Individuals try on different identities as a normal part of development. Usually, this behavior declines during young adulthood, with identity becoming stable and remaining somewhat permanent through middle age and beyond.
The search for identity may include donning "costumes" of different peer groups, cloaking oneself in attitudes or causes unfamiliar to the parent, and adjusting physical appearance. The more extreme or permanent the change, the more likely it will cause concern in adults, at times provoking conflict between parents or authority figures and the youth.
When the youth tries out an identity significantly different than the identity of the parent, adults may feel concerned or confused. When results react in anger to such adolescent play, what may have been a temporarily mask donned by the youth can become an identity rigidly defended in an effort to differentiate the child from the adults in their life. Keep in mind, not every identity tried by a child will feel comfortable to him or her. Only they will know what “fits” as they pass through this stage of development.
What is a parent to do when faced with distasteful identities that mark this phase of development in a child? Ask your child to talk about the advantages and drawbacks of the identity. Conversations that are candid and non-judgmental allow the youth to think beyond their often emotional choices of identity. Unless the search for identity involves permanent disfigurement or places the youth at risk for serious injury, patience and tolerance are advisable reactions.
Today, I will see my child’s identity play for what it is, an attempt to explore the many different kinds of individuals they may choose to become as an adult.