Some teens never find their way to discovering who they are. It’s easy to go through the motions of school, following parents’ orders, and applying for college. It’s so simple to get lost in the to-do list of life that you miss the most important part of being a teen – that is, finding out what makes you uniquely who you are.
This search for identity is crucial! And this is precisely the time to do it! During early stages of adolescence, there is often identity confusion, and what psychologist James Marcia called identity diffusion. At this early stage of adolescence, it’s common for teens to have made no commitment to an identity and have beliefs that remain ambiguous or nonexistent. They are not yet rooted in a sense of self.
Other teens might have families or cultures in which their identity is already chosen for them. There is no choosing or exploring or uncovering because of the environment in which they live. Marcia called this foreclosure, describing when adolescents don’t have the opportunity to choose their unique identities, beliefs, or values because they have been already chosen for them. For instance, teens who are a part of a strong political or religious community or a close-knit family might already have a firm sense of identity because of their association with these family or social groups. In this case, identity roles and beliefs are predetermined, and a teen likely won’t undergo an identity crisis. Marcia recognized that these teens typically have a high adherence to authority without discovering a their own sense of self.
However, if a teen has the opportunity to explore various roles, beliefs, and attitudes, he or she is experiencing what James Marcia called moratorium. It is a period in which there is identity exploration without yet making an identity to any one identity specifically. This is actually a critical task of adolescence, despite the fact that it might be uncomfortable. This period of exploration leads to a healthier adulthood.
If you’re a teen with this opportunity, you may need some tools to begin your exploration. The first is discovery – discovery is one of the most powerful tools for growth and development. Discovery means finding out about yourself. It means learning from your own experiences and adapting so that your life works for you. It means being curious, open, and finding ways to move forward. Discovery is what most children and teens do naturally. They explore, find out more, and have fun in trying new things.
Once you’ve gathered information, you can act as if you have the new belief or behavior down. For example, let’s you admire the way that one of your teachers is very composed, elegant, and mature in the way he carries himself. If you like it, why not try it on? Wear that feeling for a little why and see how that works for you? You might need to be a bit more playful or maybe you want to carry that feeling but with a splash of humor every once in awhile.
What’s great about being a teen is that you can make it all up. You can continue to experiment and try out various attitudes, beliefs, ideas, feelings, and moods. What suits you best? Playing with life and discovering what it has to offer can transform a difficult or boring adolescence into an exciting one! Then, when a teen has gone through a crisis and arrives at an adult-like acceptance of his or her social, religious, political, and occupational identities, he or she has arrived at the fourth stage called identity achieved.
Try to walk through adolescence with a sense of discovery and curiosity. Doing so may in fact lead you to discovering who you are now and who you want to be.