Identity Development, Parental and Peer Support in Adolescence: Results of a National Dutch Survey

By Meeus, Wim; Dekovic, Maja | Adolescence, Winter 1995 | Go to article overview

Identity Development, Parental and Peer Support in Adolescence: Results of a National Dutch Survey


Meeus, Wim, Dekovic, Maja, Adolescence


INTRODUCTION

Identity

Marcia's identity status model (1966) is held to be the major elaboration of Erikson's views on identity formation in adolescence (Cote & Levine, 1988). Identity, Marcia suggests, is an ego structure - an internal, self-constructed and dynamic organization of aspirations, skills, beliefs, and individual history.

Following Erikson, Marcia looks upon adolescence as the period in which youngsters experience an identity crisis, which they solve by making choices regarding their future in a number of life domains. Crisis and commitment are the core variables in Marcia's identity status model. These variables make it possible to distribute adolescents over four identity statuses: identity diffusion, foreclosure, moratorium, and identity achievement.

Identity diffusion indicates that the adolescent has not yet made a commitment regarding a specific developmental task and may or may not have experienced a crisis in that domain. Foreclosure holds that the adolescent has made a commitment without having experienced a crisis. In Moratorium the adolescent is in a state of crisis and has made no commitment or at best an unclear one. Identity achievement signifies that the adolescent has surmounted the crisis and made a commitment.

Review articles on research using Marcia's paradigm (Marcia, 1993; Meeus, 1992; Waterman, 1993) indicate that the identity statuses can be divided into two groups: identity achievement and moratorium, which are generally associated with positive characteristics (high levels of self-esteem, autonomy, and reasoning in terms of moral values), and foreclosure and identity diffusion which are associated with negative characteristics (low levels of self-esteem, autonomy, and reasoning).

Our first question in this study is whether we are able to use Marcia's model to obtain a clear view of the development of identity. Instead of making an identity status classification, we analyze developmental trends in the two core variables in Marcia's model: commitment and exploration. (Here the convention to replace crisis by exploration will be followed.) Does exploration become stronger during the course of adolescence and do the commitments become more explicit? Most studies provide an affirmative answer to this question: the number of the higher statuses, especially achievers, among the youngsters increases with age, and the number of the lower statuses, foreclosure and especially diffusions, decreases (Waterman, 1993). Studies, using like ours, separate measures for exploration and commitment (Bosma, 1985; Meilman, 1979; Grotevant & Thorbecke, 1982; Thorbecke & Grotevant, 1982) show a consistent increase in commitment and exploration by age.

Our second question concerns Marcia's assumption that identity formation is domain-specific. Do adolescents have a distinct identity in different domains: intimate relationships and school/occupation? How are these identities related in boys and girls and different age groups? In this context we can formulate one hypothesis: girls have a stronger relational identity compared to boys (Waterman, 1993, p. 61), and their relational identity shows a higher developmental level than occupational identity (Matteson, 1993, p. 81), while this is not the case for boys.

Separation-individuation

Adolescence is the period of the second separation-individuation process (Blos, 1967). It is the second because the first takes place in early childhood, between the ages of 1 and 2. During the first process the child discovers that s/he is "other" than the primary carer and that the primary carer is not always simply at his or her disposal. The second separation-individuation involves a much more radical disengagement. Youngsters achieve their definitive autonomy with regard to their parents. They become independent and learn gradually to make their own decisions. This process entails restructuring their network of significant others.

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