According to Erikson, a developmental psychologist best known for his theory on the psychological development of human beings, adolescents begin to develop an awareness of their presence and influence in society during the period between childhood and early adulthood, and they may begin to wonder who they are, who they want to be, and what their role in society is. Erikson (1959) described this psychosocial conflict in life as the identity stage, the fifth psychosocial developmental stage.
As per Erikson, there is a connection between adolescents' sense of identity, which is impacted by their cultural background and their psychosocial functioning, which includes their interpersonal relationships and their ability to cope with a variety of daily activities. Psychosocial processes such as identity formation frequently obstruct adolescents' development, or they might promote resilience, psychological growth, and personality structure enrichment.
Identity research is critical for individuals from immigrant communities because it may help to protect them from the pressures associated with acculturation and cultural identity change. Based on these observations, as well as the current literature on Eriksonian sense of identity, this study aims to address a gap in educational research by addressing the argument that Eriksonian identity research has not adequately addressed ethnic minority populations.
Erickson’s identity coherence and identity confusion stage of development Identity coherence v. identity confusion are Erikson's fifth stage of psychosocial development. Between early and late adolescence, adolescents are attempting to discover or build a feeling of self and belonging. According to Erickson (1950, 1968), these psychosocial shifts cause teenagers to examine a set of discussions about themselves, such as who they are, how they identify, what they believe, and what they want to do with their lives. As per Erickson (1950), coherence and confusion are not strictly exclusive and can coexist, allowing for their study as distinct but overlapping variables. Adolescents' identity coherence can be described as what they already know about themselves and can use or recognize in their functioning. For example, one adolescent might self-identify as timid, introverted, hard-working, and responsible.
Confusion, on the other hand, refers to what is unknown or uncertain about them. Adolescents may be unable to define clearly what they want to do with their lives; they may be unsure of the career path they wish to pursue or the type of individuals they wish to associate with. Erickson's theory is based on the most common approaches that an adolescent may encounter during the period of transition between childhood and early adulthood; as they develop an awareness of their presence and influence in society, they begin to wonder what their purpose or role in society might be.
Identity coherence and identity confusion in Hispanic Adolescents
For Hispanic adolescents, developing a strong sense of identity coherence and reducing their identity confusion may indeed be a problem. In the longitudinal study with a sample of 302 recently migrated Hispanic adolescent, Schwartz and Unger (2016) discovered that identity is a struggle for adolescents who are attempting to figure out who they are within a cultural or social context. The findings of their study revealed that identity coherence and identity confusion do not always follow what Erickson would have expected concerning adolescents, demonstrating that Erikson's psychosocial identity stage slightly differs when applied to minority groups. Similarly, Schwartz (2006) explains that this could occur as a result of adolescents trying to identify themselves culturally, determining what it means to be a minority group in a country, what Hispanic practices they wish to maintain, and how much Spanish they wish to speak- while also gaining an understanding of what they want to do and be in their future. Rothe (2011) further asserts that for immigrant adolescents, the process of immigration and acculturation occur concurrently with their developmental period, and it generates a series of complicated psychodynamic processes that affect both the person and the family.
Although Erikson’s theory of Identity Development has primarily been studied and based on non-minority groups, it provides meaningful evidence about the struggles or phases that adolescents generally experience. Independently of whether Hispanic adolescents’ identity changes concord with what Erikson would have expected about adolescents, those phases are still part of the construction of their identity and can be influential in their present or future relationships and decisions.
Hispanic parental relationships
It is not uncommon for adolescents and their parents to have ongoing family conflicts during adolescence. Warm interactions, according to Benson and Johnson (2009), are critical for a good psychological development. However, some parent-adolescent conflict during adolescence is believed to be normatively significant because it allows parental detachment and self-reliance, as Benson and Johnson cite from Zimmer (2001).
According to Meca and Sabet's (2017) research report, Hispanics are the largest and fastest increasing ethnic minority group in the United States. Immigration experience is one of the most stressful experiences a family can undergo since it removes the family from their relationships, sometimes language, placing them in a strange and unpredictable environment, Rothe (2011).
According to Schwartz and Mason's longitudinal study (2009), the significance of family is one of the most influential aspects taught to Hispanic adolescents. Similarly, Ayon (2015) asserted that cultural behaviors such as familismo - a cultural practice and sense of obligation to one's family - are an integral part of Hispanic parenting styles. These findings support Schwartz and Mason's claim about the critical role of family values in Hispanic parenting styles. Ayon cites Shear’s (2007) study to show that Hispanic parents spend more time watching and interacting with their children and instill values such as familismo through activities such as visiting friends and relatives together.
Hispanic parental relationships are based on increased interaction between parents and their children, as spending more time with them enables parents to monitor their children's behavior and correct any actions they deem inappropriate, as well as strengthen the bond between parent and child through time spent together in personal activities or recreation.
The present study
While some research has been conducted on the possible effects of identity and parental relationships on adolescent outcomes, such as relationships and future choices as they transition to adulthood, most of the research on Erikson's psychosocial stages has been conducted on non minority groups, with little academic research on minority groups. As a result, the purpose of this study was to find if there is a relationship between Hispanic adolescents' sense of identity and the quality of parental relationship they experience. In the present study, it was also analyzed if there is a difference depending on how long immigrant adolescents have lived in the United States, as well as if there are differences among genders.
Based on the findings of Schwartz (2006, 2009), I hypothesize that there is a positive correlation between parental relationships and a sense of identity coherence, meaning that adolescents with good parental relationships will have a stronger sense of identity coherence and low levels of identity confusion.
Due to the researcher’s focus on investigating parental relationships and identity development stage on Hispanic adolescents, the researcher decided to recruit participants from Miami Senior High School in grades 9 to 12 since its population is predominantly Hispanic. The sample included adolescents and their parents or guardians. As a result, 300 volunteers signed up to participate in this study (150 adolescents and 150 parents). However, only 266 participants were included in the sample given that a portion did not complete the necessary paperwork to the researcher’s expectations
The researcher administered two questionnaires: a Google Forms online questionnaire that was distributed to students only and a paper and pencil questionnaire that was distributed to their parents. The researcher decided to provide paper and pencil questionnaires to the students’ parents since this was a more accessible and simple method for them to use and for the researcher to keep track of parents’ data.
The online questionnaire was composed of 42 statements and divided into four sections. Section one included seven demographic questions (e.g., gender and country of origin). Sections two and three were developed to measure adolescents' identity coherence and confusion levels. And section four was designed to identify the type of parent-adolescent relationship the sample participants have. The researcher chose to use a Likert scale, in sections 2, 3, and 4 of the online and paper-and-pencil questionnaires where a 1 indicated "Strongly Disagree," a 2 "Disagree," a 3 "Neutral," a 4 "Agree," and a 5 "Strongly Agree."
Adolescents' identity coherence and confusion levels questionnaires (Section 2 and 3). The identity coherence and confusion questions in sections two and three were developed using Antonovsky's (1987) Sense of Coherence scale (SOC), a scale for assessing individual sense of coherence that has been utilized in general population research and has been purposefully constructed in cross-culturally relevant terms.
Sections 2 and 3 also included features of the Erikson Psychosocial Stage Inventory (EPSI) developed by Doreen Rosenthal (1981) for analyzing the first six Eriksonian psychosocial stages. The researchers selected this inventory because, according to Rosenthal, it can be used to study adolescent adjustment in relation to ethnic differences, school attitudes, social networks, and parental attitudes, and because it is one of the inventories that adheres most to Erikson's conceptual framework.
To avoid duplication or the use of questions that were unrelated to the researcher's study, the researcher combined the questions from both Antonovsky and Rosenthal’s questionnaires and created 11 positive statements about identity coherence and 12 positive statements about identity confusion.
All statements positively represented high levels of identity coherence (section 2) and high levels of identity confusion (section 3), so the participants indicated the extent to which they agree or disagree with them in a scale of 1 to 5.
Section two included statements such as "Until now, my life has had very clear goals and purpose," "I have a clear notion of what I want to be," and "The important aspects of life are clear to me." Since all 11 statements were affirmative for identity coherence, a score of 11 in this section indicated a lack of identity coherence and a score of 55 showed a strong sense of identity coherence
Section 3 included statements such as "I have the feeling that I am in an unfamiliar situation and don’t know what to do," as well as statements that were the contrary of those contained in the identity coherence questionnaire. The researcher decided to do this to examine the coexistence of identity coherence and confusion and to strengthen internal validity by incorporating contradictory statements in various sections of the survey. Since all statements in this section were positive for identity confusion, a score of 12 indicated a low sense of identity confusion, whereas a score of 60 indicated a high sense of identity confusion.
Adolescent-parental relationship questionnaire (Section 4).
The fourth section, which contained twelve statements, was designed to ascertain adolescents' parental-relationship experiences. The researcher adapted Garret's Parental-Adolescent Relationship Scale (PARQ) for this part of the questionnaire. This questionnaire included questions such as, “Do you discuss your emotional and academic needs with your parents regularly?” and “How accurately do you feel you understand your mother/father's feelings‚ thoughts‚ and behavior?” These same questions were asked to their parents in the paper-and pencil questionnaire. Thus, the researcher can assemble both perspectives on the relationships and ascertain any disparities in the conclusions drawn. In this section all questions and statements represented a good healthy adolescent-parental relationship; therefore, a score of 12 indicated a bad parent-adolescent relationship, whereas a score of 60 indicated an excellent parent-adolescent relationship
Prior to data collection, these instruments were pilot tested with ten randomly selected students. They were all told of the surveys' goal and that they were not required to complete the questionnaire and that the primary objective was to ascertain whether the statements were clear and understandable to them. As a result, the researcher was able to identify and correct any instrument-related errors or ambiguous remarks.
The researcher collected data over a five-week period, recruiting participants and administering questionnaires. Adolescent participants responded anonymously to a 42 items online questionnaire divided into four sections: 1) demographic information, 2) identity coherence, 3) identity confusion, and 4) adolescent-parental relationships. The researcher believed that anonymity would generate the most truthful results since it would allow adolescents to speak honestly about their sense of identity and experiences with parental relationships. As a result, the researcher decided to assign a unique code to each participant consent form. The purpose of issuing a unique code to each participant was to enable the researcher to associate the parents' questionnaire to their children's questionnaire without using their names or other identifying information.
The researcher provided adolescents in grades 9–12 a paper and pencil consent form to take home and have signed by their parents or guardians, indicating that they were allowing the adolescent to participate in this study. A paper and pencil survey on the adolescent-parental relationship was attached to the consent form, which the parents had to complete concurrently with the parent consent form if they agreed to participate in the study. This was an important aspect of the study because most of the adolescent participants were under the age of 18.
The researcher recruited participants by visiting two 11th grade honors US history classes, one AP music theory class comprised of different grade levels, four honors Chemistry classes made up of multiple grade levels, and one dual enrollment English class consisting of numerous grade levels. The researcher chose to recruit participants from these courses because they had a significant concentration of Hispanic adolescents and teachers agreed to assist the researcher with data collection.
Along with visiting multiple classrooms, the researcher planned an activity to recruit students from various grades and classes during each of the three school lunches on three distinct days. Adolescents who participated in the study received an extra credit grade for the class in which they were enrolled in. Additionally, the researcher invited members of the In Touch club (a mental health organization) to participate in the study and provided them with community service hours and snacks in exchange for their participation. As a means of preserving control over the participants, the researcher established class groups on Remind, a communication tool adopted by the researcher’s school district.
Once participants returned their consent forms, the researcher sent them electronic links via remind that allowed them to access the Google Forms student questionnaire. Participants were requested to enter the survey code provided with their parental consent forms on the first question of the online survey so that the researcher could connect each adolescent's response to their parents' paper and pencil parental-relationship survey.
After further analysis of the study’s results, it was found that parental relationships and a sense of identity coherence have a significant positive relationship, while there is a negative relationship between parental relationships and identity confusion. This means that the adolescents' sense of identity directly relates to the parental relationship they experience. The fact that there is a positive relationship between identity coherence and the parental relationship, and a high level of identity coherence would indicate good management of the identity conflict, could be because adolescents feel supported by their parents, which allows them to deal with the psychosocial conflict without the stressor of a strained parental relationship. This indicates that good parental relationships are an important factor in the development of identity coherence. These findings back up previous research by Schwartz (2009) and (2006), which found that family relationships were linked to a person's sense of identity coherence and sense of identity confusion.
Also, a low score of identity confusion would have been less than 25, and more than half of the adolescents reported a high sense of identity confusion, while still reporting high senses of identity coherence. Therefore, these findings corroborate Erickson's (1968) assertion that because identity coherence and confusion are overlapping factors that can coexist.
On the other hand, when the researcher compared adolescents born outside the country who moved in the early stages and late stages of their life (shortest and longest time lived in the USA) there was no difference in their reported sense of coherence and confusion. The researcher might have obtained these results since the study was conducted in a population that is located in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood and high school. Most of the adolescents that attend this school were nurtured and immersed in Hispanic culture regardless of them having moved to a new country. One may argue that parents who have children in this country have attempted to teach and raise their children in the way they considered appropriate according to their culture even if they are continuing to raise their children in a foreign country. Therefore, the Hispanic
culture between adolescents who have lived in the USA during different number of years might not be as different as one might expect.
However, when the researcher compared Hispanic adolescents born inside and outside the USA, the results were surprising, since adolescents born outside the country had a significantly stronger sense of identity coherence than those born inside the USA. This finding contradicts the researcher’s expectation that adolescents born in the USA would have a higher sense of identity coherence since adolescents born outside were most likely raised in disparate countries with different cultures and circumstances while also having undergone immigration and assimilation processes in a foreign country.
There was no difference found in the analysis between the sense of identity reported by females and males. These findings concur with Sartor (2002) and Archer (1982) studies, which found that there were no significant differences in identity status by gender. Therefore, it could be deduced that gender is not an influential factor when exploring and developing identity
It was found in this research that parental relationships are an important factor in adolescent’s identity development. Meaning that the way adolescents would solve their identity conflicts would be dependent on how their parental relationships elapse throughout their adolescence. Probably, parents would be responsible for helping them figure out who they are or what they want to be, which could be interpreted as parents helping their children shape their future, especially during high school which is a stage in their life in which students are preparing to potentially attend college or start their adult life. This means that good mutual communication, understanding, and support between parents and adolescents would have a positive impact on the resolution of their identity stage.
According to Erikson (1968) successful completion of this stage results in a healthy personality and the acquisition of basic virtues, while failure to successfully complete a stage can result in a reduced ability to complete further stages and therefore an unhealthier personality and sense of self. Therefore, since adolescents are going through this important stage of their life while they are in high school, and they can explore their identities by basing them on role models, it would be important for them not to only have the support of their parents, but from their high school teachers. By having adults talk with adolescents about their values, goals, and identities, adolescents could feel encouraged to explore the different roles that they could choose to pursue since they would know how others have made decisions regarding their identities. Finally, it is critical for those role models to support the commitments and choices made by adolescents during their exploration and discovery process.
One limitation of this study could be the survey reported parental relationship. Although the researcher tried to collect the data as organized and honest for this variable by separating parents and adolescents, the parent-reported surveys were taken home by the adolescents to show to their parents; therefore, it is possible that some surveys were not completed by parents.
In the same way, evaluating the parental relationships and sense of identity as separated variables but with the same type of data gathering instrument could have directly affect the data and results collected. Meaning that having all variables under the same google form and only divided by sections might have caused participants to associate all variables and come up with assumptions about the research questions, and therefore answering as they consider convenient. One way to avoid this issue was by recruiting all participants, both parents and adolescents, separate them in different rooms and have them complete the surveys with different formats while giving a limited time to complete them.
Another limitation of this study is that data was obtained from only one high school, meaning that the population recruited to conduct this research does not represent the total Hispanic adolescent community. As a result, the findings of this study may not be an accurate reflection of the whole population intended to be studied.
The findings of this study indicate that parental relationships have an impact on the development of identity among Hispanic adolescents, which are significant additions to the literature on Eriksonian identity research, given the paucity of research that has been conducted on this population. However, adolescents spend most of their time at school, while many have extracurricular activities, minimizing the amount of time they spend with their parents, and therefore, the role their parents play in their identity development might not be as influential. On the other hand, for some adolescents, friendships play a substantial role in their personality or character development as students or people, since they might find themselves in the same environment and might choose similar activities, social groups, or interests. For instance, researching how adolescents’ friendships may have an effect or relationship on their identity development could be a significant addition to the investigation of the various factors that affect identity exploration because it enables those who work with adolescents to have a clearer vision of what affects adolescents and how they can assist them during this process.