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Chapter 12
Social and Personality Development in Adolescence

Identity: "Who am I?"

During adolescence, self-consciousness takes center stage.

Teens focus on wondering "Who am I?" and "Where do I belong in the world?"


Teens begin to become more like adults intellectually.

They realize the importance of establishing themselves in society and shaping their individuality.

Teens become more like adults physically.

Dramatic changes during puberty make teens acutely aware of their own bodies.


Self-Concept: "What am I like?"

Self-concept broadens during adolescence to include both one's own assessment and also others' views.

The view of self becomes more organized and coherent.

Adolescents can look at themselves in terms of traits and can see multiple aspects of themselves (which can be confusing at first).

Self-esteem: How do I like myself?

During adolescence, teens become increasingly accurate in understanding who they are (they develop their self-concept).

The increase in self-concept does not mean that they like themselves any better (self-esteem may still be low).

Influences on Self-Esteem

Gender - especially in early adolescence, girls have lower self-esteem.

SES - higher SES leads to more self-esteem (especially in late adolescence when one can buy things of value).

Race - although this finding is now being questioned:

Traditional research says that prejudice is incorporated into minority adolescents' self-concepts.

Recent research indicates that African-American adolescents now have same levels of self-esteem as Caucasians (in fact, strong racial identity is related to higher self-esteem levels).

Identity Formation: Crisis or Change?

Erik Erikson asserted that adolescents may encounter substantial psychological difficulties in their search for identity ("the adolescent identity crisis").

Erikson's stage is IDENTITY-VERSUS-IDENTITY-CONFUSION STAGE, where adolescents seek to determine what is unique and distinctive about themselves.


Those who do not find a suitable identity tend to follow a dysfunctional path because their sense of self is "diffuse."

There are a lot of social pressures to achieve a secure identity (or at least have clear career or major goals).

Which job track to follow?

Attend college? Which one?

Now, adolescents rely more on friends and peers than adults.

Erikson: Identity v. Confusion

Erikson suggests that adolescents pursue a psychological moratorium to let go of responsibilities for awhile and explore new roles and possibilities.

For many, this experimentation period is an economic impossibility.

Probably no lasting, negative psychological effects.

Some benefits (satisfaction from working, independence, etc.).


Marcia’s Approach to Identity Development

James Marcia suggests four categories within which either a crisis or commitment occurs:

Crisis: a period of identity development in which an adolescent consciously chooses between various alternatives and makes decisions

Commitment: a psychological investment in a course of action or an ideology

Marcia’s Categories of Adolescent Identity

1) IDENTITY ACHIEVEMENT - where adolescents consider and explore various alternatives and then make a commitment.

2) IDENTITY FORECLOSURE - adolescents do not do adequate personal exploration but make a commitment (usually following others' directives).

Marcia’s Categories of Adolescent Identity (cont.)

MORATORIUM - adolescents explore but do not commit to an option, and that may create anxiety and conflict. An identity is usually defined later, after a struggle.

4) IDENTITY DIFFUSION - adolescents neither explore nor commit to various options. They may seem flighty and have trouble to committing to relationships also.


Marcia’s Categories (cont.)

Although adolescents are not stuck in one category, research indicates that identity gels by the age of 18.

For some, identity formation takes place beyond the adolescent period.


Identity, Race & Ethnicity

Forming an identity presents a particular challenge for members of some ethnic and racial backgrounds because of contradictory societal values.

Society should be color blind--race and ethnic background should not affect opportunity or achievement.

The cultural assimilation model holds that individual cultural identities should be assimilated into a unified culture ("melting pot model").

Contrasting Views of Identity, Race & Ethnicity

Racial and ethnic factors should be a central part of teenagers’ identities.

The pluralistic society model suggests that the U.S. society is made up of diverse, coequal cultural groups that should preserve their individual cultural features ("tossed salad model").

Research suggests that the cultural assimilation model denigrates the cultural heritage of minorities and lowers self-esteem.

Contrasting Views of Identity, Race & Ethnicity

Bicultural identity suggests that adolescents can draw from their own culture and integrate themselves into the dominant culture ("the middle ground model").

Suggests that teens live as members of two cultures, and have two cultural identities without having to choose one.

Depression and Suicide:
Psychological Difficulties in Adolescence

More than one-quarter of adolescents report periods of feeling sad and hopeless for two or more weeks in a row.

But only a small number (3 percent) experience a major depression, a full-blown psychological disorder in which depression is severe and lingers for long periods.

Teen Depression, continued

Depression has several causes, including biological, environmental, and social factors.

Genetic predisposition

Death of loved one

Depressed parent


Few close friends

Experiencing rejection

Group Differences in Depression

Girls have higher incidences of depression than boys but the cause is not clear.

more stresses on the female gender role?

girls' tendencies to react to stress by turning inward, thus experiencing helplessness and hopelessness?

little evidence that hormones are a factor

African-Americans and Native Americans also have higher depression rates (same suspected reasons as for girls).

Adolescent Suicide

Adolescent suicide rates have tripled in the last 30 years - 12 per 100,000 annually. It is the 3rd most common cause of death for people between 15 & 24.

The current rate is one teenage suicide every 90 minutes.

More girls attempt suicide than boys but more boys succeed.

Males tend to use more violent methods.

There are estimates of as many as 200 attempts for every successful suicide.

Adolescent Suicide (cont.)

Other factors in adolescent suicide:


Family conflicts

History of abuse and/or neglect

Drug and alcohol abuse


Warning Signs

Direct or indirect talk

I wish I were dead."

"Don’t worry, I’ll be out of your hair soon."

School difficulties such as missed classes or grades dropping

Writing a will

Changes in eating habits

General depression

Sleep habits, lack of energy, uncommunicative

Dramatic behavior changes

Preoccupation with death

Art, music, conversation

Relationships: Family and Friends

Family relationships change when adolescents begin to question, and sometimes rebel against, their parents' views.

Shift in roles because of the quest for adulthood and autonomy by people who were considered children until recently.

Cultural factors play a role in the degree of autonomy achieved by adolescents and the degree to which adolescents feel obligated to family duties and support.


The Myth of the Generation Gap

The GENERATION GAP, a divide between parents and adolescents in attitudes, values, aspirations, and worldviews, is mostly a myth: adolescents and their parents tend to share the same major values.

On social, political, and religious issues, parents and teens mostly agree.

The difference in values and attitudes between teens is greater than the differences between parents and teens.

Most parents and teens get along well.


Conflicts with Parents

Conflicts are likely to arise during early adolescence.

Parents are trying to discern what is appropriate conduct, and children are more likely to be argumentative and assertive.

As parents trust more, combativeness declines.

Most teenagers have stable family relationships, but as many as 20 percent have a rough time.

Cultural Differences in Parent-Child Conflict

Less conflict in "traditional," unindustrialized countries than in developed countries.

Adolescents expect more independence and individualism in industrialized cultures.

In more traditional societies, individualism and independence are not as highly valued.

Relationships with Peers:
The Importance of Belonging

Peer relationships are more critical to adolescents than any other time of life.

Peers provide an opportunity for social comparison and information.

REFERENCE GROUP: a group of people with whom one compares oneself

Reference groups present a set of norms or standards against which adolescents judge their social success.

Cliques and Crowds

CLIQUES are 2 to 12 people who have frequent interaction.

CROWDS are larger groups where people share some characteristics but often don't interact with each other.

Membership in cliques and crowds is determined by the degree of similarity with members in a group.

Stereotypes: jocks, brains, druggies.

There are strong expectations that people in a particular crowd behave in specific ways. (Is it a self-fulfilling prophesy?)

Gender Relations

Gender relations change during the period of adolescence.

In early adolescence girls play with girls, boys with boys.

With puberty, there is hormonal and social pressure to interact, and eventually most adolescents are in mixed-sex cliques.

At the end of adolescence, cliques become less powerful and male-female relationships become the focus.

Popularity and Rejection

The social world of the adolescent is complex.

High status categories

Popular adolescents, who are most liked.

Controversial adolescents, who are like by some and disliked by others.

Low status categories

Rejected teens, who are uniformly disliked.

Neglected teens adolescents, who are neither liked nor disliked.

Conformity: Peer Pressure in Adolescence

Some teens are highly susceptible to peer pressure, the influence of one's peers to conform to their behavior and attitudes.

Susceptibility to peer pressure does not rise in adolescence; in fact conformity decreases as adolescents increase their own autonomy.

Ultimately, adolescents conform less to both peers and adults, as they grow in confidence in the ability to make their own decisions.

If teens do not resist the urge to conform to peers, they will likely get into trouble.

Juvenile Delinquency: The Crimes of Adolescence

Overall violent crimes by juveniles decreasing, but 16 percent of arrests for serious crimes involved juveniles.

Why do teens become involved in criminal activity?

UNDERSOCIALIZED DELINQUENTS are raised with little parental supervision or discipline; they have not been appropriately socialized.

They tend to be relatively aggressive and violent early in life; rejected by peers; likely to have ADHD; and are usually less intelligent than average.

They are relatively unlikely to be rehabilitated.

Juvenile Delinquency (cont.)

SOCIALIZED DELINQUENTS are adolescent delinquents who know and subscribe to the norms of society, and who are fairly normal psychologically.

They are usually influenced by a group & their criminal behavior is usually committed with a group.

Crimes by this group tend to be minor.


Dating, Sexual Behavior, and Teen Pregnancy

Adolescents today talk more of "hooking up," which means anything from kissing to sexual intercourse.

Dating, though, is a common form of social interaction that serves developmental functions:

Learning how to establish intimacy.

Learning how to engage in entertainment.

Contributes to an identity in progress.

Sexual Intercourse

Ages for sexual intercourse have been declining.

Around 20% of teens have had sex before the age of 15, and 80% have had sex before the age of 20.

The number postponing sex is rising, largely because of fear of AIDS.

Today, premarital intercourse is viewed as more acceptable for both males and females in a committed relationship; the "double standard" of "nice girls don’t" has declined in some places.

Teen Pregnancy

Teen pregnancy rate in 2003 was 43/1000. The rate is declining – over the past 10 years, down 30% overall, down 40% for African-Americans.

Why – decreased rates of intercourse, sex ed, condom use

Virginity pledges do not stop teen sex, but may delay it.

Still higher rates (2 to 10 times higher) in U.S. than in other industrialized countries.

Teenage mothers do not fare well:

Poor health

Poor school performance

Their children more likely to be teen parents themselves

Teen Pregnancy

Because the U.S. is still relatively intolerant of premarital sex, there are not enough education programs.

Key factors in preventing/breaking the poverty-pregnancy cycle are:

Completing high school

Postponing future births

Education, supportive family, and increase in social programs

Sexual Orientation: Heterosexuality, Homosexuality, and Bisexuality

Sexual orientation questions also may occur at adolescence.

The most frequent pattern of adolescent sexual development is heterosexuality (sexual attraction and behavior directed at someone of the opposite sex).

Yet some are homosexual (attracted to same sex) and bisexual (attracted to both).

Sexual Orientation (cont.)

Experimentation - about 25% of boys and 10% of girls have had at least one same-sex encounter.

Far fewer numbers become exclusively homosexual, maybe 4 to 10 percent.

Sexual orientation relates to sexual interests, while gender identity refers to psychological orientation of feeling & behaving like assigned sex.

What Determines Sexual Orientation?

Genetic and biological factors

Identical twins more likely to both be homosexual

Hormones and brain structure may be factors

Family and peers - Inappropriate identification with same sex parent? (Freud’s theory, not supported by research)

Learning theory - rewarding homosexual experience versus unsatisfying heterosexual encounters – little support for this view either

Most experts believe sexual orientation develops out of a complex interplay of genetic, physiological, and environmental factors.

Sexual Orientation

Most homosexual teens have difficulties due to peer and family pressures and rejection.

They are at significantly greater risk for depression and suicide.

They typically come to grips with their sexuality, but may still, as adults, suffer from more mental health problems as a result of stress, prejudice, and discrimination.