes under the heading of whiteness studies. Whiteness is a concept that attempts to capture the shared experience of the social and historical interpretations and consequences of being white in a particular society at a particular time. Recently, these lenses have been used to try to understand the appeal a white supremacist identity, which seems to attract some marginalized white youth, especially males who did not complete their education.

Self-concept and Self-esteem during Adolescence

In adolescence, teens’ self-concepts continue to develop. Their ability to think of the possibilities and to reason more abstractly may explain the further differentiation of the self during adolescence. However, the teen’s understanding of self is often full of contradictions. Young teens may see themselves as outgoing but also withdrawn, happy yet often moody, and both smart and completely clueless (Harter, 2012). These contradictions, along with the teen’s growing recognition that their personality and behavior seem to change depending on who they are with or where they are, can lead the young teen to feel like a fraud. With their parents they may seem angry and sullen, with their friends they are more outgoing and goofier, and at work they are quiet and cautious. “Which one is really me?” may be the refrain of the young teenager. Harter (2012) found that adolescents emphasize traits such as being friendly and considerate more than do children, highlighting their increasing concern about how others may see them. Harter also found that older teens add values and moral standards to their self-descriptions.

As self-concept differentiates, so too does self-esteem. In addition to the academic, social, appearance, and physical/athletic dimensions of self-esteem in middle and late childhood, teens also add perceptions of their competencies in romantic relationships, on the job, and in close friendships (Harter, 2006). Self-esteem often drops when children transition from one school setting to another, such as shifting from elementary to middle school, or junior high to high school (Ryan, Shim, & Makara, 2013). These declines are usually temporary, unless there are additional stressors such as parental conflict, or other family disruptions (De Wit, Karioja, Rye, & Shain, 2011). Self-esteem rises from mid to late adolescence for most teenagers, especially if they feel competent in their peer relationships, appearance, and athletic abilities (Birkeland, Melkivik, Holsen, & Wold, 2012).

Parents and Teens: Autonomy and Attachment

It appears that most teens do not experience adolescent “storm and stress” to the degree once famously suggested by G. Stanley Hall, a pioneer in the study of adolescent development. Only small numbers of teens have major conflicts with their parents (Steinberg & Morris, 2001), and most disagreements are minor. For example, in a study of over 1,800 parents of adolescents from various cultural and ethnic groups, Barber (1994) found that conflicts occurred over day-to-day issues such as homework, money, curfews, clothing, chores, and friends. These disputes typically occur because an adolescent’s desire for independence and autonomy conflicts with parental supervision and control. These types of arguments tend to decrease as teens develop (Galambos & Almeida, 1992).

Teens report more conflict with their mothers (than their fathers), as many mothers believe they should still have some control over many of these areas, but at the same time teens often report that their mothers are also more encouraging and supportive (Costigan, Cauce, & Etchison, 2007). As teens grow older, more compromise is reached between parents and teenagers (Smetana, 2011). Teenagers begin to behave more responsibly and parents increasingly recognize their need for autonomy. Parents are more controlling of daughters, especially early maturing girls, than they are sons (Caspi, Lynam, Moffitt, & Silva, 1993). In addition, culture and ethnicity also play a role in how restrictive parents are with the daily lives of their children (Chen, Vansteenkiste, Beyers, Soensens, & Van Petegem, 2013).

Teenagers benefit from supportive, less conflict-ridden relationships with parents. Research on attachment in adolescence find that teens who are still securely attached to their parents have fewer emotional problems (Rawatlal, Kliewer & Pillay, 2015), are less likely to engage in drug abuse and other criminal behaviors (Meeus, Branje & Overbeek, 2004), and have more positive peer relationships (Shomaker & Furman, 2009).


Figure 7.12. Peers associate on the basis of similarity

As children become adolescents, they usually begin spending more time with their peers and less time with their families, and these peer interactions are increasingly unsupervised by adults. Children’s notions of friendship often focus on shared activities, whereas adolescents’ notions of friendship increasingly focus on intimate exchanges of thoughts and feelings. This increase in intimacy, mutuality, and reciprocity characterizes both teen friendships and relationships with members of adolescent peer groups. During adolescence, peer groups evolve from primarily single-sex to mixed-sex. Adolescents within a peer group tend to be similar to one another in behavior and attitudes, which has been explained as a function of homophily, that is, adolescents who are similar to one another choose to spend time together in a “birds of a feather flock together” way. Adolescents who spend time together also shape each other’s behavior and attitudes. Peers serve as important sources of social support and companionship during adolescence, and adolescents with positive peer relationships are happier and better adjusted than those who are socially isolated or have conflictual peer relationships.

Crowds are an emerging level of peer relationships in adolescence. In contrast to friendships, which are reciprocal dyadic relationships, and cliques, which refer to groups of individuals who interact frequently, crowds are characterized more by shared reputations or images than actual interactions (Brown & Larson, 2009). These crowds reflect different prototypic identities, such as jocks or brains, and are often linked with adolescents’ social status and peers’ perceptions of their values or behaviors.

Peers and Socially Undesirable Behavior

Peers can serve both positive and negative functions during adolescence. Negative peer pressure can lead adolescents to make riskier decisions or engage in more problematic behavior than they would alone or in the presence of their family. For example, adolescents are much more likely to drink alcohol, use drugs, and commit crimes when they are with their friends than when they are alone or with their family. One negative aspect of adolescent peer influence is known as deviant peer contagion (Dishion & Tipsord, 2011), which is the process by which peers reinforce problem behavior by laughing or showing other signs of approval that then increase the likelihood of future problem behavior.

Parents and other adults are often concerned about these potential negative influences of peers, which can affect behavior, attitudes, and identity development. Peers can be associated with the adoption of unhealthy or antisocial behaviors, and also with the adoption of negative attitudes toward school, or socially undesirable norms and values. Often this is a transient rebellious phase, something some teens go through. But longer term, there is concern that these events may ultimately lead to patterns of antisocial or criminal behavior and identity. The biggest challenge for researchers is to sort out the relative importance of selection and influence in these circumstances. To what extent do adolescents select similar others on the same developmental path as themselves, and to what extent are they influenced by those in whose proximity they find themselves? It’s complicated. We are faced with a chicken or egg problem. Which came first, the bad influence of undesirable behavior by others, or a desire for defiant behavior? Unhealthy and delinquent behaviors and negative attitudes toward societal norms and values are preexisting within larger societal contexts and may be freely chosen by some teens, but they are also adopted within local social contexts where intragroup processes and social influence are at play. Aggressive or rebellious youth sometimes take a leadership role and become role models within peer groups. Individual differences are also at play. Adolescent development in peer contexts involves the individual’s own previous personal history. It involves their social experiences of acceptance and rejection on different attributes. It overlaps with their negotiation of personal and social identities that make sense and work for the individual. Within this complex reality, it is hard to make generalizations about cause and effect. We can, however, share the concern for finding ways to promote optimal development and well-being, and look forward to continuing research efforts focused on the dark side of peer relationships and adolescent development.

Romantic Relationships

Figure 7.13. Romantic relationships contribute to adolescent adjustment

Adolescence is the developmental period during which romantic relationships typically first emerge. By the end of adolescence, most American teens have had at least one romantic relationship (Dolgin, 2011). However, culture does play a role as Asian Americans and Latinas are less likely to date than other ethnic groups (Connolly, Craig, Goldberg, & Pepler, 2004). Dating serves many purposes for teens, including having fun, companionship, status, socialization, sexual experimentation, intimacy, and (for those in late adolescence) partner selection  (Dolgin, 2011).

There are several stages in the dating process beginning with engaging in mixed-sex group activities in early adolescence (Dolgin, 2011). The same-sex peer groups that were common during childhood expand into mixed-sex peer groups that are more characteristic of adolescence. Romantic relationships often form in the context of these mixed-sex peer groups (Connolly, Furman, & Konarski, 2000). Interacting in mixed-sex groups is easier for teens as they are among a supportive group of friends, can observe others interacting, and are kept safe from a too early intimate relationship. By middle adolescence teens are engaging in brief, casual dating or in group dating with established couples (Dolgin, 2011). Then in late adolescence dating involves exclusive, intense relationships. These relationships tend to be long-lasting and continue for a year or longer, however, they may also interfere with friendships. Although romantic relationships during adolescence are often short-lived rather than long-term committed partnerships, their importance should not be minimized. Adolescents spend a great deal of time focused on romantic relationships, and their positive and negative emotions are tied more to romantic relationships, or lack thereof, than to friendships, family relationships, or school (Furman & Shaffer, 2003). Romantic relationships contribute to adolescents’ identity formation, changes in family and peer relationships, and emotional and behavioral adjustment.

Furthermore, romantic relationships are centrally connected to adolescents’ emerging sexuality. Parents, policymakers, and researchers have devoted a great deal of attention to adolescent sexuality, in large part because of concerns related to sexual intercourse, sexually-transmitted diseases, contraception, and preventing teen pregnancies. However, sexuality involves more than this narrow focus. For example, adolescence is often the time when individuals who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender come to recognize themselves as such (Russell, Clarke, & Clary, 2009). Thus, romantic relationships are a domain in which adolescents experiment with new behaviors and identities.

However, a negative dating relationship can adversely affect an adolescent’s development. Soller (2014) explored the link between relationship inauthenticity and mental health. Relationship inauthenticity refers to an incongruence between thoughts/feelings and actions within a relationship. Desires to gain partner approval and demands in the relationship may negatively affect an adolescent’s sense of authenticity. Because of the high status our society places on romantic relationships, especially for girls, adolescents sometimes allow themselves to be pressured into behaviors with which they are not really comfortable, and experience tension between their desires to be in a relationship and their need to set boundaries in the face of their partner’s wishes or demands. Soller found that relationship inauthenticity was positively correlated with poor mental health, including depression, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts, especially for females.

Supplemental Materials

  • This documentary by Shakti Butler explores the school-to-prison-pipeline and the impact of the criminal legal system on minoritized populations.

  • This article discusses how harsh discipline school policies impact Black girls.

Hines-Datiri, D., & Carter Andrews, D. J. (2017). The Effects of Zero Tolerance Policies on Black Girls. Urban Education, 0042085917690204.

  • This article explores racial identity in Black adolescents and how issues of respectability contribute to that identity development.

Duncan, G. A., & McCoy, H. (2007). Black adolescent racial identity and respectability. Negro Educational Review, 58(1/2), 35.

  • This article reviews the literature on racial identity development of Black adolescents and discusses the role of education in fostering positive racial identity development.

DeCuir-Gunby, J. T. (2009). A Review of the Racial Identity Development of African American Adolescents: The Role of Education. Review of Educational Research, 79(1), 103–124.

  • This article discusses the “promotive” and “protective” effects of racial and ethnic identity, ethnic-racial socialization, and cultural orientation on youth of color.

Neblett, E. W., Rivas-Drake, D., & Umana-Taylor, A. D. (2012.) The promise of racial and ethnic protective factors in promoting ethnic minority youth development. Child Development Perspectives, 6(3), 295-303.

  • This chapter discusses the field of youth organizing as an area of research.

Christens, B. D., & Kirshner, B. (2011). Taking stock of youth organizing: An interdisciplinary perspective. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 2011(134), 27–41.

  • This short video informs teens how to get involved in youth activism.


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