Chapter 12


Social and Personality Development

in Adolescence


Learning Objectives




Chapter Outline


I.                   Identity: Asking  “Who Am I?”

A.        Self-concept broadens during adolescence to include both your own assessment

of who you are and also includes others’ views.

1.         The view of self becomes more organized and coherent.

2.         Adolescents can look at themselves in terms of traits and can see

multiple aspects of themselves (which can be confusing at first).

B.         Self-esteem is influenced by several factors:

1.         Gender -- especially in early adolescence, girls have lower self-esteem

2.         SES -- higher SES leads to more self-esteem (especially in late

adolescence when one can buy things of value)

3.         Race -- although this finding is now being questioned:

a.         Traditional research says that prejudice is incorporated into

minority adolescents’ self-concepts

b.         Recent research indicates that African-American adolescents

now have same levels of self-esteem as Caucasians (in fact,

strong racial identity is related to higher self-esteem levels).

4.         Using the combination of race and gender together  (ethnogender)

findings indicate that:

a.         African-American and Hispanic males had highest self-esteem.

b.         Asian and Native American females had lowest levels.

C.         Erikson’s stage is IDENTITY-VERSUS-IDENTITY-CONFUSION STAGE, where adolescents seek to determine what is unique and distinctive about themselves.

1.         Those who do not find a suitable identity tend to follow a dysfunctional

path because their sense of self is diffuse — failing to organize around a central, unified core identity.

2.         There are a lot of social pressures to achieve a secure identity (or at least

have clear career or major goals).

3.                  Now, adolescents rely more on friends and peers than adults.

a.       Erikson suggests that adolescents have a psychological moratorium to let go of responsibilities for awhile and explore new roles and possibilities

b.         Although for many this is an economic impossibility.

D.        James Marcia’s approach to identity development is an update to Erikson.

1.         He suggests four categories within which either crisis a period of identity development in which an adolescent consciously chooses between various alternatives and makes decisions — or commitment a psychological investment in a course of action or an ideology.

2.                  The four statuses are:

a.         IDENTITY ACHIEVEMENT - where adolescents consider

and explore various alternatives without commitment

b.         IDENTITY FORECLOSURE - adolescents here did not do

adequate personal exploration but made a commitment (usually

following others’ directives)

c.         IDENTITY DIFFUSION - adolescents explore various

options but never commit to one.

d.         MORATORIUM - adolescents explore and do not commit to

an option and that creates anxiety and conflict.  An identity is

usually defined later, after a struggle.

3.         Although adolescents are not stuck in one category, research indicates

that identity gels by the age of 18.

4.         Forming an identity presents a particular challenge for members of ethnic and racial backgrounds because of several choices.

a.       Cultural assimilation model holds that individual cultural identities should be assimilated into a unified culture.

b.      Pluralistic society model suggests that the U.S. society is made up of diverse, coequal cultural groups that should preserve their individual cultural features.

c.       Bicultural identity suggests that adolescents can draw from their own culture and integrate themselves into the dominant culture.

E.         Depression and suicide are two critical psychological difficulties for adolescents.

1.         Although many adolescents experience depressed moods only a small

number experience a major depression, a full-blown psychological disorder in which depression is severe and lingers for long periods.

2.         Depression has several causes, including biological, environmental, and

social factors.

3.         Girls have higher incidences of depression than boys but the cause is not


a.         Are there more stresses on the female gender role?

b.         Is this the result of girls’ tendencies to react to stress by turning

inward, thus experiencing helplessness and hopelessness?

c.         Hormonal differences are not a factor. 

4.         Adolescent suicide rates have tripled in the last 30 years — it is the third

most common cause of death for teenagers

a.         The current rate is one teenage suicide every 90 minutes.                  

b.         More girls attempt suicide than boys but more boys succeed.

(1)        Males tend to use more violent methods.

(2)        There are estimates of as many as 200 attempts for

every successful suicide.

c.         One reason for this increase is the increase in teenage stress —

but that is not the whole picture.  Other factors include:

(1)        Depression

(2)        Family conflicts

(3)        History of abuse and/or neglect

(4)        Drug and alcohol abuse

(5)        CLUSTER SUICIDE in which one suicide leads to attempts by others to kill themselves.

d.         There are some clear warning signs for suicide possibility.

II.         Relationships:  Family and Friends

A.        Family relationships change during when adolescents begin to question, and

sometimes rebel, against their parents’ views.

1.         Adolescents are seeking AUTONOMY -- independence and a sense of

control over their lives.

2.         The increase in autonomy usually occurs gradually throughout

adolescence and changes the parent-child relationship from an

asymmetrical to a more balanced one (for power and influence).

3.         The degree of autonomy achieved varies with families and with

cultural expectations (Western societies tend to value individualism

whereas Asian cultures value collectivism).

4.         The GENERATION GAP, a divide between parents and adolescents in attitudes, values, aspirations, and worldviews, is mostly a myth: adolescents and their parents tend to share the same major values.

a.         In matters of personal taste, differences are often great.

b.         Adolescents’ argumentativeness and new assertiveness can

initially cause conflict in the family but are usually resolved by

the end of this stage.

B.         Peer relationships are more critical to adolescents than any other time of life.

1.         Peers provide an opportunity for social comparison.

2.         REFERENCE GROUP, a group of people with whom one compares oneself.

a.         Reference groups present a set of norms or standards, against

which adolescents judge their social success.

3.         Adolescents are usually part of some identifiable group. 

a.         CLIQUES are 2 to 12 people who have frequent interaction;

b.         CROWDS are larger groups where people share some

characteristic but often don’t interact with each other.

c.         There are strong expectations that people in a particular crowd

behave in specific ways.  (Is it a self-fulfilling prophesy?)

4.         Gender relations change during the period of adolescence.

a.         SEX CLEAVAGE  is characteristic of early adolescence where                                                        girls play with girls, boys with boys.

b.         With puberty, there is hormonal and social pressure to interact

and eventually most adolescents are in mixed-sex cliques.

c.         At the end of adolescence, cliques become less powerful and

male-female relationships become the focus.

C.         Popularity and rejection are central focuses of adolescent lives.

1.                  Popular, who are most liked.

2.                  CONTROVERSIAL ADOLESCENTS are like by some peers and disliked by others.

3.                  REJECTED ADOLESCENTS are actively disliked, and whose peers may react to them in an obviously negative manner.

4.                  NEGLECTED ADOLESCENTS receive relatively little attention from their peers in the form of either positive or negative interactions.

D.        PEER PRESSURE is the influence of one’s peers to conform to their behavior and attitudes.

1.         For other decisions, adolescents turn to those whom they consider to

be experts in that field or problem area.

2.         In essence, susceptibility to peer pressure does not rise in adolescence;

in fact conformity decreases as adolescents increase their own autonomy.

E.                  Juvenile Delinquency:  The Crimes of Adolescence

1.         UNDERSOCIALIZED DELINQUENTS are raised with little parental

supervision or discipline: they have not been appropriately socialized.

a.         They  tend to be relatively aggressive and violent early in life;

rejected by peers; and likely to have ADHD; and are usually less

intelligent than average.

b.         They are relatively unlikely to be rehabilitated.

2.         SOCIALIZED DELINQUENTS are adolescent delinquents who know and subscribe to the norms of society, and who are fairly normal psychologically.

a.         They are usually influenced by a group & their criminal behavior

is usually committed with a group.

III.       Dating, Sexual Behavior, and Teenage Pregnancy

A.        By the age of 16, more than 90 percent of teens have had a least one date.

1.         Dating serves the functions of:  learning how to establish intimacy;

entertainment; and  developing one’s own identity.

2.         Research indicates that most dating in early and middle adolescence is                                               superficial so it does not help in learning to establish intimacy.

3.         True intimacy is more common in late adolescence where it can

be a potential prelude to marriage.

4.         Cultural influences affect dating patterns for minority adolescents,

especially if concept of dating is unfamiliar to parents.

B.         Sex and sexual relationships are a major concern for adolescents.

1.      MASTURBATION, sexual self-gratification, is the initiation into sexuality for most adolescents.

a.             Although it is widespread it can still cause feelings of shame

b.         Today masturbation is seen as normal, healthy, and harmless;

just opposite to the historical legacy of shame, guilt, &


2.         Ages for sexual intercourse have been declining: over half begin having

intercourse between ages 15 and 18 and 80% have sex before age 20.

3.         The old double standard, in which premarital sex was considered permissible for males but not for females largely been supplanted by a new norm — permissiveness with affection where premarital intercourse is viewed as permissible for both men and women if it occurs in the context of a long-term, committed or loving relationship.       

C.         Sexual orientation questions also occur at adolescence.

1.         It is difficult to determine exact proportions of homosexuality because

sexuality is seen as a continuum.

2.         Causes for homosexuality are not understood, but biological and genetic

factors seem to play an important role.

a.         Psychological family theories do not hold up because no one

type of family dynamic is related to sexual orientation.

3.         Homosexual adolescents have a very difficult time and they are at

greater risk for depression and suicide.

D.        Teenage pregnancy is now an epidemic: every minute of the day an adolescent in

the U.S. gives birth.

1.         Teenage pregnancy can be devastating to both mother and child.

a.         Mothers often have to leave school and be tied to low-paying

jobs of welfare — a cycle of poverty-and-pregnancy.

b.         Children usually have poor health, and poor school performance,

and are more likely to become teenage parents themselves.

2.         Teenage girls in the U.S. are less likely to use contraception than

teenagers in other countries, and less effective means when they 

use them.

3.         Another factor is that the U.S. is still relatively intolerant of premarital

sex so there is not enough sex education to reduce pregnancy rates.

4.         Key factors in preventing/breaking the poverty-pregnancy cycle are:

a.         Completing high school

b.         Postponing future births




Key Terms and Concepts


Identity-versus-identity-confusion stage

Identity achievement

Identity foreclosure


Identity diffusion

Cluster suicide


Generation gap

Reference groups



Sex cleavage

Controversial adolescents

Rejected adolescents

Neglected adolescents

Peer pressure

Undersocialized delinquents

Socialed delinquents