Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Seeking The Self - The Adolescent's Quest for Identity

To be, or not to be, that is the question!

This famous quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, sums up beautifully, the chaos and confusion that most adolescents go through, in their quest to figure out who they are.

Am I a child ….. or a grown up already?
Do I know my mind ….. or am I confused?
I want to be a musician …. No, a scientist ….. or do I wish to be a gardener?

This confusion, this not quite knowing who you are, is very much a part of growing up, very much a part of the saga of being an adolescence. We have all heard of parents who wonder where their little bundle of joy had gone, and who this unknown stranger was, who was impersonating as their child!

As parents, it is important for us to understand that as children enter their teens, they start a process of discovering themselves. It’s a period of upheaval, and while some may make this transition smoothly, for most it is a roller coaster ride. And we get to ride with them for free! How we can make this transition easier for them and for us, is to understand what it’s all about.

The term ‘identity crisis’ was coined by psychologist Erik Erikson. He believed that it was an important developmental crisis that most humans experienced in their adolescent years. In simple words, adolescence is a period when individuals start questioning the beliefs, values and ideas that they have so far been accepting and following. As a child, we always accept what our parents, teachers, community, peers tell us. No questions asked. It is now, in this growing up period, that we start asking questions, start asking what we want for ourselves. Naturally, we experience a period of confusion, as we no longer blindly believe what we have believed so far. If we sail through this period, we will have formed a clear identity for ourselves. However, if we are unable to do so, then we experience identity confusion.

What are the things that can help a growing adolescent form a strong and clear identity? Here are a few things that can help:
  • Encourage Questions and Doubts: Your teen will ask you a lot of uncomfortable questions, about values, about God and religion, about principles and ways of doing things. Encourage this. Don’t put it down by saying “that’s the way things are done!” Answer his questions to the best of your abilities, and if you cannot, direct him to the right source.
  • Be Non Judgmental: This is a tough one. It’s hard not to be judgmental about the clothes your child likes, the hairstyles, the music, the friends …. The values. But have patience. Your teen is going through a phase where he is exploring, experimenting, trying out different things to see what fits best with the person that he or she is. Give him the space to do so!
  • Have Faith in Your Upbringing: If you have instilled the right values in your child, or even if you are a teacher, in your students, you don’t have to worry much. While, the adolescent will go through this stage of questioning and rejecting, if she has a strong foundation and base, she will come around. She may not believe in all the things that you do, but sure enough, what she believes in, she will stand by!

Doing the above will help your teenager feel comfortable and confident in going through this process, and your patience will bear fruit. Before you know it, your pricky, irksome teenager will have grown into a beautiful human being with values that he stands by!