Children are always exploring their independence and developing their identity, or in other words, a sense of self. Research has shown that those who receive proper encouragement and reinforcement will emerge with a strong sense of self. Those who do not receive proper encouragement and reinforcement will remain unsure of themselves and confused about the future. For this reason, I believe an authoritative parenting style is the most beneficial factor in the formation of identity.
Before we get into parenting styles, we must first discuss how an identity is formed. One of Erik Erikson’s steps in his Theory of Psychosocial Development is identity versus confusion, commonly called the identity crisis. This is a period of exploration and analysis of different ways of looking at oneself.1 James Marcia expanded on Erikson’s theory by stating that there are two parts in the process of identity – a crisis and a commitment. He defined a crisis as a time of turmoil where old values and choices are being reexamined. The result of a crisis leads to a commitment to a certain value or role. Commitment to that value or role means not only making a firm choice, but engaging in activities to implement that choice as well.2 People who have explored and committed to an identity are more open, experience fewer problems in society, and are more effective communicators.3 Effective parenting helps children make it through the crisis stage and establish a commitment.
There are four patterns of parenting – authoritarian, authoritative, indulgent, and uninvolved parenting. Authoritarian parents are controlling and demanding but not very loving or responsive to their children’s needs. They intervene frequently and do not allow their children to make independent choices. Authoritative parents have high expectations and set clear boundaries, but allow their children considerable freedom. They are accepting, loving, and supportive of their children. Indulgent parents are responsive to their children’s needs but completely undemanding. They are warm and loving but set no clear boundaries or expectations. Uninvolved parents are unresponsive and undemanding. They are not warm or loving, nor do they set any type of boundaries or expectations.
With these four types of parenting in mind, let’s take a look at what parental characteristics help or hinder a child’s identity development. The emotional characteristics that facilitate identity development are warmth, companionship, and acceptance. The behavioral characteristics that facilitate identity development are setting reasonable behavior standards and enforcing adherence to those standards, encouraging self-expression and self-exploration, and being accepting of others’ perspectives. The emotional characteristics that impede a child’s identity development are hostility, restrictiveness, emotional distance, and rejection. The behavioral characteristics that impede identity development are rigidity, intolerance, inability to adjust, and not setting behavior standards.4These emotional and behavioral characteristics that assist or inhibit identity development tie back into the afore mentioned patterns of parenting.
Both authoritarian and uninvolved parents’ emotional and behavioral characteristics obstruct identity development. Indulgent parents’ emotional characteristics help identity development, but their behavioral characteristics hamper it. Authoritative parents’ emotional and behavioral characteristics support identity development. As you can see, neither a neglectful or avoidant style of parenting is likely to help the development of identity. Steinberg stated that “compared with their counterparts from non-authoritative homes, authoritatively reared adolescents earn higher grades in school, are more self-reliant, report less psychological distress, and are less involved in delinquent activity”.5In conclusion, I believe that authoritative parenting is the most beneficial factor in the formation of identity. This is because the emotional and behavioral characteristics of authoritative parenting enable children to most effectively pass through the crisis stage of development and make a firm commitment. Therefore, the child is able to establish a solid identity.
1. Erikson, E. H. (1968). Identity: Youth and Crisis. New York: Norton.
2. Marcia, J. E. (1966). Development and validation of ego-identity status. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 3, 551-558.
3. Bhushan, R., & Shirali, K. A. (1992). Family types and communication with parents: A comparison of youth at different identity levels. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 21, 687-697.
4. Adams, G. R., Dyk, P., & Bennion, L. D. (1990). Parent-adolescent relationships and identity formation. In B. K. Barber & B. C. Rollins (Eds.), Parent-adolescent relationships (pp. 1-16). Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
5. Steinberg, L. (2001). We know some things: Parent-adolescent relationships in retrospect and prospect. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 11, 28.
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