Our identity is everything we know about ourselves. It is what influences our choices, behaviours, actions, and reactions. Our identity changes throughout our life.
In adolescence, teenagers are eager to know who they really are—not just who their parents and friends think they are, or who their parents think they should be. They feel an increasing need to shape their own identity. They want to be able to say who they really are.
During this period, teenagers learn a lot about themselves, and about others, their community, and society.
They explore and experiment with many facets of their identity:
- Their tastes and preferences
- Their opinions
- Their values
- Their strengths and weaknesses
- Their sexuality
- Their dreams
But they still need you!
Teenagers need to test behaviours, ideas, and values as a way of shaping their identity. They compare their points of view with those of their parents. They observe themselves and observe other people’s reactions. They experiment more outside of home, while still being grateful for their parents being present and able to meet their needs. Their sources of influence and support are broadening. Their desire to conform to or reject social norms is increasing. They sometimes do things to be more like their friends… and less like their parents!
With a teenager’s sense of identity in full flux, their self-esteem can sometimes go up and down like a roller coaster. The more positive and rewarding experiences a teenager has, the stronger their identity and the better their self-esteem will be.
A step that takes openness and a lot of getting used to by parents!
The highs and lows of adolescence can be a challenge, for both teens and parents! Some teens question their parents’ values, walking the line between wanting to embrace traditional family values and wanting to be different and independent from their parents.
The older they get, the more teenagers make choices that truly reflect who they are. They may change their minds several times about the things they feel strongly about and the things they oppose. Their choices may also differ from what you would like or may even worry you. That is because they are asserting their own identity and starting to pull away from you.
As a parent, it is not easy to accept that your teenager is becoming their own independent person. And that means letting them have their own experiences and learning from their mistakes—and their successes! They are slowly becoming an adult. Even though their values and choices may differ from your own, rest assured, they are not rejecting you. They are simply figuring out who they are. And knowing that you are always there for them, even if they are starting to pull away from you, puts their mind at ease and helps them shape their identity. The best way forward is to talk to them calmly and respectfully and to let them know their home is a safe space.
To better support
Here are some things you can do to guide your teenager through this difficult time, boost their self-esteem, and strengthen your mutual trust!
- Show an interest in the things they like and do, and in their hopes and aspirations.
- Talk to your teen and ask them for their opinions.
- Point out their strengths and the things you notice about them.
- Encourage them to assert themselves, identify and defend their limits.
- Give them the opportunity to make decisions.
- Encourage them to get involved in family life.
- Encourage them to participate in activities inside or outside of school.
- Let them know you trust them but continue to question their actions.
- Pick your battles and accept the fact that you cannot always get involved, so that they can learn from experiences for themselves.
- Guide them by setting limits or occasionally expressing doubts or concerns.
- Encourage them in their efforts to achieve their goals.
- Accept that they will change their mind and sometimes learn by trial and error.
- Help them identify and apply solutions on their own.
- Remind them that you are always there for them if they need you.
Resources and practical tools
1. For support:
If you are dealing with a situation that has you worried, do not hesitate to reach out to a support worker or a health and social services professional:
2. To learn more:
Parents d’ados, De la tolérance nécessaire à la nécessité d’intervenir, by Céline Boisvert, CHU Sainte-Justine collection for parents.
Ados : mode d’emploi, de Michel Delagrave, by Michel Delagrave, CHU Sainte-Justine collection for parents.
L’estime de soi de nos adolescents, Guide pratique à l’intention des parents, by Germain Duclos, Danielle Laporte and Jacques Ross, CHU Sainte-Justine collection for parents.
Latest updates : February 2020