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Extension > Family > Families with Teens > Parent Resources > What's Normal for Teen Development > Identity: Figuring Out Who You Are

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What's Normal for Teen Development

Identity: Figuring Out Who You Are

This fact sheet is part of the Teen Talk: A Survival Guide for Parents of Teenagers series.

Colleen Gengler, Extension Educator, emerita — Family Relations

2011. Reviewed March 2017 by Jodi Dworkin, Extension Specialist and Associate Professor — Family Social Science.

teen with dyed hairThe development of identity or one's sense of self occurs throughout a lifetime. However, for teens, for the first time in their life, they begin to wonder about who they are and the reasons for that. Identity also involves thinking about how teens perceives themselves and how others perceive them.

How Teens Figure It Out

Teens will see themselves acting differently according to whom they are with and what the situation is. That can lead to confusion because it adds to their questions of who they really are. For example, teens might ask themselves whether they are:

Teens work out who they are by trying on new identities and experimenting with different appearances or new interests. Fluctuations in choices can startle parents but are normal. This is one way teens "try on" different identities to see what works for them. It could be why "dress up" or theme days for school events are so popular. It gives teens a chance to try something different or unusual in an approved, safe setting.

What Parents Can Do

Sources

McNeely, C., & Blanchard, J. (2010). The teen years explained: A guide to healthy adolescent development. Baltimore: Center for Adolescent Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Simpson, A. R. (2001). Raising teens: A synthesis of research and a foundation for action. Boston: Center for Health Communication, Harvard School of Public Health.

Steinberg, L. (2008). Adolescence. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Related Resources

Changes in Thinking — Find out how your teen’s cognitive processes are changing. Part of the Teen Talk: A Survival Guide for Parents of Teens series.

Becoming Independent — Learn what it means for teens to become more autonomous. Part of the Teen Talk: A Survival Guide for Parents of Teens series.

The Teen Years ExplainedClea McNeely, PhD and Jayne Blanchard — This e-book can help both teens and adults to understand developmental changes and tips for how to apply this knowledge to your everyday life.

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