How to Develop a Healthy Personal Identity in Adolescents


Psychologically, adolescents require room to grow and a place to test their emerging selves. In the process of meeting their needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness, they engage in strange and annoying behaviors. However, these behaviors may not be harmful. Still, when adolescents lack alternatives, they might try to reach their fundamental personal identity by engaging in potentially harmful behaviors that demonstrate rebellion toward their parents, society, and peers. They also find other routes for expressing independence, such as drug abuse and bullying.

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Many theorists have indicated that many adolescents engage in rebellious behavior to achieve personal identity (U. S. Department of Education, 2002). In fact, most adolescents end up engaging in risky rebellious behaviors that hamper the development of healthy personal identity. Indeed, rebellious behavior in adolescents is avoidable, and a healthy personal identity is achievable without rebellion. This research paper aims to provide a persuasive argument demonstrating that rebellious behavior is avoidable to develop a healthy identity for adolescents. The research will highlight the meaning of a personal identity, emotional and social development, stages of rebellion, and the remedies for a healthy personal identity. In essence, the research paper will discuss the work of theorists that cover the development of adolescents and underlying psychological issues that influence rebellion in teenagers and how to avoid them.

Personal Identity

Emotional maturity is the ability to express and identify emotions appropriately and demonstrate positive coping responses to factors of human development such as stress. Emotional maturity is the ability to reflect and understand the self. It relates closely to the development of self-esteem and self-identity of an individual. Self-esteem in this context includes the value judgment of an individual’s identity, while self-identity is the descriptive abilities, characteristics, and qualities an individual uses to define self. Self-esteem is influenced by factors such as the perceived judgment of other influential individuals (Blos, 1989).

The physical changes during puberty and emerging mental abilities influence the self-consciousness of youths in understanding their body and how others perceive them. Self-esteem is usually low during early adolescence, but later it improves because of the increased maturity and exposure to new experiences. Self-esteem improves as the youths continue to understand the difference between the outcome of their performance resulting from inherent ability and natural talent compared to performance outcome ensuing from perseverance and handwork. In this stage, they recognize that they can still work hard to achieve personal satisfaction even if they do not possess intellectual abilities and natural talents.

Emotional and Social Development

During the early years of adolescence, there exist a series of crises that an individual must complete to maintain a developmental trajectory. Those crises force an individual to adopt a more functional emotional stance. In the process, the youth may assert themselves by engaging in rebellious behavior to be recognized and respected. From a Psychosocial perspective, Erickson (1980) views adolescence as a period of role diffusion and identity formation. In fact, the stage stands for a second separation from the adult caretakers. The first separation occurs when they attain the cognitive and motor ability to move away from their parent’s continuous watch. However, during this period, the youth cannot survive alone. The stage is between ego identity formation and role diffusion, which states that if adolescent does not engage in coherent values and sense, thus they will lack a consistent sense of healthy personal identity during the transition to adulthood (Neimeyer & Rareshide, 1991). Theorist such as Noam indicates that teenagers are less concerned with identity formation during early adolescence and more focused on establishing group cohesion (Noam, 1999). The theory is based on the psychology of belonging, which prioritizes the normal developmental stage. In this case, adolescents are likely to evade rebellious behavior if they are proud members of a group setting.

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Therefore, they have the confidence to move to different groups later in life without experiencing developmental challenges. In addition, the model indicates that healthy early adolescence is characterized by identity acquired within a specific group with values and norms. In contrast, healthy later adolescence is achieved by increasing comfort with the capacity to choose among values relevant to an individual. Those development concepts must be considered when dealing with rebellion since younger adolescents are susceptible to peer pressure to identify themselves with the group imposing the pressure. Hence, when counseling younger adolescents, one must consider the effects of peer pressure. On the other hand, older adolescents generally respond swiftly to the challenges of peer pressure since they want to form their unique sense of identity (Walsh-Burke& Scanlon, 2000). Many adolescents solidify their identity by increasing their autonomy; however, they regress, become more dependent, and tend to cling to their caretakers. However, the development of adolescents in an attempt to achieve a healthy personal identity is not a linear process. Therefore, the likelihood of developing rebellious behaviors is evident.

Self Image

A stable and healthy self-image is crucial in the healthy development of adolescents. Problems in the formation of a positive image of self will show significant correlations between family relationships and disturbed peers. Those problems may include mood instability, depression, risky sexual or acting out behaviors, crime, substance abuse, and poor school performance (Agostinelli & Grube, 2002). If adolescents experience physical illnesses, such as deformity or less visible symptoms, their confidence and self-esteem may be impacted negatively. In that connection, they may develop rebellious behavior since they feel that they are neglected and their personal identity has been hurt. During this period, peer support groups, individual counseling, parental support, and nurture play an important role in averting rebellious behavior, and it assists the adolescent in developing a healthy personal identity (Erikson, 1980).

Impulsivity and Risk-Taking

In the early stages of adolescence, a heightened sense of invulnerability and grandiosity is merged with a less capacity to foresee long-term consequences and immediate danger. The risk potential is usually increased by physical maturity advancement, heightened sex drive, increased intellectual capacity, geographical mobility, and greater earning potential. The offshoot of those factors may increase rebellious behavior and read to experimentation and involvement in the use of alcohol, drugs, sexual activity, and another courting of danger.

According to Noam (1999), teenagers in their adolescent years have a higher probability of engaging in risk-taking activities that potentially harm them and others near them. They may be involved in criminal conduct, sexual activities, and dangerous driving. In fact, adolescence is the duration of heightened rates of norm-breaking, criminal behavior, and being antisocial. In the early decades of the 20th century, danger-seeking behaviors were regarded as a pattern of adolescent stress and storm, indicating that the duration of semi criminality is normal for developing a healthy personal identity.

However, even if there is a significant connection between adolescent risk-taking behaviors with a neurologic substratum, clear messages concerning healthy and safe lifestyles, along with controlled limits from the teachers, parents, adult role models, and teachers, are required. However, adolescents may find the admonitions and rules from the adults off-putting; thus, limit setting is perceived as a sign of support, love, and protection. In essence, when the danger is not an issue for adolescents, most experts believe that environmental exploration and experimentation are integral parts of developing a healthy personal identity (Gogtay, Giedd, & Lusk, 2004).

Parental Role Modeling

In the development process, separating the adolescent from the parent by increasing the guardian’s autonomy makes the youth revert to their earlier patterns of life and rebel toward their parents. Therefore, adolescents must be nurtured and supported to modify their behavior, thus assisting them in achieving a healthy personal identity. They may appear unaffected by the parental values, but they are strongly influenced by values, attitude, and behavior modeled by their caregivers (Muris, Steerneman, Merckelbach, & Meesters, 1996). Hence, it is imperative for the parents to open lines of communication and consider the behavior and values they are demonstrating to the youth. Indeed, after a long duration of rejection and rebellion, the youth may become amenable to acknowledging the parental standards and values of conduct they rejected if the surrogate parents demonstrate a good relationship with them.

Healthy parenting should accept individuated adolescent identity formation and the psychosocial separation from the guardian. Parents and adults involved in teenagers’ life can manipulate the development of a healthy personal identity through positive role modeling. They can do it by setting good examples demonstrating gratifying and responsible experiences in their own life and accepting the young without being judgmental. Under role modeling, parents should affirm positive qualities identified with the adolescent’s personality and overtly show admiration and praise for such qualities. In fact, in most cases, the rebellion that conflicts with the parents during adolescence does not necessarily indicate a serious rift between the parents and the youth. Even if the rebellion is very high, the adolescent and the parent report that their overall relationship remains strong, with a base of shared affection, values, family commitment, and respect. The conflicts experienced should not lead to rebellion as the parents and youth agree about principal values, such as honesty, that exist between them (Aziz, Hassan, & Naushaba, 2011).

Adolescents and the Media

During adolescence, young people experience changes in their emotional, physical, and social maturity. Some of those changes are inspired by outside factors, which can influence the teenager’s thoughts and behaviors. One of the greatest influences comes from the media since adolescents can copy what they see and translate it to their daily activities, more so rebellious behaviors. According to the U.S. Department of Education (2002), young people spend at least three hours watching television. Unfortunately, many of the programs they watch contain acts of violence, alcohol advertisements, and unrealistic body images. Those programs negatively influence the youth, making them rebellious to their parents as they seek personal identity.

Therefore, parents and guardians should regulate when the television should be watched and encourage adolescents to involve themselves in outdoor activities that engage them physically and mentally, such as playing games (Wright & Griffin, 2010). In addition, the internet is another popular media that adolescents use. Many sites on the internet are not restricted and contain information about drugs, sex, alcohol, and violence. Another popular medium used by the youth is watching movies. They are admired by the youth, especially in instances of violence. The content of the movies can initiate aggressive behavior, including robbery, homicide, rape, and assault, particularly right after the violent act are experienced in the movie. Lastly, there are magazines that are also frequently viewed by adolescents. Many magazines usually show models with unhealthy body weights representing the ideal body structure (U.S. Department of Education, 2002).

In essence, to make the experiences of teenagers with the media more positive, it is imperative for social workers to consider various factors in the adolescents’ environment. They should help the parents understand how to filter harmful content in the media programs through a V-chip program that detects those TV movies rated PG-13, R, X, OR PG. The same filter can detect websites that are not fit for teenagers (U.S. Department of Education, 2002). Next, they can encourage parents to be more familiar with those programs that are very popular with adolescents and monitor them as required. Still, parents should discuss with their adolescents the dangers involved in watching programs that are not screened and demonstrate the potential threats involved.



Agostinelli, G. & Grube, J. W. (2002). Alcohol counter-advertising and the media: A review of recent research. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Publications

Aziz, S., Hassan, H., & Naushaba, A. (2011). Role of Parental Involvement in Their Childrenʼs Studies and Children’s Achievement. Language in India,11(6), 158-163.

Blos P. (1989). The Adolescent Passage: Developmental Issues. New York, NY: International Universities Press.

Erikson, E., H. (1980). Identity and the Life Cycle. New York, NY: WW Norton.

Gogtay N, Giedd JN, Lusk L. (2004). Dynamic mapping of human cortical development during childhood through early adulthood. Proc Natl Acad Sci.101:8174–8179

Muris, P., Steerneman, P., Merckelbach, H., & Meesters, C. (1996). The role of parental fearfulness and modeling in childrenʼs fear. Behaviour Research and Therapy34(3), 265-268.

Neimeyer, G. J., & Rareshide, M. B. (1991). Personal memories and personal identity: The impact of ego identity development on autobiographical memory recall. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Noam G. (1999). The psychology of belonging: reformulating adolescent development. Adolesc Psychiatry.24: 49–68

S. Department of Education. (2002). Media—Helping your child through early adolescence [Online]. Retrieved from ce/partx.html

Walsh-Burke, K. & Scanlon, P. (2000). Beyond reviving Ophelia: Groups for girls 12-14 and

women who care about them. Social Work with Groups, 23(1), 71-81.

Wright, M. S., & Griffin, S. (2010). A qualitative study of parental modeling and social support for physical activity in underserved adolescents. Health Education Research25(2), 224-232.

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