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5 Facts About Identity Development in Adolescence

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Image of youth on a sports team. Sports are one way to support a sense of belonging and positive identity development in adolescence.

During adolescence, we form a deeper sense of who we are, what we value, and who we want to be. Healthy development in adolescence involves creating a positive sense of self and belonging, based on our values and aspirations.

5 Facts About Identity Development During Adolescence

Following are five facts about how we develop our identity during adolescence:

  • As our cognitive abilities mature throughout adolescence, we’re able to think in more complex, abstract ways that help us engage in self-reflection on a deeper level. Our brains mature in ways that help us better understand others’ perspectives and also make us more sensitive to social feedback.
  • Our sense of identity can impact the choices we make. For example, if we see ourselves as a hard-working student, we may skip that party to stay home and study.
  • Adolescence is a key window for understanding our racial-ethnic and sexual identities. The challenge for youth from historically stigmatized groups is that they are often being defined by others in ways that are grounded in negative stereotypes. Support to develop a positive sense of these parts of our identity can build our wellbeing and resilience.
  • To build a positive sense of identity, we need safe environments and opportunities to explore our place in the world. Programs that focus on supporting racial and ethnic pride or that provide accepting spaces for LGBTQ youth can support positive behavioral and mental health. Sports and other extracurricular activities are also environments where young people can build a sense of social identity, which is associated with increased self-worth and better social skills.
  • As adults, we can help create opportunities for youth to explore roles and activities that can help them determine what they value and who they want to become. We can also ensure access to images and messages that affirm and support pride in our racial and or gender or other identities.

For more research-based information about developing values, goals, and identity in adolescence, read the council report The Intersection of Adolescent Development and Anti-Black Racism by the National Scientific Council on Adolescence.

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