The Search for Identity: Age 12–19

Adolescence is the period of transition between childhood and adulthood. Developmentalists have traditionally viewed adolescence as a time of psychosocial storm and stress—of bearing the burdens of wanting to be an adult long before becoming one. Developmentalists today are more likely to view adolescence as a positive time of opportunities and growth, as most adolescents make it through this transition without serious problems or rifts with parents.

Freud termed the period of psychosexual development beginning with puberty as the genital stage. During this stage, sexual development reaches adult maturity, resulting in a healthy ability to love and work if the individual has successfully progressed through previous stages. Because early pioneers in development were interested only in childhood, Freud explained that the genital stage encompasses all of adulthood, and he described no special difference between adolescent and adult years.

In contrast, Erikson noted that the chief conflict facing adolescents at this stage is one of identity versus identity confusion. Hence, the psychosocial task for adolescents is to develop individuality. To form an identity, adolescents must define a personal role in society and integrate the various dimensions of their personality into a sensible whole. They must wrestle with such issues as selecting a career, college, religious system, and political party.

Researchers Carol Gilligan and Deborah Tannen have found differences in the ways in which males and females achieve identity. Gilligan has noted that females seek intimate relationships, while males pursue independence and achievement. Deborah Tannen has explained these differences as being due, at least in part, to the dissimilar ways in which males and females are socialized.

The hormonal changes of puberty affect the emotions of adolescents. Along with emotional and sexual fluctuations comes the need for adolescents to question authority and societal values, as well as test limits within existing relationships. This is readily apparent within the family system, where adolescents' need for independence from the parents and siblings can cause a great deal of conflict and tension at home.

Societal mores and expectations during adolescence now restrain the curiosity so characteristic of young children, even though peer pressure to try new things and behave in certain ways is also very powerful. Added to this tug‐of‐war are teenagers' increasing desires for personal responsibility and independence from their parents, along with an ever‐growing, irresistible interest in sexuality.