Emotional and Social Development in Adolescence

What you'll learn to do: describe adolescent identity development and social influences on development

2 people sitting together on the grass looking at their laptops Adolescence is a period of personal and social identity formation, in which different roles, behaviors, and ideologies are explored. In the United States, adolescence is seen as a time to develop independence from parents while remaining connected to them. Some key points related to social development during adolescence include the following:

  • Adolescence is the period of life known for the formation of personal and social identity.
  • Adolescents must explore, test limits, become autonomous, and commit to an identity, or sense of self.
  • Erik Erikson referred to the task of the adolescent as one of identity versus role confusion. Thus, in Erikson’s view, an adolescent’s main questions are “Who am I?” and “Who do I want to be?”
  • Early in adolescence, cognitive developments result in greater self-awareness, the ability to think about abstract, future possibilities, and the ability to consider multiple possibilities and identities at once.
  • Changes in the levels of certain neurotransmitters (such as dopamine and serotonin) influence the way in which adolescents experience emotions, typically making them more emotional and more sensitive to stress.
  • When adolescents have advanced cognitive development and maturity, they tend to resolve identity issues more easily than peers who are less cognitively developed.
  • As adolescents work to form their identities, they pull away from their parents, and the peer group becomes very important; despite this, relationships with parents still play a significant role in identity formation.


Learning outcomes

  • Describe changes in self-concept and identity development during adolescence
  • Explain Marcia's four identity statuses
  • Examine changes in family relationships during adolescence
  • Describe adolescent friendships and dating relationships as they apply to development
  • Explain the role that aggression, anxiety, and depression play in adolescent development


Identity Formation

Psychosocial Development

Identity Development

Young teenagers, most wearing school uniforms, smiling outside. Figure 1. Adolescents simultaneously struggle to fit in with their peers and to form their own unique identities.


Identity development is a stage in the adolescent life cycle. For most, the search for identity begins in the adolescent years. During these years, adolescents are more open to 'trying on' different behaviors and appearances to discover who they are. In an attempt to find their identity and discover who they are, adolescents are likely to cycle through a number of identities to find one that suits them best. Developing and maintaining identity (in adolescent years) is a difficult task due to multiple factors such as family life, environment, and social status. Empirical studies suggest that this process might be more accurately described as identity development, rather than formation, but confirms a normative process of change in both content and structure of one's thoughts about the self.

Self-Concept

Two main aspects of identity development are self-concept and self-esteem. The idea of self-concept is known as the ability of a person to have opinions and beliefs that are defined confidently, consistently and with stability. Early in adolescence, cognitive developments result in greater self-awareness, greater awareness of others and their thoughts and judgments, the ability to think about abstract, future possibilities, and the ability to consider multiple possibilities at once. As a result, adolescents experience a significant shift from the simple, concrete, and global self-descriptions typical of young children; as children they defined themselves by physical traits whereas adolescents define themselves based on their values, thoughts, and opinions. Adolescents can conceptualize multiple "possible selves" that they could become and long-term possibilities and consequences of their choices. Exploring these possibilities may result in abrupt changes in self-presentation as the adolescent chooses or rejects qualities and behaviors, trying to guide the actual self toward the ideal self (who the adolescent wishes to be) and away from the feared self (who the adolescent does not want to be). For many, these distinctions are uncomfortable, but they also appear to motivate achievement through behavior consistent with the ideal and distinct from the feared possible selves. Further distinctions in self-concept, called "differentiation," occur as the adolescent recognizes the contextual influences on their own behavior and the perceptions of others, and begin to qualify their traits when asked to describe themselves. Differentiation appears fully developed by mid-adolescence. Peaking in the 7th-9th grades, the personality traits adolescents use to describe themselves refer to specific contexts, and therefore may contradict one another. The recognition of inconsistent content in the self-concept is a common source of distress in these years, but this distress may benefit adolescents by encouraging structural development.

Self-Esteem

Another aspect of identity formation is self-esteem. Self-esteem is defined as one's thoughts and feelings about one's self-concept and identity. Most theories on self-esteem state that there is a grand desire, across all genders and ages, to maintain, protect and enhance their self-esteem. Contrary to popular belief, there is no empirical evidence for a significant drop in self-esteem over the course of adolescence. "Barometric self-esteem" fluctuates rapidly and can cause severe distress and anxiety, but baseline self-esteem remains highly stable across adolescence. The validity of global self-esteem scales has been questioned, and many suggest that more specific scales might reveal more about the adolescent experience. Girls are most likely to enjoy high self-esteem when engaged in supportive relationships with friends, the most important function of friendship to them is having someone who can provide social and moral support. When they fail to win friends' approval or can't find someone with whom to share common activities and common interests, in these cases, girls suffer from low self-esteem.

In contrast, boys are more concerned with establishing and asserting their independence and defining their relation to authority. As such, they are more likely to derive high self-esteem from their ability to successfully influence their friends; on the other hand, the lack of romantic competence, for example, failure to win or maintain the affection of the opposite or same-sex (depending on sexual orientation), is the major contributor to low self-esteem in adolescent boys.

Identity Formation: Who am I?

Adolescents continue to refine their sense of self as they relate to others. Erik Erikson referred to life's fifth psychosocial task as one of identity versus role confusion when adolescents must work through the complexities of finding one's own identity. Individuals are influenced by how they resolved all of the previous childhood psychosocial crises and this adolescent stage is a bridge between the past and the future, between childhood and adulthood. Thus, in Erikson’s view, an adolescent’s main questions are “Who am I?” and “Who do I want to be?” Identity formation was highlighted as the primary indicator of successful development during adolescence (in contrast to role confusion, which would be an indicator of not successfully meeting the task of adolescence). This crisis is resolved positively with identity achievement and the gain of fidelity (ability to be faithful) as a new virtue, when adolescents have reconsidered the goals and values of their parents and culture. Some adolescents adopt the values and roles that their parents expect for them. Other teens develop identities that are in opposition to their parents but align with a peer group. This is common as peer relationships become a central focus in adolescents’ lives.

Expanding on Erikson's theory, Marcia (1966)[35]) described identify formation during adolescence as involving both decision points and commitments with respect to ideologies (e.g., religion, politics) and occupations. Foreclosure occurs when an individual commits to an identity without exploring options. Identity confusion/diffusion occurs when adolescents neither explore nor commit to any identities. Moratorium is a state in which adolescents are actively exploring options but have not yet made commitments. As mentioned earlier, individuals who have explored different options, discovered their purpose, and have made identity commitments are in a state of identity achievement.

Developmental psychologists have researched several different areas of identity development and some of the main areas include:

  • Religious identity: The religious views of teens are often similar to those of their families (Kim-Spoon, Longo, & McCullough, 2012) [36] Most teens may question specific customs, practices, or ideas in the faith of their parents, but few completely reject the religion of their families.
  • Political identity: An adolescent's political identity is also influenced by their parents’ political beliefs. A new trend in the 21st century is a decrease in party affiliation among adults. Many adults do not align themselves with either the democratic or republican party and their teenage children reflect their parents' lack of party affiliation. Although adolescents do tend to be more liberal than their elders, especially on social issues (Taylor, 2014) [37], like other aspects of identity formation, adolescents' interest in politics is predicted by their parents' involvement and by current events (Stattin et al., 2017). [38]
  • Vocational identity: While adolescents in earlier generations envisioned themselves as working in a particular job, and often worked as an apprentice or part-time in such occupations as teenagers, this is rarely the case today. Vocational identity takes longer to develop, as most of today’s occupations require specific skills and knowledge that will require additional education or are acquired on the job itself. In addition, many of the jobs held by teens are not in occupations that most teens will seek as adults.

    Identity spectrum showing a continuum between female and male for sex, another continuum for gender identity between woman and man, a continuum for gender expression, and another continuum for sexual orientation. Figure 2. This identity spectrum shows the fluidity between sex, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation.
  • Ethnic identity: Ethnic identity refers to how people come to terms with who they are based on their ethnic or racial ancestry. According to the U.S. Census (2012) more than 40% of Americans under the age of 18 are from ethnic minorities. For many ethnic minority teens, discovering one’s ethnic identity is an important part of identity formation. Phinney (1989)[39] proposed a model of ethnic identity development that included stages of unexplored ethnic identity, ethnic identity search, and achieved ethnic identity.
  • Gender identity: A person’s sex, as determined by his or her biology, does not always correspond with his or her gender. Sex refers to the biological differences between males and females, such as the genitalia and genetic differences. Gender refers to the socially constructed characteristics of women and men, such as norms, roles, and relationships between groups of women and men. Many adolescents use their analytic, hypothetical thinking to question traditional gender roles and expression. If their genetically assigned sex does not line up with their gender identity, they may refer to themselves as transgender, non-binary, or gender-nonconforming.

    • Gender identity refers to a person's self-perception as male, female, both, genderqueer, or neither. Cisgender is an umbrella term used to describe people whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex, while transgender is a term used to describe people whose sense of personal identity does not correspond with their birth sex. Gender expression, or how one demonstrates gender (based on traditional gender role norms related to clothing, behavior, and interactions) can be feminine, masculine, androgynous, or somewhere along a spectrum.
    • Fluidity and uncertainty regarding sex and gender are especially common during early adolescence, when hormones increase and fluctuate creating difficulty of self-acceptance and identity achievement (Reisner et al., 2016).[40] Gender identity, like vocational identity, is becoming an increasingly prolonged task as attitudes and norms regarding gender keep changing. The roles appropriate for males and females are evolving and some adolescents may foreclose on a gender identity as a way of dealing with this uncertainty by adopting more stereotypic male or female roles (Sinclair & Carlsson, 2013) [41]. Those that identify as transgender or other face even bigger challenges. 




WAtch It

This video takes a deeper look at Marcia's theory of identity development and relates the four identity statuses to college students figuring out their major.



Gender Identity and Transgender Individuals

Individuals who identify with the role that is different from their biological sex are called transgender. Approximately 1.4 million U.S. adults or .6 percent of the population are transgender according to a 2016 report.[42]

Transgender individuals may choose to alter their bodies through medical interventions such as surgery and hormonal therapy so that their physical being is better aligned with gender identity. They may also be known as male-to-female (MTF) or female-to-male (FTM). Not all transgender individuals choose to alter their bodies; many will maintain their original anatomy but may present themselves to society as another gender. This is typically done by adopting the dress, hairstyle, mannerisms, or other characteristic typically assigned to another gender. It is important to note that people who cross-dress, or wear clothing that is traditionally assigned to a different gender is not the same as identifying as trans. Cross-dressing is typically a form of self-expression, entertainment, or personal style, and it is not necessarily an expression against one’s assigned gender (APA 2008).

After years of controversy over the treatment of sex and gender in the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (Drescher 2010), the most recent edition, DSM-5, responds to allegations that the term “gender identity disorder” is stigmatizing by replacing it with “gender dysphoria.” Gender identity disorder as a diagnostic category stigmatized the patient by implying there was something “disordered” about them. Gender dysphoria, on the other hand, removes some of that stigma by taking the word "disorder" out while maintaining a category that will protect patient access to care, including hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery. In the DSM-5, gender dysphoria is a condition of people whose gender at birth is contrary to the one they identify with. For a person to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria, there must be a marked difference between the individual’s expressed/experienced gender and the gender others would assign him or her, and it must continue for at least six months. In children, the desire to be of the other gender must be present and verbalized (APA 2013).

Changing the clinical description may contribute to a larger acceptance of transgender people in society. A 2017 poll showed that 54 percent of Americans believe gender is determined by sex at birth and 32 percent say society has "gone too far" in accepting transgender people; views are sharply divided along political and religions lines.[43]

Studies show that people who identify as transgender are twice as likely to experience assault or discrimination as nontransgender individuals; they are also one and a half times more likely to experience intimidation (National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs 2010; Giovanniello 2013). Trans women of color are most likely be to victims of abuse. A practice called "deadnaming" by the American Civil Liberties Union, whereby trans people who are murdered are referred to by their birth name and gender, is a discriminatory tool that effectively erases a person's trans identity and also prevents investigations into their deaths and knowledge of their deaths.[44] Organizations such as the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs and Global Action for Trans Equality work to prevent, respond to, and end all types of violence against transgender and homosexual individuals. These organizations hope that by educating the public about gender identity and empowering transgender individuals, this violence will end.

Social Development during Adolescence

Parents

It appears that most teens do not experience adolescent "storm and stress" to the degree once famously suggested by G. Stanley Hall, a pioneer in the study of adolescent development. Only small numbers of teens have major conflicts with their parents (Steinberg & Morris, 2001), and most disagreements are minor. For example, in a study of over 1,800 parents of adolescents from various cultural and ethnic groups, Barber (1994) found that conflicts occurred over day-to-day issues such as homework, money, curfews, clothing, chores, and friends. These disputes occur because an adolescent's drive for independence and autonomy conflicts with the parent's supervision and control. These types of arguments tend to decrease as teens develop (Galambos & Almeida, 1992).

As adolescents work to form their identities, they pull away from their parents, and the peer group becomes very important (Shanahan, McHale, Osgood, & Crouter, 2007). Despite spending less time with their parents, most teens report positive feelings toward them (Moore, Guzman, Hair, Lippman, & Garrett, 2004). Warm and healthy parent-child relationships have been associated with positive child outcomes, such as better grades and fewer school behavior problems, in the United States as well as in other countries (Hair et al., 2005).

Although peers take on greater importance during adolescence, family relationships remain important too. One of the key changes during adolescence involves a renegotiation of parent–child relationships. As adolescents strive for more independence and autonomy during this time, different aspects of parenting become more salient. For example, parents’ distal supervision and monitoring become more important as adolescents spend more time away from parents and in the presence of peers. Parental monitoring encompasses a wide range of behaviors such as parents’ attempts to set rules and know their adolescents’ friends, activities, and whereabouts, in addition to adolescents’ willingness to disclose information to their parents. (Stattin & Kerr, 2000)[45] Psychological control, which involves manipulation and intrusion into adolescents’ emotional and cognitive world through invalidating adolescents’ feelings and pressuring them to think in particular ways is another aspect of parenting that becomes more salient during adolescence and is related to more problematic adolescent adjustment.[46]

Peers

Two groups of teenage girls, most of whom are wearing head scarves, sitting and chatting on some steps. Figure 3. Crowds refer to different collections of people, like the “theater kids” or the “environmentalists.” In a way, they are kind of like clothing brands that label the people associated with that crowd. [Image: Garry Knight]
As children become adolescents, they usually begin spending more time with their peers and less time with their families, and these peer interactions are increasingly unsupervised by adults. Children’s notions of friendship often focus on shared activities, whereas adolescents’ notions of friendship increasingly focus on intimate exchanges of thoughts and feelings.

During adolescence, peer groups evolve from primarily single-sex to mixed-sex. Adolescents within a peer group tend to be similar to one another in behavior and attitudes, which has been explained as being a function of homophily (adolescents who are similar to one another choose to spend time together in a “birds of a feather flock together” way) and influence (adolescents who spend time together shape each other’s behavior and attitudes). Peer pressure is usually depicted as peers pushing a teenager to do something that adults disapprove of, such as breaking laws or using drugs. One of the most widely studied aspects of adolescent peer influence is known as deviant peer contagion (Dishion & Tipsord, 2011)[47], which is the process by which peers reinforce problem behavior by laughing or showing other signs of approval that then increase the likelihood of future problem behavior. Although deviant peer contagion is more extreme, regular peer pressure is not always harmful. Peers can serve both positive and negative functions during adolescence. Negative peer pressure can lead adolescents to make riskier decisions or engage in more problematic behavior than they would alone or in the presence of their family. For example, adolescents are much more likely to drink alcohol, use drugs, and commit crimes when they are with their friends than when they are alone or with their family. However, peers also serve as an important source of social support and companionship during adolescence, and adolescents with positive peer relationships are happier and better adjusted than those who are socially isolated or who have conflictual peer relationships.
Crowds are an emerging level of peer relationships in adolescence. In contrast to friendships (which are reciprocal dyadic relationships) and cliques (which refer to groups of individuals who interact frequently), crowds are characterized more by shared reputations or images than actual interactions (Brown & Larson, 2009)[48] These crowds reflect different prototypic identities (such as jocks or brains) and are often linked with adolescents’ social status and peers’ perceptions of their values or behaviors.

Link to Learning: Gender Roles

It is interesting to note that even in today's progressive social climate and with advances in gender equality, there are still considerable differences in the ways teenage boys and girls spend their time, as shown in 2019 research by the Pew Research Center. During the school year, teenage boys spend an average of 24 minutes a day helping around the house and 12 minutes preparing food, while teenage girls spend an average of 38 minutes a day helping around the house and 29 minutes preparing food. Both boys and girls spend more equal amounts of time on maintenance chores and lawn care. Girls also spend an average of 23 more minutes on grooming each day, which is perhaps explained by the fact that 35% of girls say they feel pressure to look good (compared with 23% of boys).[49] Read the article "The Way U.S. Teens Spend Their Time is Changing, but Differences Between Boys and Girls Persist" to learn more.

Romantic relationships

Adolescence is the developmental period during which romantic relationships typically first emerge. Initially, same-sex peer groups that were common during childhood expand into mixed-sex peer groups that are more characteristic of adolescence. Romantic relationships often form in the context of these mixed-sex peer groups (Connolly, Furman, & Konarski, 2000)[50] Although romantic relationships during adolescence are often short-lived rather than long-term committed partnerships, their importance should not be minimized. Adolescents spend a great deal of time focused on romantic relationships, and their positive and negative emotions are more tied to romantic relationships (or lack thereof) than to friendships, family relationships, or school (Furman & Shaffer, 2003)[51] Romantic relationships contribute to adolescents’ identity formation, changes in family and peer relationships, and adolescents’ emotional and behavioral adjustment.

Furthermore, romantic relationships are centrally connected to adolescents’ emerging sexuality. Parents, policymakers, and researchers have devoted a great deal of attention to adolescents’ sexuality, in large part because of concerns related to sexual intercourse, contraception, and preventing teen pregnancies. However, sexuality involves more than this narrow focus. Sexual orientation refers to whether a person is sexually and romantically attracted to others of the same sex, the opposite sex, or both sexes. For example, adolescence is often when individuals who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender come to perceive themselves as such (Russell, Clarke, & Clary, 2009)[52] Thus, romantic relationships are a domain in which adolescents experiment with new behaviors and identities.

Many adolescents may choose to come out during this period of their life once an identity has been formed; many others may go through a period of questioning or denial, which can include experimentation with both homosexual and heterosexual experiences. A study of 194 lesbian, gay, and bisexual youths under the age of 21 found that having an awareness of one's sexual orientation occurred, on average, around age 10, but the process of coming out to peers and adults occurred around age 16 and 17, respectively. Coming to terms with and creating a positive LGBT identity can be difficult for some youth for a variety of reasons. Peer pressure is a large factor when youth who are questioning their sexuality or gender identity are surrounded by heteronormative peers and can cause great distress due to a feeling of being different from everyone else. While coming out can also foster better psychological adjustment, the risks associated are real. Indeed, coming out in the midst of a heteronormative peer environment often comes with the risk of ostracism, hurtful jokes, and even violence. Because of this, statistically the suicide rate amongst LGBT adolescents is up to four times higher than that of their heterosexual peers due to bullying and rejection from peers or family members.

Diversity

Adolescent development does not necessarily follow the same pathway for all individuals. Certain features of adolescence, particularly with respect to biological changes associated with puberty and cognitive changes associated with brain development, are relatively universal. But other features of adolescence depend largely on circumstances that are more environmentally variable. For example, adolescents growing up in one country might have different opportunities for risk taking than adolescents in another country, and supports and sanctions for different behaviors in adolescence depend on laws and values that might be specific to where adolescents live. Likewise, different cultural norms regarding family and peer relationships shape adolescents’ experiences in these domains. For example, in some countries, adolescents’ parents are expected to retain control over major decisions, whereas in other countries, adolescents are expected to begin sharing in or taking control of decision making.

Even within the same country, adolescents’ gender, ethnicity, immigrant status, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and personality can shape both how adolescents behave and how others respond to them, creating diverse developmental contexts for different adolescents. For example, early puberty (that occurs before most other peers have experienced puberty) appears to be associated with worse outcomes for girls than boys, likely in part because girls who enter puberty early tend to associate with older boys, which in turn is associated with early sexual behavior and substance use. For adolescents who are ethnic or sexual minorities, discrimination sometimes presents a set of challenges that non-minorities do not face.

Finally, genetic variations contribute an additional source of diversity in adolescence. Current approaches emphasize gene X environment interactions, which often follow a differential susceptibility model (Belsky & Pluess, 2009)[53] That is, particular genetic variations are considered riskier than others, but genetic variations also can make adolescents more or less susceptible to environmental factors. For example, the association between the CHRM2 genotype and adolescent externalizing behavior (aggression and delinquency) has been found in adolescents whose parents are low in monitoring behaviors (Dick et al., 2011)[54] Thus, it is important to bear in mind that individual differences play an important role in adolescent development.

Behavioral and Psychological Adjustment

Young teenager holding his fists out ready to punch the photographer. Figure 4. Early antisocial behavior leads to befriending others who also engage in antisocial behavior, which only perpetuates the downward cycle of aggression and wrongful acts. [Image: Philippe Put]


Aggression and Antisocial Behavior

Several major theories of the development of antisocial behavior treat adolescence as an important period. Patterson’s (1982)[55] early versus late starter model of the development of aggressive and antisocial behavior distinguishes youths whose antisocial behavior begins during childhood (early starters) versus adolescence (late starters). According to the theory, early starters are at greater risk for long-term antisocial behavior that extends into adulthood than are late starters. Late starters who become antisocial during adolescence are theorized to experience poor parental monitoring and supervision, aspects of parenting that become more salient during adolescence. Poor monitoring and lack of supervision contribute to increasing involvement with deviant peers, which in turn promotes adolescents’ own antisocial behavior. Late starters desist from antisocial behavior when changes in the environment make other options more appealing.

Similarly, Moffitt’s (1993)[56] life-course persistent versus adolescent-limited model distinguishes between antisocial behavior that begins in childhood versus adolescence. Moffitt regards adolescent-limited antisocial behavior as resulting from a “maturity gap” between adolescents’ dependence on and control by adults and their desire to demonstrate their freedom from adult constraint. However, as they continue to develop, and legitimate adult roles and privileges become available to them, there are fewer incentives to engage in antisocial behavior, leading to desistance in these antisocial behaviors.

Watch It

Experiencing violence as an adolescent increases the odds of that adolescent later becoming an abusive adult, although it is not a given. Watch this video to learn more about the effects of abuse and perpetuated violence.



Psychology and MASS Shootings

Virginia Tech, Columbine, Stoneman Douglas High School, Santa Fe High School, Sandy Hook, Aurora, Las Vegas, Orlando—all sites of horrific and tragic mass shootings. Why are they so common? And what led the perpetrators to commit these acts of violence? Several possible factors may work together to create a fertile environment for mass murder in the United States. Most commonly suggested include:

  • Higher accessibility and ownership of guns. The U.S. has the highest per-capita gun ownership in the world with 120.5 firearms per 100 people; the second highest is Yemen with 52.8 firearms per 100 people.[57]
  • Mental illness[58] and its treatment (or the lack thereof) with psychiatric drugs. This is controversial.[59] Many of the mass shooters in the U.S. suffered from mental illness, but the estimated number of mental illness cases has not increased as significantly as the number of mass shootings.[60] Under 5% of violent behaviors in the U.S. are committed by persons with mental health diagnoses. A 2002 report by the U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Department of Education found evidence that a majority of school shooters displayed evidence of mental health symptoms, often undiagnosed or untreated. Criminologists Fox and DeLateur note that mental illness is only part of the issue, however, and mass shooters tend to externalize their problems, blaming others, and are unlikely to seek psychiatric help, even if available.[61] Other scholars have concluded that mass murderers display a common constellation of chronic mental health symptoms, chronic anger or antisocial traits, and a tendency to blame others for problems.[62] However, they note that attempting to "profile" school shooters with such a constellation of traits will likely result in many false positives as many individuals with such a profile do not engage in violent behaviors.
  • The desire to seek revenge for a long history of being bullied at school. In recent years, citizens calling themselves "targeted individual" have cited adult bullying campaigns as a reason for their deadly violence.[63]
  • The widespread chronic gap between people's expectations for themselves and their actual achievement, and individualistic culture.
  • Desire for fame and notoriety. Also, mass shooters learn from one another through "media contagion," that is, "the mass media coverage of them and the proliferation of social media sites that tend to glorify the shooters and downplay the victims."
  • The copycat phenomenon.
  • Failure of government background checks due to incomplete databases and/or staff shortages


Read this NPR article on school shooters to learn more about common threads shared by some who commit mass violence.

Anxiety and Depression

Developmental models of anxiety and depression also treat adolescence as an important period, especially in terms of the emergence of gender differences in prevalence rates that persist through adulthood (Rudolph, 2009) [64] Starting in early adolescence, compared with males, females have rates of anxiety that are about twice as high and rates of depression that are 1.5 to 3 times as high (American Psychiatric Association, 2013) [65] Although the rates vary across specific anxiety and depression diagnoses, rates for some disorders are markedly higher in adolescence than in childhood or adulthood. For example, prevalence rates for specific phobias are about 5% in children and 3%–5% in adults but 16% in adolescents. Additionally, some adolescents sink into major depression, a deep sadness and hopelessness that disrupts all normal, regular activities. Causes include many factors such as genetics and early childhood experiences that predate adolescence, but puberty may push vulnerable children, especially girls into despair.

During puberty, the rate of major depression more than doubles to an estimated 15%, affecting about one in five girls and one in ten boys. The gender difference occurs for many reasons, biological and cultural (Uddin et al., 2010) [66] Anxiety and depression are particularly concerning because suicide is one of the leading causes of death during adolescence. Some adolescents experience suicidal ideation (distressing thoughts about killing oneself) which become most common at about age 15 (Berger, 2019) [67] and can lead to parasuicide, also called attempted suicide or failed suicide. Suicidal ideation and parasuicide should be taken seriously and serve as a warning that emotions may be overwhelming.

Watch It

This short video emphasizes how suicide is a major health issue and concern for teenagers, and also how it is important for parents, caregivers, teachers, and friends to be open enough to talk about it.

Developmental models focus on interpersonal contexts in both childhood and adolescence that foster depression and anxiety (e.g., Rudolph, 2009) [68] Family adversity, such as abuse and parental psychopathology, during childhood sets the stage for social and behavioral problems during adolescence. Adolescents with such problems generate stress in their relationships (e.g., by resolving conflict poorly and excessively seeking reassurance) and select into more maladaptive social contexts (e.g., “misery loves company” scenarios in which depressed youths select other depressed youths as friends and then frequently co-ruminate as they discuss their problems, exacerbating negative affect and stress). These processes are intensified for girls compared with boys because girls have more relationship-oriented goals related to intimacy and social approval, leaving them more vulnerable to disruption in these relationships. Anxiety and depression then exacerbate problems in social relationships, which in turn contribute to the stability of anxiety and depression over time.

Glossary



cisgender:

an umbrella term used to describe people whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex

clique:

used to describe a group of persons who interact with each other more regularly and intensely than others in the same setting. Cliques are distinguished from "crowds" in that their members interact with one another

crowds:

large groups of adolescents defined by their shared image and reputation

deviant peer contagion:

process by which peers reinforce problem behavior by laughing or showing other signs of approval that then increase the likelihood of future problem behavior

foreclosure:

term for premature identity formation, which occurs when an adolescent adopts his or her parents' or society's role and values without questioning or analysis, according to Marcia's theory

gender:

a term that refers to social or cultural distinctions of behaviors that are considered male or female

gender dysphoria:

a condition listed in the DSM-5 in which people whose gender at birth is contrary to the one they identify with. This condition replaces “gender identity disorder”

gender expression:

how one demonstrates gender (based on traditional gender role norms related to clothing, behavior, and interactions); can be feminine, masculine, androgynous, or somewhere along a spectrum

gender identity:

the way that one thinks about gender and self-identifies, can be woman, man, or genderqueer

homophily:

a tendency of individuals to form links disproportionately with others like themselves

identity achievement:

Erikson's term for the attainment of identity, or the point at which a person understands who he or she is as a unique individual, in accord with past experiences and future plans; already questioned and made commitment according to Marcia's theory

identity vs. role confusion:

Erikson's term for the fifth stage of development, in which the person tries to figure out "Who am I?" but is confused as to which of many possible roles to adopt

major depression:

feelings of hopelessness, lethargy, and worthlessness that last two weeks or more

moratorium:

an adolescent's choice of a socially acceptable way to postpone making identity-achievement decisions. Going to college is a common example. Engaged in questioning, but not yet making a commitment, according to Marcia's theory

parasuicide:

any potentially lethal action against the self that does not result in death. (also called attempted suicide or failed suicide)

peer pressure:

encouragement to conform to one's friends or contemporaries in behavior, dress, and attitude; usually considered a negative force, as when adolescent peers encourage one another to defy adult authority

role confusion:

a situation in which an adolescent does not seem to know or care what his or her identity is. (Sometimes called identity diffusion or role diffusion)

self-concept:

our individual perceptions of our behavior, abilities, and unique characteristics. It is essentially a mental picture of who you are as a person. For example, beliefs such as "I am a good friend" or "I am a kind person" are part of an overall self-concept

self-esteem:

considered an important component of emotional health, self-esteem encompasses both self-confidence and self-acceptance. It is the way individuals perceive themselves and their self-value

sex:

a term that denotes the presence of physical or physiological differences between males and females

sexual orientation:

a term that refers to whether a person is sexually and romantically attracted to others of the same sex, the opposite sex, or both sexes

suicide:

the act of intentionally causing one's own death

suicidal ideation:

thinking about suicide, usually with some serious emotional and intellectual or cognitive overtones

transgender:

a term used to describe people whose sense of personal identity does not correspond with their birth sex




  1. Marcia, "J. E. (1966). Development and validation of ego identity status. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 3, 551-558."
  2. Kim-Spoon, "J., Longo, G.S., & McCullough, M.E. (2012) Parent-adolescent relationship quality as a moderator for the influence of parents' religiousness on adolescents' religiousness and adjustment. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 41(12), 1576-1587."
  3. Taylor, "P. (2014). The next America: Boomers, millennials, and the looming generational showdown. New York, NY: Public Affairs."
  4. Stattin, "H., Hussein, O., Ozdemir, M., & Russo, S. (2017). Why do some adolescents encounter everyday events that increase their civil interest whereas others do not? Developmental Psychology, 53 (2), 306-318."
  5. Phinney, "J. (1989). Stages of ethnic identity in minority group adolescents. Journal of Early Adolescence, 9, 34-49."
  6. Reisner, "S.L., Katz-Wise, S.L., Gordon, A.R., Corliss, H.L., & Austin, S.B. (2016). Social epidemiology of depression and anxiety by gender identity. Journal of Adolescent Health, 59 (2), 203-208."
  7. Sinclair, "S. & Carlsson, R. (2013). What will I be when I grow up? The impact of gender identity threat on adolescents' occupational preferences. Journal of Adolescence, 36(3), 465-474."
  8. Flores, "A., J. Herman, G. Gates, and T. N.T. Brown. \"How many adults identify as transgender.\" The Williams Institute. http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/How-Many-Adults-Identify-as-Transgender-in-the-United-States.pdf."
  9. Salam, "M. \"For transgender Americans, the political gets even more personal\" (2018). The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/26/us/transgender-lgbt-rights-trump.html."
  10. Strangio, "C. 2018. \"Deadly violence against transgender people.\" ACLU. https://www.aclu.org/blog/lgbt-rights/criminal-justice-reform-lgbt-people/deadly-violence-against-transgender-people-rise."
  11. Stattin, "H., & Kerr, M. (2000). Parental monitoring: A reinterpretation. Child Development, 71, 1072-1085."
  12. Barber, "B. K. (1996). Parental psychological control: Revisiting a neglected construct. Child Development, 67, 3296-3319."
  13. Dishion, "T. J., & Tipsord, J. M. (2011). Peer contagion in child and adolescent social and emotional development. Annual Review of Psychology, 62, 189-214."
  14. Brown, "B. B., & Larson, J. (2009). Peer relationships in adolescence. In R. M. Lerner & L. Steinberg (Eds.), Handbook of adolescent psychology (pp. 74-103). New York, NY: Wiley."
  15. Livingston, "Gretchen (February 2018). The way U.S. teens spend their time is changing, but differences between boys and girls persist. Pew Research Center."
  16. Connolly, "J., Furman, W., & Konarski, R. (2000). The role of peers in the emergence of heterosexual romantic relationships in adolescence. Child Development, 71, 1395-1408."
  17. Furman, "W., & Shaffer, L. (2003). The role of romantic relationships in adolescent development. In P. Florsheim (Ed.), Adolescent romantic relations and sexual behavior: Theory, research, and practical implications (pp. 3-22). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum."
  18. Russell, "S. T., Clarke, T. J., & Clary, J. (2009). Are teens \"post-gay\"? Contemporary adolescents' sexual identity labels. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 38, 884-890."
  19. Belsky, "J., & Pluess, M. (2009). Beyond diathesis-stress: Differential susceptibility to environmental influences. Psychological Bulletin, 135, 885-908."
  20. Dick, "D. M., Meyers, J. L., Latendresse, S. J., Creemers, H. E., Lansford, J. E., ... Huizink, A. C. (2011). CHRM2, parental monitoring, and adolescent externalizing behavior: Evidence for gene-environment interaction. Psychological Science, 22, 481-489."
  21. Patterson, "G. R. (1982). Coercive family process. Eugene, OR: Castalia Press."
  22. Moffitt, "T. E. (1993). Adolescence-limited and life course persistent antisocial behavior: Developmental taxonomy. Psychological Review, 100, 674-701."
  23. Healy, "Melissa (August 24, 2015). \"Why the U.S. is No. 1 - in mass shootings\". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 6, 2017."
  24. Grinberg, "Emanuella (January 25, 2016). \"The real mental health issue behind gun violence\". CNN. Retrieved November 7, 2017."
  25. Campbell, "Holly (December 2, 2015). \"Inside the mind of a mass murderer\". WANE-TV. Retrieved November 9, 2017."
  26. Christensen, "Jen (October 5, 2017). \"Why the US has the most mass shootings\". CNN. Retrieved November 6, 2017."
  27. Peters, "Justin (December 19, 2013). \"Everything You Think You Know about Mass Murder Is Wrong\". Slate."
  28. Ferguson, "Christopher J.; Coulson, Mark; Barnett, Jane (January 1, 2011). \"Psychological Profiles of School Shooters: Positive Directions and One Big Wrong Turn\". Journal of Police Crisis Negotiations. 11 (2): 141-158. doi:10.1080/15332586.2011.581523."
  29. Burgess, "Ann Wolbert; Garbarino, Christina; Carlson, Mary I. (2006). \"Pathological teasing and bullying turned deadly: Shooters and suicide\". Victims and Offenders. 1 (1): 1-14. doi:10.1080/15564880500498705."
  30. Rudolph, "K. D. (2009). The interpersonal context of adolescent depression. In S. Nolen-Hoeksema & L. M. Hilt (Eds.), Handbook of depression in adolescents (pp. 377-418). New York, NY: Taylor and Francis."
  31. American "Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing."
  32. Uddin, "M., Koenen, K.C., de los Santos, R., Bakshis, E., Aielle, A.E., & Galea, S. (2010). Gender differences in the genetic and environmental determinants of adolescent depression. Depression and Anxiety, 27(7), 658-666."
  33. Berger, "K.S. (2019). Invitation to the Lifespan (4th ed). Worth Publishers, NY."
  34. Rudolph, "K. D. (2009). The interpersonal context of adolescent depression. In S. Nolen-Hoeksema & L. M. Hilt (Eds.), Handbook of depression in adolescents (pp. 377-418). New York, NY: Taylor and Francis."
  35. Marcia, "J. E. (1966). Development and validation of ego identity status. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 3, 551–558."
  36. Kim-Spoon, "J., Longo, G.S., & McCullough, M.E. (2012) Parent-adolescent relationship quality as a moderator for the influence of parents' religiousness on adolescents' religiousness and adjustment. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 41(12), 1576-1587."
  37. Taylor, "P. (2014). The next America: Boomers, millennials, and the looming generational showdown. New York, NY: Public Affairs."
  38. Stattin, "H., Hussein, O., Ozdemir, M., & Russo, S. (2017). Why do some adolescents encounter everyday events that increase their civil interest whereas others do not? Developmental Psychology, 53 (2), 306-318."
  39. Phinney, "J. (1989). Stages of ethnic identity in minority group adolescents. Journal of Early Adolescence, 9, 34–49."
  40. Reisner, "S.L., Katz-Wise, S.L., Gordon, A.R., Corliss, H.L., & Austin, S.B. (2016). Social epidemiology of depression and anxiety by gender identity. Journal of Adolescent Health, 59 (2), 203-208."
  41. Sinclair, "S. & Carlsson, R. (2013). What will I be when I grow up? The impact of gender identity threat on adolescents' occupational preferences. Journal of Adolescence, 36(3), 465-474."
  42. Flores, "A., J. Herman, G. Gates, and T. N.T. Brown. \"How many adults identify as transgender.\" The Williams Institute. http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/How-Many-Adults-Identify-as-Transgender-in-the-United-States.pdf."
  43. Salam, "M. \"For transgender Americans, the political gets even more personal\" (2018). The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/26/us/transgender-lgbt-rights-trump.html."
  44. Strangio, "C. 2018. \"Deadly violence against transgender people.\" ACLU. https://www.aclu.org/blog/lgbt-rights/criminal-justice-reform-lgbt-people/deadly-violence-against-transgender-people-rise."
  45. Stattin, "H., & Kerr, M. (2000). Parental monitoring: A reinterpretation. Child Development, 71, 1072–1085."
  46. Barber, "B. K. (1996). Parental psychological control: Revisiting a neglected construct. Child Development, 67, 3296–3319."
  47. Dishion, "T. J., & Tipsord, J. M. (2011). Peer contagion in child and adolescent social and emotional development. Annual Review of Psychology, 62, 189–214."
  48. Brown, "B. B., & Larson, J. (2009). Peer relationships in adolescence. In R. M. Lerner & L. Steinberg (Eds.), Handbook of adolescent psychology (pp. 74–103). New York, NY: Wiley."
  49. Livingston, "Gretchen (February 2018). The way U.S. teens spend their time is changing, but differences between boys and girls persist. Pew Research Center."
  50. Connolly, "J., Furman, W., & Konarski, R. (2000). The role of peers in the emergence of heterosexual romantic relationships in adolescence. Child Development, 71, 1395–1408."
  51. Furman, "W., & Shaffer, L. (2003). The role of romantic relationships in adolescent development. In P. Florsheim (Ed.), Adolescent romantic relations and sexual behavior: Theory, research, and practical implications (pp. 3–22). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum."
  52. Russell, "S. T., Clarke, T. J., & Clary, J. (2009). Are teens \"post-gay\"? Contemporary adolescents’ sexual identity labels. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 38, 884–890."
  53. Belsky, "J., & Pluess, M. (2009). Beyond diathesis-stress: Differential susceptibility to environmental influences. Psychological Bulletin, 135, 885–908."
  54. Dick, "D. M., Meyers, J. L., Latendresse, S. J., Creemers, H. E., Lansford, J. E., … Huizink, A. C. (2011). CHRM2, parental monitoring, and adolescent externalizing behavior: Evidence for gene-environment interaction. Psychological Science, 22, 481–489."
  55. Patterson, "G. R. (1982). Coercive family process. Eugene, OR: Castalia Press."
  56. Moffitt, "T. E. (1993). Adolescence-limited and life course persistent antisocial behavior: Developmental taxonomy. Psychological Review, 100, 674–701."
  57. Healy, "Melissa (August 24, 2015). \"Why the U.S. is No. 1 – in mass shootings\". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 6, 2017."
  58. Grinberg, "Emanuella (January 25, 2016). \"The real mental health issue behind gun violence\". CNN. Retrieved November 7, 2017."
  59. Campbell, "Holly (December 2, 2015). \"Inside the mind of a mass murderer\". WANE-TV. Retrieved November 9, 2017."
  60. Christensen, "Jen (October 5, 2017). \"Why the US has the most mass shootings\". CNN. Retrieved November 6, 2017."
  61. Peters, "Justin (December 19, 2013). \"Everything You Think You Know about Mass Murder Is Wrong\". Slate."
  62. Ferguson, "Christopher J.; Coulson, Mark; Barnett, Jane (January 1, 2011). \"Psychological Profiles of School Shooters: Positive Directions and One Big Wrong Turn\". Journal of Police Crisis Negotiations. 11 (2): 141–158. doi:10.1080/15332586.2011.581523."
  63. Burgess, "Ann Wolbert; Garbarino, Christina; Carlson, Mary I. (2006). \"Pathological teasing and bullying turned deadly: Shooters and suicide\". Victims and Offenders. 1 (1): 1–14. doi:10.1080/15564880500498705."
  64. Rudolph, "K. D. (2009). The interpersonal context of adolescent depression. In S. Nolen-Hoeksema & L. M. Hilt (Eds.), Handbook of depression in adolescents (pp. 377–418). New York, NY: Taylor and Francis."
  65. American "Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing."
  66. Uddin, "M., Koenen, K.C., de los Santos, R., Bakshis, E., Aielle, A.E., & Galea, S. (2010). Gender differences in the genetic and environmental determinants of adolescent depression. Depression and Anxiety, 27(7), 658-666."
  67. Berger, "K.S. (2019). Invitation to the Lifespan (4th ed). Worth Publishers, NY."
  68. Rudolph, "K. D. (2009). The interpersonal context of adolescent depression. In S. Nolen-Hoeksema & L. M. Hilt (Eds.), Handbook of depression in adolescents (pp. 377–418). New York, NY: Taylor and Francis."

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