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Looking for identity

Find your targets and your identity
Find your targets and your identity | ©: angiolina - Fotolia

"Neither fish nor flesh" - this saying we all know. And it is indicative of a phase in life that we probably all feel or felt to be very difficult. We are talking about the so-called adolescence - better known as puberty. This refers to the transition from childhood to adulthood, where the scientific terminology adolescence covers the entire period from late childhood through to young adults. However, puberty is only a transitional phase, in particular, the sexual development.

However, her we don’t want to be all that scientifically. We want to deal particularly with the question of why the search for one's identity is so problematic at this stage or is it only perceived as so difficult.

First of all: What the heck is the deeper meaning of the famous proverb "Neither fish nor meat"? The vernacular says this refers to a phase in life where the young people cannot define, where he is in life. This involves many different aspects. In summary, one can say that young people going through adolescence are looking for their own identity.

Let's see which areas, in the search for the identity, are included and how this quest is noticeable in each area. There are in particular the contrasts and controversies which arise from the pursuit of an identity. Those are the issues which make it so difficult for young people to cope with the current situation.

During puberty, young people are looking for their own identity.
During puberty, young people are looking for their own identity.
©: Studio-54 - Fotolia

The quest for attention

Children and adolescents in puberty in generally have an immense need for attention. They try to generate this attention through uniqueness. There is clearly the individual style of clothing, hairstyles, etc., which gradually emerges at the stage of puberty. While up to a certain age a child is quite happy to wear what the parents have chosen for them. With the onset of puberty, it becomes paramount do decide for themselves, what to wear and how to look.

On the other side, there is conformity

The above-described need for attention would in itself not be all that bad. The problem lays in the fact that the personality of the growing person is not strengthened yet so that they could carry their uniqueness quite openly without worrying what others have to say about it. However, this maturity is not established yet. Going through puberty means that the young person seeks direction in peers regarding their appearances and opinions. Naturally, all their peers face the same problem. This means everybody wants to excel in clothing, style, views, opinions and behavior. And this is two folded: on one side they want to express their uniqueness while at the same time fitting in with their peers and being accepted.

Self-confidence and dares

To represent one's own uniqueness and simultaneously being recognized by peers is (in the opinion and experience of the adolescents) confidence. In connection with that come repeatedly performed dares, which raise the prestige according to others. The following applies: The lower the self-esteem, the more unusual and risky, the dares must be to achieve the desired recognition from others. The problem thereby is that the growing person is not mature enough yet to categorize their own self-confidence. That often leaves them with the impression to be “invulnerable”. This factor plays an important role especially in the field of drug addiction. It is also the main reason why the entry into a drug addiction often begins precisely throughout puberty.

What can parents do in this situation?

All parents are afraid that their child exposes itself to thoughtless risks thereby committing grave errors. To counteract this, the child should be provided with strong support within the family. This results in self-confidence of the child. It has been proven that children with consistent support from their parents develop higher confidence. There is less need than to expose themselves to unnecessary risks. In particular to be recognized by their peers.

On the search for idols

Throughout the phase of establishing one’s identity, it is not only the peers who play a major fact. Young people are looking for role models of all kinds. The main reasons for this are the inevitable changes which accompany puberty. These changes trigger uncertainty in the individual concerned. Therefore, he is looking for suitable possibilities of comparison to find out whether the physical changes they are going through are positive or negative. On one hand, he sees those opportunities in peers but, as already mentioned they all have the same problem. Those role models and idols serve in this phase of life as the better option to determine his position.

For example, guys compare themselves to heroes from movies or computer games. They take a close look, if, for instance, their shoulders are already as wide as those of their heroes. Even girls compare themselves in this way. However for them the heroes are top models which dictate the direction. If, by closer inspection the own waistline is not as slim as the one of the model, disappointment sets in.

The extreme impact of imitating idols

The closer the youth comes to imitate the preferred hero the more recognition he will get from his peers and his confidence, therefore, will grow. Consequently, almost all young people strive to get as close as possible to their chosen idol. This can entail extreme repercussions. For the parents, it is paramount to recognize those signs and respond accordingly.

Those facts mentioned above might impact on the young person’s eating behavior during puberty. It is, in particular, young girls who become obvious with some peculiar eating habits. To imitate their idols, as closely as possible, which are mainly top models, actresses, and singers, they try repeatedly to drastically lose weight by changing their diet. This can result in severe illnesses such as anorexia or bulimia. Treating those ailments successfully can take years.

Puberty: stress with the parents
Puberty: stress with the parents | ©: emese73 - Fotolia

The search for identity and the implications for the relationship between children and parents

Naturally, the pursuit of identity in children and young people is closely related to the relationship with their parents. Young people are trying to become less dependent on their parents. In this context, they push the envelope and explore new boundaries. The authority between children and their parents has to be redefined. It is basically all about the same issues, for example,

  • How long can I go out at night?
  • What kind of clothes should I wear?
  • Can I get a piercing?
  • Why do I have to clean up my room again?
  • The list is endless.

As adolescents, they feel restricted in their freedom by the regulations of their parents. Parents on the other side view their child's behavior through a "moral lens". The collision is almost inevitable. The rule of the thumb is, to comply with certain rules - written or unwritten. And, of course, showing understanding of each other’s situation within the family which can be demonstrated with fair compromises.

When is the own identity found?

Developmental psychology defined several characteristics which indicate whether the young person has (largely) found his identity.

These characteristics are:

  • A fixed career choice
  • The right religion
  • Taking a political position
  • Etc.

Later in puberty, young people increasingly take control of their own lives, make binding decisions and that, virtually in all areas of their lives. That is one indication that the young person has found his identity. However, the process of finding your identity depends on many factors. In the frame of this article, however, I can only attend to the most relevant facts. This process can develop differently (individually) as well as in different time periods, according to the young person’s development.

Youth work - important for young people

Practicing of social skills, addressing problems in shared discussions as well as the support of finding your own opinion, your own place in the world are important aspects of youth work. Generally speaking to support young people in their quest for identity. The more comfortable and included the young people feel within the youth group the smoother they will develop positive interactions. The youth worker, therefore, has a significant role within the youth group.

The youth worker has to be aware that during puberty and the quest for an identity the young people can change their opinions, views and goals quite quickly. What life was all about today can be completely different tomorrow. For the group work that means that today, the young person may fully participate but comes tomorrow, he leaves and is in the pursuit of other things.

In terms of Christian youth work, there are significant changes in young people about their religious worldview. The childlike faith will be replaced by his own belief system, through its own values while at the same time they are looking for guidance and support.

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