Completion of Erik Erikson's Identity Achievement Task for adolescents is even more crucial today than it was in days when alcohol was the main substance available to deaden the pain of not belonging.
The developmental psychologist Erik Erikson's Identity Achievement stage (Who am I and what am I going to do with my life)is even more crucial in today's world than it was when the world was a simpler place. While in the roaring thirties a very few teenagers would choose to follow the likes of gangsters like Bonnie and Clyde today's movies and song lyrics add a huge degree of glamor to rebellion and anti-social activities. The work of James Marcia informed us that there are several ways that the Adolescent Identity Achievement task can be resolved. There is "foreclosure" or borrowing the identity of a parent. Placing a "moratorium" or truce on the task is possible when an adolescent wants to try on several identities before making a final choice. There is also the possibility of arriving at a positive identity achievement. However, what is more problematic today is when an adolescent enters a stage of what Marcia calls "diffusion" when the Identity Achievement task is viewed as too difficult. Also problematic is rebelling and taking on an identity such as a gang member which in today's world can have severe repercussions. There are a number of ways that parents can aid their adolescents into reaching a positive identity achievement. The key words to identity are "belonging" and "passion". When a "passion" or an interest that consumes the youngster is evident (music, computer, sports, writing, dancing, drama, outdoor activities, pets, air cadets, scouting, volunteering, etc.) the parent can support and fund these activities. Encouragement, funding and even transporting to activities can be the passport to transforming a worthwhile activity into a life-long career or vocation. It is not for nothing that middle-class parents are forever driving their offspring to such activities as soccer, synchronized swimming, and ice skating. Supporting funding of worthwile community center programs for young people is a way of reaching disadvantaged youths who without a legitimate way to further their "passion" may choose belonging to gang activities taking place around them. Adolescents as well as the rest of us are social animals, desperate to receive attention and praise. If this attention can not be gained in a positive fashion than it is logical that negative identity achievement (rebellion and youth gang attachment) may occur. Middle or High Schools may well be the last chance of disadvantaged youths to achieve a positive identity achievement. Clubs, social activities, and vocational choice guidance with understanding teachers and peers can be invaluable. Diffusion is particularly dangerous nowadays as the choice of mind altering substances goes far beyond that of alcohol into such unforgiving substances as "Ice" which do substantial harm to both the body and the mind.