The Development of Identity in Adolescents

Jaahnvi Krishnamurthy

Vedika Basu

The development of a strong, and stable sense of self, the understanding of gender identity and sexuality is widely considered to be one of the central tasks of adolescence. Parental support and provision of structure are linked to positive outcomes in adolescents' identity development as well as a positive understanding of gender, sex and sexual identity. 


When parents monitor their adolescents' behaviour, it serves as an induction into the norms of society through teaching appropriate conformity. Because parents socialise their children through the establishment of rules and communication patterns in the family, the degree and quality of parental control have a significant impact on adolescent development. A parent-adolescent relationship is healthy when parents provide structure with enough flexibility that adolescents can securely engage in identity exploration. In-turn adolescents reciprocate by establishing autonomy without sacrificing relatedness. Furthermore, the parental environment of an adolescent also shapes their understanding of gender and sexuality. 


Gender relates to the performance of roles, identities, and ideas surrounding masculine, feminine, or neutral traits. More often than not, we link gender to both outward behaviours and internal ideas about ourselves. Gender also blossoms outward into other areas of our lives and is often used as a measure for sexual desire, behaviour, and societal roles. It is through a process called gender socialisation, adolescents learn about the social expectations, attitudes and behaviours that typically fall within the two genders — boys or girls as part of the outdated binary gender system. 


This process of gender socialisation is usually enabled in the parental environment of the adolescent. According to past research conducted by Hill and Lynch in 1983, parents tend to have gender-stereotypical expectations for their children. They encourage gender-stereotyped behaviours and discourage cross-gender-stereotyped behaviours. This leads to Gender intensification, which is an increased pressure for adolescents to conform to culturally sanctioned gender roles. The potential influence of parental gender-role modelling has also been implicated in studies of children raised by same-sex parents.


Furthermore, children raised by same-gender parents are less likely to exhibit certain binary-gendered stereotypes as compared to children raised in two-parent heterosexual families. However, when same-gender parents divided labour with one parent as the primary caregiver and the other parent as the primary breadwinner, their children were more likely to express stereotyped views about adult roles and occupations. This implies that the parents' sexual orientation, as well as the division of labour in a family, impacts the adolescent's views and understanding of gender identity. 


The development of the adolescent's sexual identity should be evaluated and monitored just like the other aspects of the development. However, under existing circumstances, this understanding does not seem to be possible even in many developed countries — as can be seen in the parents' hesitation to answer any questions their child has relating to sexual identity.

Sexual identity is the adolescent's perception and acceptance of his/her/their own body and self in a particular sexuality, and his/her/their organisation of emotions and behaviours according to these.  Parents also hinder the secondary source for children to have their questions about sexuality answered, as many schools — private and public avoid seminars about sexuality to avoid angry reactions from disgruntled parents. 


Parents are the single largest influence on their adolescents' decisions about sex, and parents underestimate the impact they have on their choices. For most adolescents, the prospect of talking about topics related to sexuality creates anxiety and apprehension, and this may lead to avoidance of discussions. While many parents are coming around to terms with providing factual and mechanical information about sex, they still tend to neglect discussion of emotions, sexual pleasure, and values. This neglect of talking about the positive aspects of sex and sexuality is more or less intentional as parents fear enticing and encouraging experimentation. However, what parents of adolescents do need to understand is that conversations about sexuality can be factual and sex-positive while simultaneously communicating boundaries and values. Adolescents face a significant challenge in their early adolescence. Family and society's attitude, as well as a cultural influence on these changes, during adolescence, plays a significant role in deciding the adolescent's sexual behaviour during adulthood.


While parents must facilitate the development of self-identity, gender identity and sexuality in adolescents, understanding adolescent self and gender identity & sexuality will also help parents to understand the difficulties of their children better. That will help them guide their adolescents in the crossroads of adulthood.