Academic journal article TCA Journal

Facilitating Identity Formation for Adolescent Girls Using Experientially-Based Outdoor Activities

Academic journal article TCA Journal

Facilitating Identity Formation for Adolescent Girls Using Experientially-Based Outdoor Activities

Article excerpt

Recent research reveals that adolescent females experience a tremendous decrease in self-esteem and self-worth. In this article, the authors provide an overview of female psychological development, as well as an explanation of the female adolescent s struggles in developing a strong sense of self. Given a young woman's fragile sense of self, the authors explore how school counselors can facilitate identity development through the use of experientially-based outdoor activities.

What would it mean for a girl to emerge from adolescence--a time marked by dramatic changes, alternative possibilities, potential choices and conflict, and particular vulnerabilities--saying, "I feel connected and am happy the way I am." Such a measure of core, personal self-esteem is not common. Sixty percent of girls between the ages of eight and nine are "confident, assertive, and feel authoritative about themselves," yet over the next eight years of these girls' lives, self-esteem falls "31 percentage points, with only 29% of high school girls saying they are happy with themselves" (American Association of University Women, 1990, p. 4).

The period of adolescence is a tumultuous time for female development of self. Chodorow (1978) posited the existence of sex differences in personality formation that occur in early childhood. These differences suggest that girls arrive at puberty moved by an interpersonal-connection orientation. Since adolescence is a time of separation and individuation, adolescent females tend to have a particularly difficult time given the number of years they have spent in connection with their mothers (Miller, 1993). Sorting out who they are versus who they are in relation to their mothers is perplexing. Furthermore, girls often turn inward to work on separating and creating autonomy. Given that individuals benefit from reaching out in times of crisis rather than withdrawing, such introversion further exemplifies and complicates the female adolescent's developmental process. This article explores the complex issues facing adolescent females' development and how outdoor, experientially-based programs may facilitate growth. In the background section, current theory and research are examined to provide a picture of the struggles of the female adolescent. The remainder of the article discusses how the school counselor can utilize this experiential method of education to foster the female adolescent's identity formation.


Over the last several decades, researchers and theorists have taken a closer look at female psychological development (Miller, 1993). The primary difference in women's psychological development, as compared to men's development, lies in the importance of relationships in women's lives. It is in the way that females interact and connect with others that helps form answers to this adolescent dilemma of plummeting self approval and efficacy.

In her book, In a Different Voice (1982), Carol Gilligan examined the differences between women's and men's moral judgment, and concluded that feelings of empathy and compassion were key factors in women's judgment process. Gilligan interpreted this difference as an indication of women's "care and concern for others," and proposed that care takes females into adulthood through a different developmental process than males (Gilligan, 1982). In one Gilligan study (1980), 29 pregnant women, ages 15-39, were questioned about a moral dilemma concerning the issue of abortion. Three moral perspectives and the transitional phases revealed by this study demonstrated the ethic of a care developmental sequence.

The ethic of care paradigm is created around a central premise: the interdependence between self and others (Gilligan, 1982). The initial perspective focuses on caring for the self in order to ensure survival. This moral perspective is followed by a transitional phase in which this same self-care is criticized as selfish. Here females demonstrate new understanding ofthe connection between self and others which is shown through the concept of responsibility. …

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