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date: 28 June 2017

Youth Identities

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication. Please check back later for the full article.

A main developmental task for young people is to form a coherent and stable sense of personal and social identity. In fact, in adolescence (from ages 10–11 to 18), the multiple biological, cognitive, and social changes that occur stimulate young people to rethink about themselves, to reflect on the kind of person they want to become, and to find their own place in the society. Similarly, in emerging adulthood (from ages 19 to 29), young people have the possibility to explore a large array of alternatives in multiple life domains (e.g., education, work, relationships, worldviews) before enacting enduring adult commitments. Process-oriented identity models have been proposed to capture the dynamic process by which young people form and revise their identities over time, committing to relevant life domains, reflecting on their choices, and reconsidering them when they no longer fulfill personal aspirations and/or social expectations.

This dynamic process is strongly intertwined with interpersonal and group communication processes. In fact, youth identity formation does not occur in a social vacuum; rather, young people form their identity by means of continuous interactions with significant others and relevant social groups. In particular, family, peers, and school represent main social contexts for youth, in which communication processes are likely to affect their identities. Thus, communication processes are crucial for obtaining identity-relevant information that might foster reflection by individuals on themselves and on processes of social comparisons. Furthermore, through communication processes, young people can manage their own reputations, striving to achieve and maintain good reputations within relevant groups. Individuals’ efforts to enhance reputation are, indeed, important for gaining symbolic (e.g., satisfaction of esteem needs) and instrumental (e.g., the likelihood of being trusted by others and becoming influential) benefits that are important for youth psychosocial adjustment and well being.