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Sense of identity

A person's sense of identity is an evolving state of mind that starts to form from birth and perhaps even before. Life experiences influence and shape our genetic inheritances to determine our physical and mental being. Thus it is the accumulative impact of our interactions with our environment that largely determine our sense of who we are. For the infant and child the relationship with parent is the most important influence. By adolescence, parental influence is waining and being replaced by a number of significant factors:

Friends and peers. Being accepted by your peers is a powerful driver of adaption by the individual to conform and fit in.
Culture, race and religion. Each of these will determine how the individual sees themselves and how others interact with them which in turn reinforces their sense of belonging to a particular culture, race or religion.
Role models. Significant adults such as teachers, sports coaches that the adolescent may know personally as well as those they see in sport, music and popular culture.
Ability and performance. Comparing oneself to one's peers and the wider society is probably a life-long behaviour but perhaps more so during late childhood and adolescence. Accepting the limitations of our abilities and achievements requires maturity and security of being which is generally not reached until much later in life.
Social and economic factors. These include access to resources, social opportunities and extra-curricular activities as well as the influence of housing conditions, diet, health and education.

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A difficult time

Adolescence can be a challenging time for the individual who has had the best opportunities and nurturing experiences during childhood. For the many who reach this crucial stage without such fortunate experiences it is likely to be more difficult and problematic. The physical, emotional and social changes that they have to deal with can make this group highly vulnerable. Risk factors include:

mental health issues such as depression, eating disorders, self harm and suicide.
problematic use of alcohol and other drugs
teenage pregnancy
anti-social behaviour and crime
domestic violence
disengagement and withdrawl

The majority of adolescents survive this stage and become successful adults. Not many, though, will emerge without a few emotional scars that they would rather never remember again. Unfortunately, when they in turn become a parent of an adolescent these memories are likely to resurface and they may have to learn to deal with these again.

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You may also be interested in the following pages:

ADHD in Adolescence

Eating Disorders

Sexual Development

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