What is Identity Development in Teens?

Your teen will develop her identity during adolescence.
Tassii/E+/Getty Images

Answering the question, 'Who am I?' is one of the biggest tasks of the adolescent years. While a teen rapidly experiences ongoing physical, mental, and emotional changes, she'll also experience some turmoil about who she is as a person.

Identity development is about identifying a sense of self. At some point during the teen years, young people begin to realize all the ways that they are different from other people, including you.

And a teen must establish some new-found independence. During that process she will learn more about herself and who she is, as well as what type of live she wants to have in the future.

What to Expect From Your Teen

Your teen may go through phases where she seems to test out new personas. She might change friend groups as she tries to see where she fits in. She might discover she doesn't identify with one particular clique or she may recognize that she and her childhood friends no longer have much in common.

She may also begin to become a bit rebellious. She may experiment with new behaviors or she might break a few rules. She might do things that seem completely out of character as well, such as experimenting with alcohol or cigarettes.

This is all normal as teens try to rebel from their own childhoods. A teen who was a good student in elementary school may try to shed the label of a 'goody two-shoes' in high school by skipping class once in a while.

She may struggle to understand how others perceive her as well. She may want reassurance that her peers see her as 'cool' or 'athletic.' 

Many of today's teens are turning to the internet to gain validation for who they are. A teen may feel accepted when she gets plenty of likes on her latest Facebook post or when people compliment on her Instagram selfie.

For some teens, this external validation can become quite unhealthy as the need for reassurance may never be satisfied. 

Other teens seem to experience increased self-confidence as they discover their strengths and a talents. New privileges, like learning how to drive, can help them blossom. 

How to Help Your Teen


It's important to help your teen develop a strong sense of identity. Here are some ways you can do this:

  • Allow for self-expression. If your teen wants to dye her hair black or she wants to wear clothes that don't match, let her do it. These minor forms of rebellion can be short-lived phases that help your teen try out new forms of expression. They can also prevent more serious rule violations and forms of rebellion. 
  • Ask questions about the future. Ask your teen questions like, "What do you want your life to be like as an adult?" Help your teen see she has a lot of choices in developing the type of lifestyle she wants to live, ranging from her choices in employment to the people she surrounds herself with. 
  • Instill healthy values. Be proactive about teaching your teen your values. Don't just talk about them, live according to your values and your teen will internalize them. 
  • Encourage critical thinking. It's important to encourage your teen to develop a mind of her own. Don't just tell her what to do or solve her problems for her. Instead, ask questions like, "What do you think you should do?" and help her develop the critical thinking skills she'll need to make healthy decisions when she lives on her own.

Continue Reading