Your Teen's Identity Achievement

An adolescent boy lifting weights in his bedroom.
Caiaimage/Tom Merton/Getty Images

As your child grows up and experiences different phases of development, it might help to know what some of those phases are, and what they really mean in the long run to your tween and his or her adolescent experience. The definition of identity achievement isn't a difficult concept to grasp. It simply refers to having found one's true sense of self. It is a key element of personality development and a process that begins in childhood, most notably in the tween and teen years, and ends in adulthood.

With the tips and examples that follow, get a better understanding of identity achievement and how you can support your children or the young people in your life as they set out on the path of this transformative process.

What Psychologists Say About Identity Achievement

Psychologists believe that identity achievement can only occur after a person has actively explored a wide variety of options available to him. In other words, a person must undergo an identity crisis (or identity moratorium) in order to reach identity achievement. For instance, a person who is in identity achievement with regard to occupation would have first tried out various career routes via internships, online research, and informational interviews before identifying the best fit.

When young people have an identity moratorium or an active identity crisis of sorts, they try on a number of things, such as religion, political beliefs or lifestyles, for size. They simply explore a variety of life paths and philosophies without committing to any one cause or lifestyle. Your tween may be into rap music one day, and the next week he or she may be listening to folk or classic rock. Or, your child may dress like a hippie for months, and then suddenly go preppy, or grunge.

Children, tweens, and teens are all unlikely to have reached the status of identity achievement. They are more likely to be uncertain about their identity (identity diffusion), to have prematurely adopted an "identity" (identity foreclosure) or to be actively searching for a sense of self (identity moratorium). They do not necessarily experience these identity statuses in sequence, however.

Adults can reach the stage of identity achievement by choosing a particular vocation, values, ideals, and lifestyle. Experiencing identity achievement gives an individual a sense of uniqueness and helps him outline weaknesses and strengths and take stands on issues.

Some parents may balk at the idea of their children developing lifestyles that seemingly contradict their own, but it's important to allow children to develop their own identities. In some cases, children may directly challenge their parents' political beliefs, religions, and careers, only to come back around to them as adults.

Even if a child ultimately decides to live a completely different lifestyle from his parents, it's important that he be allowed to do so, as long as his new way of life isn't endangering himself or others.


Identity achievement is one of four identity statuses identified by Canadian developmental psychologist James Marcia. He began to publish work about these identity statuses in the 1960s. Other psychologists have refined his work over time. Marcia essentially concluded that adolescents aren't confused but experience two key processes as they form their identities: crisis and commitment. Identity achievement is commitment.

Theorist Erik Erikson also wrote extensively about identity crises, and Marcia used his work to form his own conclusions about identity in adolescence. Marcia's book "Ego Identity: A Handbook for Psychosocial Research" includes his work on identity theory.

1 Source
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Fadjukoff P, Pulkkinen L, Kokko K. Identity Formation in Adulthood: A Longitudinal Study from Age 27 to 50Identity (Mahwah, N J). 2016;16(1):8–23. doi:10.1080/15283488.2015.1121820

Additional Reading
  • Santrock, John, Ph.D. Children, Eleventh Edition. 2010. New York: McGraw-Hill.

By Rebecca Fraser-Thill
Rebecca Fraser-Thill holds a Master's Degree in developmental psychology and writes about child development and tween parenting.