Erikson’s Identity vs. Role Confusion Stage

Adolescence can be a stressful stage of life. It is a time of self discovery. Teens are trying to be different from their parents, a distinct person, but also trying to “fit in” with their peers. Change is almost constant throughout the teen years; physical, hormonal, and emotional changes are occurring as a child’s body is transformed into a young adult. Often the changes that are happening in the brain and mental processes are overlooked, but taking a closer look at these could help make sense of the seemingly strange behavior or appearance. 

Erik Erikson declared that each stage of life has a psychosocial challenge to resolve. From the teens and into the early 20s the challenge is to be authentic to their identity while avoiding role confusion. “Adolescents wonder, ‘Who am I as an individual?  What do I want to do with my life? What values should I live by?  What do I believe in?’ This is the search for identity. (Myers, p. 196).” This search can lead them to try all sorts of things: a different look, new relationships, changing personas and a variety of activities; these can cause adults to worry. As adults you can find comfort in knowing that this is a part of the process and the extreme changes will often subside with time.

There is the possibility that a teen gets stuck or confused in their identity, this is called role confusion. Some ways to allow a teen to cultivate their identity is to:

  • Remember your own struggles and have patience with them. 
  • Give them space to make some of their own decisions.
  • Choose you battles carefully and don’t make everything an argument.
  • In the awkward moments when a teen’s roles are overlapping and they are unsure of how to act, let them figure it out.   

Remember Pinocchio, he was on a journey to become a “real boy”; he needed to prove himself to be brave, truthful and unselfish and able to tell right from wrong by listening to his conscience. Besides a growing nose when he lied, Pinocchio also started smoking, gambling, drinking and fighting. But that was not the end, no, the movie ended with Pinocchio being turned into a “real boy” because he had done well. Adolescence is a similar journey. Teens are learning and deciding on their character, values, and purpose.


Myers, D. G. (2013). Psychology. (10th ed.). New York City: Worth Publishing Company.


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