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Identity and Belonging

By Dazzaronimo Sep 06, 2010 1034 Words
The groups we reject tell us as much about ourselves as those to which we choose to belong

Do I Belong?
By Danielle Arnold –Levy
“Who am I?” is a question often repeated by teenagers, though they may not voice it out loud or use precisely those words. One of the biggest challenges that adolescents face during the transition between childhood and adulthood is this struggle with their own sense of identity. For one thing, it seems to constantly shift: they may act one way with a particular group of peers and completely different with another. Ironically, the opinions of friends and acquaintances become very important at this stage in teenagers lives, whilst they are rejecting their parents’ advice however this may be apparent before teenage years and it tends to dictate kids' taste in clothing, the way they speak, how they react to things, who they hang out with, what they believe in, and their choice in musical genres.  Others' opinions often dictate how kids feel about themselves, and how they regulate their self-esteem. Here is another area where their sense of identity can become clouded, because they start comparing themselves to everyone else. They may worry about why they’re developing earlier or later than their peers in certain areas. Because puberty and adolescence are such confusing transitions, kids can feel a strong urge to check their own progress alongside that of another, or to stick with those people who, for all outward appearances, seem to have it all figured out. No wonder they end up questioning who they really are, after having spent so much time imitating others.

A certain amount of experimentation – with rebellion, imitation, and changes of image and attitude – is probably necessary before they can form a real sense of what they want and how to go about getting it. Parents who recognize this come to understand that they have to let go of their children, to a certain extent, just when they most want to protect them the most. They can’t choose their kids’ identities; kids have to discover it for themselves. This is where rejecting groups, and being rejected from groups comes into play. Teens often can be intolerant in their exclusion of their peers. Since they are constantly trying to define and redefine themselves in relation to others, they do not want to be associated with anyone having unacceptable or unattractive characteristics. They try to strengthen their own identities by excluding those who are not like themselves. I remember as a young person, about to embrace a largely foreign world, that it was imperative for myself and other young people to find a balance between our own individuality and the compromises we chose to make, this is still very apparent when seeking connections or relationships with others. Everyone must realise that while we are each unique, we are also members of the human species, sharing universal characteristics and experiences. Therefore, the relationships we have with others will inherently help determine much of who we are. Only once we have made these realisations can we begin to gain a coherent understanding of the functioning of society and in turn avoid a predetermined fate of loneliness. Holden Caulfield, the teenage protagonist of J.D Salinger’s 1951 American literary classic “The Catcher in the Rye” has been something of an inspiration for many angst ridden teenagers finding themselves confused whilst trying to form an identity throughout their schooling years. This novel is a perfect example to show you how your children may be feeling with the burden of their shoulders of self discovery. Many people will mask, or even forfeit, their true sense of self, in order to gain acceptance, but this will only lead to the dangerous notion of conformity and ultimately superficial relationships. This is extremely common in school situations. As many teenagers try to learn who they are they go through the process of rejecting groups they feel they do not want to be like, or they do not feel they would be excepted by, and here is where judgments and stereotypes come into play. Groups in which individuals do not understand are often disregarded and therefore rejected and this is also beneficial to self discovery as it helps us see who we do not want to be. However, once we find a group to belong to we learn more about who we do and do not want to be. Loneliness can raise your blood pressure, make you sick, lead to sleepless nights, and even make your life shorter. Loneliness and rejection is not just a short term effect but can have a dramatic effect on your life. The risk of being rejected by those around us is one we all encounter and your kids will be going through this now, especially in the transition between primary and secondary schools and just moving schools in general.  There is an inherent need in all of us `to belong'.  To belong is to be accepted, to feel part of the group, to be cared for, and to be loved by others.  As kids go through physical and hormonal transformation, their feelings become very fragile and they gravitate towards those who will sympathize and not criticize them.  When my brother was 17 years old, he decided he was not understood at home, so he left and joined the `Hells Angels' biker gang.  The family was appalled.  I used to go and visit him where he worked or where the bikers gathered, just to keep in touch with him.  All he was looking for was love and acceptance. He found it in a gang. There is a lot of talk these days about social inclusion. We know that inclusion plays a big role in the health and resilience of both individuals and communities. Research has shown that people who feel included, who have rich and diverse social networks, tend to be healthier, happier and longer-lived than people who are isolated. They also have more opportunities to participate and contribute to their communities. Thus social inclusion benefits communities, too, by bringing them a wealth of knowledge, energy, talent and skills that might otherwise remain untapped.

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