The teen years are often marked by angst and confusion. Many teenagers try on a series of personalities, rapidly changing their preferences in clothes, music and relationships as they discover what fits and what does not. Some teens pride themselves on being non-conformists, yet they seem to look quite similar to all the other non-conformists in school.
According to famed childhood psychologist Erik Erikson’s theory of development, the teen years are marked by the search for an adult identity. Teens struggle to define themselves as individuals and to find their place in the world. This process often involves rejecting the norms and standards of their parents, teachers and community, at least for a period of time. Although it might seem that the emotional roller coaster will never end, most teenagers successfully emerge as confident, healthy adults.
Conformity to Society
Although many teens rebel against society, others do not. Some teenagers feel immense pressure to be “good” in order to get into a top college, be a role model for younger siblings, or take on an adult role in family life. Others are natural rule-followers, conforming to the expectations of their family or community simply because it feels the most comfortable to them. Although this is relatively unusual, it is generally not a cause for concern. Maintain open communication with your teen and let her know that if she wants to try a different path, she has your support.
Conformity to Peers
For most teens, fitting in with a peer group is of vital importance. Teens often try to emulate those that they perceive as peer group leaders such as popular kids or older members of the group. You might observe a change in dress, hairstyle, mannerisms and even speech patterns as your teen tries to conform to a chosen group. His grades and work ethic might fluctuate depending on the importance that his peers place on school performance. If you observe questionable behaviors or slipping grades, speak with your teenager in a loving, nonjudgmental way. Ask about his goals and plans for the future, and encourage him to think about how his current choices might affect his ability to reach those goals. Avoid speaking negatively about your child’s friends because that could encourage him to draw closer to them.
How Parents Can Help
Regardless of your teen’s choices, remember that she is still your child. Set reasonable, age-appropriate boundaries, with clear consequences for breaking the rules. Within those guidelines, encourage her explorations. Avoid power struggles and allow your teen to experience the natural results of her choices. Maintain open communication and foster honest dialogue rather than avoiding difficult subjects. Trust your parenting skills and believe that your teenager will eventually find her way.