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Psychology: Canadian Teens

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Strongest and Weakest Perspective on Adolescence

In our extensive discussion of adolescence and per my own experience, the treatment of adolescence is more of a psycho-social function that is manifested in terms of behavior although this behavior entailed certain biological developments.  Because of which, people conventionally pertain to adolescence and maturity in terms of socially accepted behavior rather than having certain biological traits.  When people say, “grow up” or “act your age”, these utterances that are typically address to young adults pertain to a level of psychosocial development rather than to biological development.  Hence, adolescence is measured in terms of personality traits rather than physical traits.

Under these premises, I consider Erik Erikson’s psychosocial approach to explaining puberty as the most comprehensive and ideal definition and explanation of adolescence.  The adolescence stage which is approximated from 12 to 18 years old is the procedural stage in which a person proactively contributes to one’s development instead of passively receiving and reacting to the social environment.  Erikson proposed that the defining psychosocial conflict on this stage is “identity against role confusion” at which a person shifts from a child to an adult, who is now expected by society or the environment to seriously take responsibilities and roles.  The young adult is challenged not only with physical problems but will have to contend with moral and emotional issues.

The young adult teenager needs to establish one’s identity in the different roles one plays in society i.e. as a responsible or easy going student, an obedient or rebellious son or daughter, good or band influence brother/ sister or friend, a strong or weak male, as a Canadian citizen or Canadian immigrant or as a pious child of God or a non believer, among others.  People at this stage have reached a certain level of mental development both biologically and socially, especially through formal education and experiences from their interaction with people as they become more socially exposed.  With the adolescent’s newfound integrative capabilities, the person’s primary chore is to organize the knowledge drawn from what one has learned about oneself in relation to the environment and assimilate these different descriptions and roles into one cohesive whole that connects one’s past while simultaneously preparing for the future. Thus, the young adult pursues a struggle for psychosocial identity, an understanding of who and what he/ she is at the moment, an understanding of his/ her historical past in order to make sense of direction to the future.

Unlike in earlier stages of Erikson’s psychosocial theory, where parents have direct and strong influence on a person, the newfound ability of the adolescent to think independently for his own, drives them to restrict the influence of their parents and in some extreme cases, rebel against the parent’s advices. Young adults usually withdraw themselves from the environment they grew up i.e. “rebel” in search for their identity, which includes establishing one’s philosophy in life. Peer groups are critical at this stage because many adolescents tend to be idealistic which is often shared with a specific group of friends. However, parental support and presence remains important to guide children because the young adult still lacks sufficient experience.

The Biological definition of adolescence focused on the physical growth and development in this age of puberty highlighted by the occurrence of rapid physical growth (young adults literally quickly grows taller) and the achievement of fertility with the development of sexual and reproductive organs.  Among females, the occurrence of menstruation is the indication that reproductive organs begin to function i.e. the person become capable of reproduction.  Moreover, this also is the stage when female manifest secondary sexual characteristics such as the enlargement of breasts, augmentation of the pelvis, among others.  These changes controlled by endocrine (hormone) changes particularly estrogens for females and testosterone for males.

The biological perspective concentrates on becoming physically and sexually mature, but overlooks the purpose of these biological developments which is ultimately meant for the performance of crucial societal tasks.  The psycho social theory did not discount the importance of biological development in adolescence especially mental development, which is a crucial ingredient to carry out the social functions and attain the roles of being a young adult.  While the biological development related to adolescence are important, adolescence is gauged more on how this physical and mental development are utilized to carry out adult roles, become more independent individuals, and establishing social ties or alliance with the opposite gender or with society in general.  Hence, mentally retarded people even if they have developed the necessary biological growths descriptive of an adolescent are considered children because they behave like children.  On the other hand, children who many not have the biological growth associated with adolescence but who behaved or conducted acts that are responsible are considered matured or adolescent.

By this, biological developments associated during adolescence are only ingredients for the consummation of social roles, functions and behaviors which ultimately describes or defines adolescence. Hence, biology only provided various aspects of biological or physical development but “does not determine the outcome, whether positive or negative for young people”. (Kipke, 1999, p24) The biological development only serves a purpose for defining adolescence but the psychosocial perspective provides the culmination of adolescence.

Erikson’s Identity Development Stages and Canada’s Teens according to Reginald Bibby

Diffusion, foreclosure, moratorium, and achievement are the four identity statuses proposed by James Marcia under his Identity Status Theory that extended the Erik Erikson’s model on Identity Development Stages particularly on the adolescent stage. Erik Erikson’s psychosocial theory proposed the notion of identity against role confusion as the defining “psychosocial crisis” in the fifth stage of the psychosocial stages of a person, which is the age of adolescence.

Each crisis stage, which is arranged in a hierarchical architecture, has a corresponding socialization process that a person undergoes. James Marcia rejected that the adolescent stage is merely comprised of either identity resolution or confusion. Instead, he suggested different levels of identity resolution among adolescents which is tantamount to the extent in which one has discovered and committed to a particular identity or role in the different tasks or function that a young adult plays in society in terms of profession, familial relations, religion, vocation, and gender roles among others. Marcia’s Identity Theory identified statuses of Erikson’s psychological identity development, which are not sequential stages towards identity development but categories that describe the types of choices and commitments made by an adolescent with regards to private and social characters and personality that determines one’s sense of identity.  Following are the status of identity and their brief descriptions:

Identity Diffusion is a state where there is no identity crisis or commitment.  The young adult does not have a sense of having choices and thus, have not tried or show eagerness or apathy in making commitments.  A person at this status is simply indifferent or lacks concern. Young adults under this status often exhibit conflicting personality traits, secular self discontinuity, lack of faithfulness and genuineness, sense of meaninglessness, gender dysphoria, and excessive ethical subjectivism. (Akhtar, 1995)

Identity Foreclosure is the state where there is willingness to commit to certain roles and goals but the young adult has not experience an identity crisis. Premature commitment is usually made to conform to the expectations of influential people such as parents and teachers selected for them but the young adult per se has not made further exploration of other options thereby does not experience any crisis yet.

Identity Moratorium is the status in which the person is experiencing a crisis.  This is also a period of experimentation in which the young adult actively explores, surveys, and discovers different commitments to attain identity.  The adolescent have exhibited preparedness to make choices, but has not made a long term commitment yet.

Identity Achievement is the status in which the young adult has made a commitment after overcoming an identity crisis and period of exploration.  In which case, the person now achieves a sense of identity (e.g. for a certain career path or value) that one has selected.

The statuses identified by James Marcia can be related to the survey findings that Reginald Bibby lengthily conducted among the youth in Canada in his study of Canadian teens.

Identity Diffusion. Identity Diffusion is apparently common among younger teens including young adults aged twelve and below.  In most cases, children at these ages are engage in different fun activities including those afforded by advances in information technology such as computer games and gaming consoles (e.g. PSP).  Following Erikson’s psychosocial theory, young adults at this age are just departing from the latency or school Age in which a person’s ego is developed to either industry or inferiority.  As such, the notion of roles to make and the burden of choices to take are absent. Instead, enjoyable activities occupies the time of these adults that are directed mainly towards building competence and self esteem.

Identity Foreclosure.  The state of foreclosure is exhibited in the significant growth of religion in Canada among teens.  Bibby attribute the propagation of different faiths among teens to immigration, which account for approximately 20% of the population.  More over, devotion and commitment to one’s religion is more common among immigrant Canadians hailing from Asia and the Middle East.  The penchant to be religious is more likely among foreign-born teens because they tend to follow the religious devotion of their foreign parents.  In many instances, religion becomes part of their ethnic identity e.g. Filipinos and Koreans are often Catholics while Indians and Pakistanis are usually Hindus or Muslims respectively.  Identity foreclosure is moreover manifested in Bibby’s conclusion that whether the religiosity and faith of these immigrant Canadians will persist remains to be seen.  Under the foreclosure status, the commitment of these teens to their religion is premature and highly influenced by their parents but is still subject to change when these teens started exploring other alternative beliefs.

Identity Moratorium is the status in which teens experience crisis and conducts different experimentation.  Bibby’s finding that the new generation is becoming tamer is a manifestation of that moratorium. Fewer teens are taking drugs, booze and other activities that were conventionally regarded as rebellious.  Bibby explained that this trend through the principle “familiarity breeds contempt”.  Teens today have been so exposed and familiarized with such delinquent acts and are now trying to experiment on the ideals and values that their grandparents hold dear such as monogamy, stable future, among others in the midst of unparalleled personal freedom afforded to them and proliferation and easy access of these vices in their environment.  In other words, rebellion has become a norm and teens rebel from that norm by experimenting on other values that older generations have taught. However, considering that this trend among the emerging generation is generally for the better, one may also conclude that this is not really a crisis in the horrific sense of the word but simply a crisis in the sense of experimenting or trying something different.

Identity Achievement is demonstrated in the positive outlook among aboriginal teens.  Instead of exhibiting a sense of confusion, despair and isolation which had long characterized aboriginal teens due to discrimination, more on reserve youth show a more optimism of finding a good job, alleviate from poverty and live a comfortable life.  This optimism is an identity achievement in terms of ethnicity.  Through the advances of communications technology, aboriginal students are able to trace their ethnicity, find support and manage to have constant communication with their other ethnic brethren that engenders cohesion and conscious pride of one’s ethnicity among them. This helps aboriginal teens to establish and strengthen their ethnic identity and overcome the barriers of confusion, self pity, and sense of alienation in their quest to avail the opportunity of progress that Canadian society equally proffers to its citizens.


Akhtar, S.  (1995) A Third Individuation: Immigration, Identity, and the Psychoanalytic Process. American Psychiatric Association. J Am Psychoanalytic Association, August 1, 1995; 43(4): 1051 – 1084. Retrieved from:


Bibby, R.G (2001). Canada’s Teens: Today, Yesterday, and Tomorrow

Illustrated Edition. Stoddart

Elkind, D.  (1970) Erik Erikson’s Eight Ages of Man. The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved from: http://www.ceed.pdx.edu/ectc_sscbt/pdfs/EriksonsEightAgesofMan.pdf

Kipke, M.D. (1999). Adolescent Development and the Biology of Puberty: Summary of a Workshop on New Research National Research Council Staff, Youth National Research Council (U. S.) Board on Children, and Families (COR), National Research Council (U.S.) Forum on Adolescence. National Academies Press

Marcia, J. E., (1966), Development and validation of ego identity status, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 3, pp. 551-558

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