Story Sharing and Female Adolescent Faith Development

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Story Sharing and Female Adolescent Faith Development

Adolescence: Women in Crisis

According to developmental psychologist Erik Erikson, the defining psychological crisis of adolescence is identity formation versus identity confusion (Erikson 1982). This involves defining what is most important to the individual in terms of ethics, long-term goals, and especially personal and interpersonal commitments. Erikson proposes three elements necessary for this formation: an experience of “inner sameness” or consistency between values and self-determined actions, a historical continuity of such decisions, and a community of important others who serve to validate that integrated self (1968). Ideally, self-confidence is evident for both genders during this period. However, the contrast between male and female commitments indicates that many females are not successful in forming a strong identity at this phase.

To examine the varying commitments adolescents make during the identity formation crisis period, a team of adolescent psychologists interviewed hundreds of middle and high school aged people of both sexes. Each participant was asked to record a few things that were most important in their lives (i.e. family, career goals, life philosophy), then the interviewers asked them to say more about these themes. While the men mentioned subjects most pertinent to their own interests (school, political issues, and their futures), women focused mainly on interpersonal relationships. This alone may or may not indicate a gap in identity development, but the study indicated that women did not exclude talk of themselves and their lives, but rather spoke negatively about both: “Many older female subjects mentioned problems and ambivalence with regard to themselves (being uncertain and so on) and difficulties in committing themselves to the different aspects of their own personalities”(Bosma 100).

Why are they not committed to themselves? Perhaps they cannot not commit because they do not know to what they are committing. Neither are they committed to certain life philosophies that might inform their characters. In fact, religion was ranked one of the weakest commitments for older adolescent women. Do they honestly not care, or do they not know what to care about without the immediate feedback of others? In this light, the volatile nature of a woman’s attention to her own character may not be moodiness, then, but a deeper sense of despair at choosing to commit to something that might elicit a damaging critique from others. It is much safer to focus on something highly valued in the social world, like one’s friends, than something that could be construed as selfish, like schoolwork or faith.

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