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Identity Establishment in Adolescence and Its Relation to Conflict

Abstract

For adolescents identity development appears to be an essential issue. Identity can be seen as a combination of commitments that influence the behavioral patterns of adolescents. Therefore, this research paper examines contemporary studies intended to discover whether an identity search affects conflicts between adolescents and their parents. Literature suggests that identity development is linked to hostile interactions between family members. Additionally, findings revealed that identity development indirectly influences conflictual circumstances, leading to aggressive behavior and weak self-regulation. The studies also found evidence affirming that adolescents’ reevaluation of commitment negatively impacts relationships between adolescents and parents, linking back to the concepts of Erikson’s theory. The results can be regarded as relevant, as the articles reviewed concerning this inquiry benefited from comprehensive and representative samples. Moreover, all the analyzed academic papers consisted of primary research, leading to unique findings and conclusions.

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Introduction

Adolescence, commonly used to refer to a young adult’s teenage years, has several stereotypical behaviors associated with it. Most prominent is the perception that adolescents are rebellious and temperamental as a result of identity formation. They purposefully break the rules, create conflict with authority figures, and are prone to fits of melancholy and angst. If the adolescent is not allowed to form their own identity, they may suffer from identity confusion when another pre-described identity is forced upon them by peers, society, or parents (Erikson, 1974). Identity can be perceived as a series of commitments the adolescent determined for themselves, while adherence to these commitments generates self-worth. Conversely, breaking these commitments due to identity confusion or other factors often leads to negative self-worth (Erikson, 1974). Identity dimensions are likely behaviors adopted by an adolescent due to their emerging identity, ranging from a predilection for or avoidance of behaviors like aggression and exploration (Morsunbul, 2015). The adolescent creation process regarding self-identity can be linked to conflict.

Furthermore, the “storm and stress” of adolescent and parental relations, particularly the prevalence of conflict, can result from the interplay of parental expectations and teen self-discovery. Parents’ authority may easily lead to identity confusion, generating conflict with an adolescent seeking their commitments. The particular dimensions of an adolescent’s identity can further conflict if, for example, aggression becomes a critical element of personality (Morsunbul, 2015). In addition, creating a new identity may involve purposefully rejecting and combating the previous identity of a “child” to build something new. While some researchers do not find a direct correlation between identity development and conflict, most academics find a correlation between adolescent identity formation and subsequent disputes with other family members. Thus, to fully comprehend arguments supporting this position, it is essential to conduct a literature review, analyze articles, and synthesize central ideas.

Literature Review

The first research does not provide evidence that identity search and conflict are interrelated. The study by Becht et al. (2016) claims that questioning one’s identity is standard during the period of adolescence. Therefore, throughout identity formation, adolescents are expected to enter this period with a collection of engagements in prominent ideological and interpersonal identity areas that are frequently based on parental beliefs and patterns. However, in adolescence, these identity patterns are questioned, and adolescents’ personality formation is thought to occur in emotional confusion. The study results showed that many adolescents revealed reasonably high identity confidence levels during personality formation from age thirteen to eighteen (Becht et al., 2016). However, an equivalent number of adolescents demonstrated a pattern of identity crisis in their everyday character development throughout adolescence (Becht et al., 2016). This form of extraordinary identity uncertainty was supported by weak and greatly diminishing commitment levels. Adolescents in those crisis-like developmental patterns also revealed both relatively more general and specific psychosocial adaptation difficulties. Complex behavioral alterations often follow the period of identity development due to the constant changes; however, it does not directly lead to conflictual situations.

Additionally, the literature suggests that identity searching can bring conflict in the relationship between adolescents and parents. The study by Crocetti et al. (2017) aimed to investigate mutual connections between identity processes, including commitment, in-depth search, and power of family relationships. The study examined 497 Dutch families, including adolescents and other family members, leading to almost two thousand respondents. Thus, the study’s size is sufficient to consider the findings presented by the research.

The authors referred to Erikson’s psychosocial theory, implying that adolescents’ identity can influence the nature of family relationships. Overall, the study discovered substantial evidence to support this hypothesis. Findings showed that most notable cross-lagged paths were occurring from adolescents’ identity to the character of household interactions. Notably, identity defined alterations in communication with parents and siblings. Subsequently, adolescents’ reassessment of commitment aggravated parent-child relationships, reducing paternal care (Crocetti et al., 2017). However, the study suggests that when adolescents are involved in strengthening their identity, they also develop positive relationships with their family members (Crocetti et al., 2017). In contrast, when adolescents are challenging and changing their identity, the subsequent negative relationship within a family may be causing conflicts.

Furthermore, the study has explored aggression and how searching for identity amongst adolescents affects it. This cross-sectional research was intended to measure the contribution of identity dimensions and other personality factors on aggression. The researcher collected information from 484 students from various high schools and universities in Aksaray (Morsunbul, 2015). The study suggests that exploration in-depth and ruminative exploration are critical determinants for aggressive behavior, as these exploration processes influence individuals’ degree of aggression (Morsunbul, 2015). Moreover, in exploration in-depth, people reassess their commitment levels and, as a result, either identify with these commitments or return to the outset position. Therefore, if the exploration process is delayed, adolescents may display even more aggression. On the other hand, the research showed that commitment dimensions did not significantly influence aggression levels. Overall, the study concluded that identity affects aggressive behaviors among adolescents. However, it indicated that some parts of the identity dimensions do not directly influence aggression. The research explains that the process of identity formation is not one-dimensional, and the proper analysis should differentiate between variations of attributes defining it.

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Conflict can result from an adolescent’s weak self-regulation, which can come from a lack of maturity in a young adult’s self-identity. A 2018 study of adolescents’ temperament and identity found that environmental effects can lead to the development of an identity lacking maturity and prone to neuroticism (Zohar et al., 2018). Alcohol, drugs, and social inequality may lead to an immature self-identity, although such an identity is not limited to these factors. In contrast, self-regulation can be developed, leading to the creation of a more mature, conflict resistant identity. Girls were found to learn and practice self-regulation at an earlier age than boys, indicating fewer chances of developing a conflict-prone identity (Zohar et al., 2018). The study created temperament profiles for 752 twelve-year-olds, which were updated every two years, up to the age of 16, to track development and changes. The profiles were generated based on interviews and surveys of adolescents. This methodology is reliable, proving long term data; however, the study notes that of the 752 initial participants, only 628 returned two years later and only 406 two years after that.

Adolescent identity can be divided into three categories: positive identity, negative identity, and arrogant identity; however, only the latter is linked to conflict. A 2019 study found that adolescents who experienced school problems, ranging from bullying and stress to poor academic performance, were more likely to develop negative or arrogant self-identity (Saleem et al., 2019). Negative self-identity is related to a lack of self-worth and indicates the adolescents’ perception that they lack their peers’ social and academic skills (Saleem et al., 2019). However this self-identity is not correlated with a predilection towards conflict due to a lack of self-worth. In contrast arrogant self-identity is a defensive mechanism for adolescents, where self-worth is inflated despite a lack of positive characteristics. Individuals with arrogant self-identity are more likely to generate conflict, as their self-assessment does not match others’ assessment of themselves (Saleem et al., 2019). The study interviewed 400 randomly selected school pupils, ages 13 to 18, from four public schools. A large sample does indicate data reliability, though the focus on schools may only reveal school-related issues, without exploring familial or social conflicts.

Lastly, an adolescent’s predilection towards conflict and other harmful behavior may result from peer socialization. A 2017 study of adolescents in the Netherlands found a link between conflictual and delinquent behavior and the norms presented by a young adult’s peers (Mercer et al., 2017). Adolescents often form their own identity concerning peers and friend groups, measuring themselves against others. This can lead to identity confusion, where adolescents shift commitments. Furthermore, adolescents who identify as friends with conflict-prone adolescents are more likely to be more conflict-prone themselves (Mercer et al., 2017). Through their behavior, peers and friends create norms that become acceptable to the adolescent if their identity is related to the peer group. Thereby, if conflictual and delinquent behavior is adequate to the peer group, the adolescent is more likely to engage in such behavior (Mercer et al., 2017). The study used both interviews in combination with surveying to analyze adolescent self-identity in relation to conflict-prone action. Nearly 500 adolescents, divided into five age categories ranging from 14 to 18, were interviewed, creating a set of reliable data indicating the study’s validity.

Critical Analysis of Literature

The literature reviewed regarding this research benefited from large, representative samples and mixed methods methodology. This allows for the findings to be considered reliable and externally valid. Furthermore, all the studies presented in this paper were conducted in recent years, indicating that the results are relevant. In contrast, only two studies were longitudinal, and most articles showed that identity formation is a process. This is a weakness of some of the researches as they do not cover potential changes over time. While the findings were consistent and did not contradict each other, they do not indicate the prevalence of adolescent-parent conflict, only the possible causes. However, these studies allow for a better understating of how identity formation can lead to conflict in general and with parents.

Synthesis of Literature

Overall, most articles reviewed for this research have presented sufficient evidence that links the issue of identity to conflicts between adolescents and parents. In particular, the argument stating that adolescents’ reevaluation of commitment worsened relationships between parents and children, linking back to Erikson’s theory (Crocetti et al., 2016). Moreover, arrogant identity and the effects of peer socialization were directly associated with family conflicts based on a recent study (Saleem et al., 2019). Some researchers did not find associations between identity and conflict; however, such traits as aggression and weak self-regulation contribute to conflictual situations. All in all, only one study did not specify whether the search for identity causes conflict or aggressive behavior. Nonetheless, the study mentioned the harmful effects it may have on adolescents’ psychosocial adaptation, leading to the possibility of other implied dangers.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the adolescent development of a new identity can cause conflict with their parents. An essential aspect of identity is a commitment, which adolescents may change as they discover themselves. This can lead to aggravation with parents who may disagree with the adolescents’ new commitments or do not want their role reduced by the young adults new identity. Furthermore, conflict can arise due to the nature of the adolescents new identity, particularly if it possesses dimensions of aggression or arrogance. Self-regulation is an important aspect of limiting conflict, and often is lacking in adolescent identity. Self-regulation can also diminish due to environmental factors that determine the maturity of an adolescents’ self-identity. Lastly, young adults often form an identity based on peer socialization, leading to negative behavior if the peer group presents such action as acceptable. Overall, adolescent identity formation has many opportunities to generate conflict. Even more, conflict may arise if the identity itself normalizes aggression and arrogance.

References

Becht, A. I., Nelemans, S. A., Branje, S. J. T., Vollebergh, W. A. M., Koot, H. M., Denissen, J. J. A., & Meeus, W. H. J. (2016). The quest for identity in adolescence: Heterogeneity in daily identity formation and psychosocial adjustment across 5 years. Developmental Psychology, 52(12), 2010–2021. Web.

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Crocetti, E., Branje, S., Rubini, M., Koot, H. M., & Meeus, W. (2017). Identity processes and parent-child and sibling relationships in adolescence: A five-wave multi-informant longitudinal study. Child Development, 88(1), 210–228. Web.

Erikson, E. H. (1974). Identity: Youth and crisis. Faber & Faber.

Mercer, N., Crocetti, E., Branje, S., Lier, P. V., & Meeus, W. (2017). Linking delinquency and personal identity formation across adolescence: Examining between- and within-person associations. Developmental Psychology, 53(11), 2182–2194. Web.

Morsunbul, U. (2015). The effect of identity development, self-esteem, low self-control, and gender on aggression in adolescence and emerging adulthood. Eurasian Journal of Educational Research, 61, 99-116. Web.

Saleem, S., Iqbal, S., & Jabeen, A. (2019). Assessing identity in adolescence: A psychometric study. FWU Journal of Social Sciences, 13(2), 25–35. Web.

Zohar, A. H., Zwir, I., Wang, J., Cloninger, C. R., & Anokhin, A. P. (2018). The development of temperament and character during adolescence: The processes and phases of change. Development and Psychopathology, 31(02), 601–617. Web.

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