Developmental Psychology of Adolescent Girls: Conflicts and Identity Issues

By Powell, Katherine C. | Education, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Developmental Psychology of Adolescent Girls: Conflicts and Identity Issues


Powell, Katherine C., Education


Adolescent teenagers, who are undergoing the process of growth between childhood and maturity or adulthood, are usually thirteen to nineteen years of age.

During this period of adolescence, biological, emotional or psychosocial conflicts are evident. Adolescents are learning to cope with changes while concerned with self-image, self-esteem, social expectations and academic achievement. They are trying to find out: (1) who they are, separating from their families; (2) what they are about, their interests and personalities; and (3) where they are going, in order to discover their place in adult life (Santrock, 2001). Adolescents are also confronted with career choices, romantic entanglements and responsibilities that are new experiences in which they may make decisions or adjustments to attain their own identity or success. They have to make choices, be successful in school and manage life to attain a healthy identity at the end of adolescence. Identity refers to the sense of self or a consistent unique character over a period of time. The additional responsibilities and social expectations adolescents face may create conflicts for them to resolve, while defining their own identities.

Erikson (1968), a student of Freud and developmental theorist, depicted eight stages of life span development. His fifth psychosocial stage of human development, "Identity versus Identity Confusion", states that if adolescents are not given the chance to explore their new roles and cannot follow a future positive path, they may remain confused about their identity. Erikson (1968) included socio-emotional tasks into his developmental framework for each one of his stages. Adolescents need to be able to complete these tasks, find resolution to conflicts or adjustments and reach their unique identity. Santrock (2001) cited a study stating that adolescent girls and boys have a lower self-esteem from ages thirteen to eighteen and also that girls' self-esteem is twice as low as boys. Resolving conflicts during adolescence helps adolescents become who they will be, unique individuals, progressing further into higher developmental stages.

Understanding early development may also help clarify the adolescent process. During early childhood, as children separate from their parents, they experience the individuation process of becoming independent. For teenagers to become independent, their self-concept and self-esteem have to be strong to overcome adolescent conflicts.

Adolescent conflicts may manifest in discipline problems in school and an inability to focus on their studies or accomplish their school work. Self-esteem in this context refers to self-worth, self-respect or how one regards or feels about oneself; self-concept refers to perception about identity and achievements. Both play an integral part in the process of adolescent development. The critical time for development of girls starts in early childhood when they are separating from their female caretakers forming their own personalities. This process is the start of forming a 'self' or thinking of self as separate from the primary caretaker. The conflict for girls is to resolve this individuation or separating process while still trying to stay close or connected to their mothers. This process for boys is analogous to girls', but may not be as complex since the gender of the primary caretaker is usually different which makes the separation process easier.

The primary focus of this paper is to present a psychoanalytical perspective on conflicts of identity resolutions experienced by adolescents. There are two major psychoanalytical theories (Oedipal complex and object relations) on relationships:

(1) the sexual gratification theory derived from Freud's Oedipal complex where the sexual drive of obtaining his or her parent is paramount and (2) the object relations theory which shifts the drive from sexual to relationships as objects other than self. …

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