Common Causes Contributing to Unhealthy Teen Identity Development
The importance of identity development for teens is huge. When a teen is developing their identity they are learning what makes them unique while also feeling the need to fit in. For teens who feel excluded from others due to their cultural, ethnic, gender, or sexual identity, this process can lead teens to begin participating in harmful behavior. Other factors that prevent the formation of a secure and positive self-identity include:
- Lack of attachment to parents
- Low self-esteem
- Absence or negative influence of adults
- Lack of acceptance in a positive peer group
Common Problems and Behaviors Surrounding Unhealthy Teenage Identity Crisis
The causes above make a teen more likely to engage in risky behaviors such as drugs, substance addiction, and promiscuity. These teens are also more likely to perform poorly in school, have low self-esteem, and to act compulsively. This is due to the fact that during this time teens are still developing cognitively which makes their thinking process more impulsive than adults. Therefore, simple encouragement from peers can be enough to persuade a teen to engage in risky behavior without much thought. The result of a teen’s participation in rebellious or promiscuous behavior can result in the teen feeling even worse about themselves and can create a downward spiral of unhealthy patterns and behavior.
15 Warning Signs of Teenage Identity Crisis:
- A distorted or unrealistic perception of oneself
- Lack of congruent behaviors and values in different settings
- Self-worth relies on the opinions of others
- Poor academic performance or failure.
- Promiscuous behavior
- Low self-esteem
- Putting down others (i.e., teasing, name-calling, or gossiping)
- Dramatic or out of context behaviors
- Glances around to monitor others
- Putting self down
- Keeps his or her own views or opinions to self
- Intense emotions of anger or sadness
- Change in peers and/or avoids positive friendships
- Disregarding rules and limits
- Use of illegal substances
If your teen displays several of the above behaviors, they are likely struggling to form their identity. The next step parents can take to encourage healthier patterns is to ensure their teen is getting the support he or she needs at home.
ThreePeaks Ascent Can Help Teens in Crisis
ThreePeaks Ascent’s short-term residential treatment center was uniquely crafted to assist teens in crisis and their families create lasting, life-long emotional changes through our compassionate, intentional, research-backed, and safe nature therapy program. The professionals at ThreePeaks understand individuals don’t come with instructions, and every student is unique, capable, and amazing in their own right. ThreePeaks Ascent focuses on helping adolescents and their families through difficulties that occur when various behavioral, cognitive, or developmental issues are present. Research shows that engaging individuals on a personal level with strategic and intentional activities will aid in developing the tools and skills necessary to engage life in a healthy and positive way.
Benefits of a Nature-Based Short-Term Residential Treatment Program
Being immersed in nature can have a profound impact on a teenager. It improves their mental, emotional, and physical health. Combined with a proven clinical approach, a therapeutic experience helps teens heal. Here are specific benefits your family can expect to see while your teen is in nature-based short-term residential treatment.
The first stage of effective short-term residential treatment focuses on assessment and stabilization.
By observing your teen in a novel environment, our experienced therapists gain a deep understanding of what is really happening with your child. Research indicates accurate mental health assessments can lead to a 20% reduction in the number of days in treatment.
Mental health stabilization provides a safe environment to deescalate your teen’s level of distress and/or reduce their acute symptoms of mental illness. Until teens feel genuinely safe, they cannot begin to heal. One therapeutic modality emphasizes that “Cues of safety are the treatment” and “safety is defined by feeling safe and not simply by the removal of threat.” It is not enough to merely tell a teen in crisis that they are mentally and emotionally safe, they must actually feel and believe it.
Once your teen feels safe, our wilderness-based residential treatment program provides a novel and challenging environment that disrupts their unhealthy patterns and behaviors. Behaviors that either:
- cause your teen's mental & emotional health struggles
- or that your teen has developed as a negative way of coping with their struggles.
The second stage of an effective residential treatment program focuses on engaging teens in the therapeutic process and empowering them with the skills needed to thrive.
1. Engaging Teens in Therapy (even if they’ve been resistant to it before)
The ThreePeaks Ascent treatment program is designed to re-engage teens in healthy adolescent development. When your teen attends a short-term residential program, they are taken away from negative distractions they may have at home. They engage in treatment in a way that would not be possible in any other setting.
Your teen will participate in individual, group, and family therapy sessions while in treatment. This allows them to process their behavior as well as make changes in their personal life and family relationships. They are also able to learn from their peers, realize they are not alone in their struggles, and gain motivation to make changes.
We've found that by the time of discharge, 90% of teens were actively engaged in treatment. When contacted six months after treatment, most of these teens maintained the motivational progress they made during treatment.
2. Empowering Teens Through Skill Development
As your teen engages in the therapeutic process, they’ll start to see huge progress. But for long-term healing, it is not enough to only alleviate your teen’s struggles, we must also empower them with the skills needed to thrive in life. These skills include:
- Self-awareness skills like a growth mindset, identifying one's feelings, developing interests & sense of purpose
- Self-management skills like emotional regulation, self-motivation, resilience, setting & achieving goals, planning & time management
- Responsible decision-making skills like showing curiosity & open-mindedness, anticipating & evaluating the consequences of one’s actions, internal locus of control
- Relationship skills like communicating effectively, seeking & offering support, resolving conflicts constructively
- Social awareness skills like showing empathy & compassion for others, taking others’ perspective, recognizing strengths in others
Your teen is powerful, intelligent, and capable. They are among the leaders of tomorrow. That is why the third stage of our short-term residential treatment program focuses on helping teens redirect their previously misused potential toward developing mastery in life.
Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche observed years ago, “Happiness is the feeling that power is increasing—that resistance is being overcome.” When teens develop competence and mastery they:
- gain self-reliance and self-confidence
- become more resilient
- have a greater sense of meaning and purpose
- and better resist negative emotions.
Overall, building mastery helps teens develop a positive mindset. Because they feel competent and in control, they go from feeling, “I’m not capable” to “I can do this!”
Additional References & Mental Health Resources
About the Author
Steven DeMille, Ph.D. LCMHC
Steven DeMille is the Executive Director of ThreePeaks Ascent. He is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. His educational experience includes an MA in Mental Health Counseling and a Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision. His research focus is on Nature-Based Short-Term Residential Treatment, nature, adolescent development, and counseling ethics. He is actively involved in the counseling and psychology profession and holds regional and national leadership positions. He publishes and presents on Nature-Based Short-Term Residential Treatment and the use of the outdoors. This is done around the world at the national and international conference levels.