Bridge over Troubled Waters: Teen Identity Construction

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Kai-Stefanie Lorimer

student 40734057
University of Queensland
EDUC5059_#3b

Bridge over troubled water: how personal relationships can facilitate teenage identity construction

Abstract

Since the research of Erik Erikson (1969) and James Marcia (1966, 1980), identity has been an important theme in adolescent psychology. Initially, most researchers chose the individual as their primary unit of analysis; however during the last decade the role of contextual factors in adolescent development has attracted considerable attention. This paper uses James Côté’s (1994) explanation of youth alienation from a’ political economy’ perspective to place adolescent identity formation in a social context. It also examines Charles Taylor’s (1995) assertion that identities need to be formed in open dialogue, unfettered by social and cultural scripts to be authentic. Conclusions are then drawn from both theories to support the argument that identity formation and stabilization is becoming an increasingly complex and difficult undertaking for young people living in a world in which personal choice seems to be increasing exponentially at the same time that real power is being concentrated in economic and political structures. The potential for strong personal relationships to build a bridge over this ocean of treacherous choice is highlighted and extended to consider the role of the teacher and implications for pedagogy.

Bridge Over Troubled Water:

How personal relationships can facilitate teenage identity construction

Which factors contribute to a stable and balanced identity? And, if this can be determined, how can the analysis of their influence yield practical insights for everyday pedagogy? Researchers from a wide range of disciplines, including neurobiology, psychology, sociology and theology, have examined these issues. Interactions across fields are complex and numerous. Despite their different perspectives, most refer to some aspect of the work of Erik Erikson as a basis of discussion (Adams & Marshall, 1996). Erikson’s approach to identity extends Freud’s psychosexual theory, but differs from it in that it recognizes the continuing development of identity beyond childhood and the impact of culture and society on an individual personality. Erikson conceptualized identity development as one of eight psychosocial crises, which have to be resolved in consecutive order if an individual is to develop a positive ego identity (Erikson, 1959). At the fifth, or adolescent, stage, an individual must undertake a conscious search for identity that involves evaluating experiences and views for personal meaning. This leads to the construction of an identity out of the socially available and possible faces and voices. (Adams & Marshall, 1996). The resolution of earlier stages of development now creates the foundation for identity search: adolescents who feel optimistic and secure, who are independent and curious, and who feel pride in their accomplishments, are more likely to be able to effectively form a potentially stable identity (Rice & Dolgin, 2005). Researchers such as Marcia (1980) and Waterman (1985) have built on Erikson’s work by highlighting the many different variables which combine during in the process of identity development. They propose that each individual must bring these strands together via conscious evaluation. This is followed by commitment to (or rejection of) the particular identity created. The more coherent the resultant identity structure is, the less individuals have to rely on external sources for evaluation (Marcia, 1980), and the more likely it is that the identity they are constructing becomes an authentic one. This paper examines the impact that contemporary Western culture and society may have on adolescents’ ability to arrive at this position and...
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