Help Your Teenager: Identity Development

[Especially in the Classroom]

Most people remember their teenage years as a time of experimentation and a rollercoaster ride of searching for identity. For teenagers, the classroom can be a place where they explore who they are and what they want to become. While parents and educators may not always agree on the best way to help adolescents develop their identity, it is important to remember that this process is an important part of growing up. By understanding the different ways that teenagers explore their identity in the classroom, we can create an environment that supports teens develop into healthy and happy young adults.

For many teens: identity development and exploring one’s self expression can take place by

  • socializing with other teens

  • exploring different religious and cultural affiliations

  • engaging in online spaces, and experimenting with virtual identities or virtual audiences

  • sexual activity – especially when it comes to sexual identity or issues around feeling self conscious

  • experimenting with online personas

  • switching from peer group to peer group to find their place of belonging

  • taking part in rich family traditions such as hiking the same trails every year, prayer at the dinner table, family recipes, or game nights

Some of these activities would be deemed acceptable and safe, whereas others… not so much. Especially in 2022.

However, because it’s 2022: the number of safe possibilities for exploring identity options and identity issues have significantly expanded.

Let’s start with identity.

It has been argued in universities such as Drexel and Walden, and most every other country around the world, that in order for teens to develop their own identity, establish healthy relationships, and create future selves that they can be proud of: it starts with owning one’s identity. The fact is that if we don’t give our children a sense of who they are while they’re still in their early teenage years, then when the time comes for them to find themselves and make decisions on where their lives will go next – whether it’s towards success or disaster- it may be too late. If we don’t give our children the tools to make smart decisions, think critically, or navigate the increasingly complex societies that we live in: we may be setting our young people up for failure.

But what does owning one’s identity really mean?

Identity formation can start with something as simple as being able take charge in how one dresses themselves each day. It might be deciding which friends make up one’s social circle (and why). It could be realizing one’s own capabilities without comparing themselves with others so often (which can be a huge hurdle for adolescent development – especially when it comes to one’s self portrayals online). There are many approaches that you can use to support your teenager in their journey of identity development, and these steps won’t always come easy but by equipping teenagers into making these choices now, you can feel more confident that they are going to be better equipped to make healthy decisions and about following whatever paths they wish to take throughout their lives. More importantly: by developing a consistent sense of self identity, and support as they navigate this journey of identity exploration: you’ll find they’re suddenly able to think clearer, study more effectively, establish healthy boundaries within their peer groups, and build resilience.

It is imperative that you support your teenager as they lean into discovering their self confidence and teen identity.

So… How do we do it?

It starts with supporting their decision making and processes towards developing a sense of autonomy.

Now: it’s important that we take your teenager’s culture into consideration – and I’m not just talking about youth culture as a broader term, one’s ethnic identity, values, traditions, family history, and language.

Self identity is rooted in recognizing and celebrating who you are, and where you come from, so that you have a solid foundation on which to build your personal identity. Maya Angelou famously stated “If you don’t know where you’ve come from, you don’t know where you’re going”. It is imperative to recognize one’s personal cultural background, so that we can ensure we are able to leverage their strengths, effectively guide them through their perceived weaknesses, and use their existing knowledge to their advantage in all situations.

By recognizing the defining aspects of one’s ancestors, a teenager is more able to recognize those same characteristics within them.

By honoring the cultural traditions or practices of a people, a teenager is able to garner a meaningful sense of self identity through said traditions or practices,

By celebrating one’s multi-culturalism, teens can start to recognize the power in, and develop their own identities and individual uniqueness, much like pop icons Cardi B, Lady Gaga and The Weeknd.

By acknowledging the values of a teenager’s familial culture, we can more effectively support their growing understanding of how they can take charge of their own lives and learning.

By understanding the household culture that our student’s are growing up in: we can ensure that the feedback teens receive in the classroom is conducive to the ways they’ve been raised to receive feedback.

But it’s more than that.

On a deeper level, by recognizing and celebrating one’s culture: we are now equipping our young people with a sense of pride, a sense of belonging and a strong self esteem. Suddenly, your teenager is not just a name among a sea of other names. They are the son or daughter of you. They are the grandson or granddaughter of your parents. They are warriors and survivors – just as your ancestors were warriors and survivors. In many cultures, one’s identity is not just rooted in recognizing familial ties: but also in recognizing one’s connection to source, and also to the earth.

By recognizing cultural identity in this way: your teenager’s self esteem can continue to develop and grow. And when one’s self identity flourishes, a sense of self belonging begins to take root. Overwhelm and stress are replaced with confidence, resilience and a strong sense of self. Your teen’s identity switches from being perceived as a troubled teen to becoming a stable presence in their own lives.

It is from this state of knowing oneself that young people begin to learn effectively within the classroom environment.

One part identity development; one part culture; and one part… creativity?

Let’s go back to identity development – the way we dress, the music we listen to, and the decisions we make on a daily basis… it’s all part of helping us to establish who we are as individuals. Add in the complexity and richness of one’s cultural heritage and ethnic backgrounds… and we are left with a glorious concoction of personality development, self discovery, and identity formation. For many teens, laying that foundation in the classroom or home-life might be enough.

However, one of the best ways to help your teenager effectively process and secure their newfound knowledge and sense of self is to utilize the power of creative thinking and art. Often this process might mean pushing your teenager out of their comfort zones a little bit… and often it means watching as they explore multiple forms of expression before they settle on one, but the bottom line is this:

Creativity not only documents their journey to fulfillment, but it also allows for the safe and fun exploration of their identity development, and allows for young people to celebrate their individuality.

One of the most effective creative tools that I have personally found has helped me – and hundreds of young adult clients – navigate identity issues, stress and overwhelm, has been through the art of songwriting. Not only can one effectively use songwriting to express their identity through genre and lyrics, but you can include cultural musical stylings, instrumentation, language, or melodies also.

If your teenager often struggles to find the right words to express themselves: songwriting can act as a security blanket to help give your teenager consistent support to accurately express themselves.

If your teenaged student’s ethnic background is rooted in Pasifika culture: you can support their sense of self identity through writing their truth and authenticity to a reggae beat, or ukulele.

If a teenager is unsure how to express their emotional state: you can help them express unease, frustration, or anger through different genres and instrumentation.

If our teenage years are a time of experimentation and searching for identity, let songwriting be a place where teenagers can explore who they are and what they want to become.

I would love to help. As someone who used songwriting as a tool to help me navigate emotions, cultural identity issues, and figuring out my own teen identity: songwriting became my tool fro self reflection, learning and growing.

Book a call with me here to see if songwriting is right for your teenager.

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