Girls may find the transition of adolescence more stressful because during puberty they will gain body fat and move further away from their cultural ideal. Girls also have to deal with menstruation which is negatively associated with blood and discomfort. This may explain why it is early maturing girls that are most at risk of delinquency. Males tend to move closer to their ideal during puberty by gaining muscle.
This cultural ideal hypothesis (Simmons and Blyth ’87) would suggest that inner turmoil and stress are not inevitable and that this depends on when physical maturation occurs, if puberty is early the individual will have spent too little time on ego development and this may lead to turmoil. Wichstrom (’98) argued that it might not be true that girls move away from the Western ideal as long as they do not put on too much weight. The cultural ideal hypothesis is also sensitive to changes in time and context. For example, in Norway there is less emphasis on male stature so late maturing boys may feel less stressed, and in America girls are more embarrassed about sex and menstruation than in Norway.
The teenage years are a time where the individual has the challenge of establishing their personal identity and finding their place in adult society. Erikson (’63) suggested that people go through genetically determined psychosocial stages, each stage is a struggle between two conflicting outcomes, one is adaptive and one is maladaptive. If an identity crisis is experienced this may cause the adolescent to experience turmoil and role confusion.
The adolescent may fear commitment and intimacy because they do not want to lose their identity, may experience an inability to retain sense of time or channel themselves into work or study, may lack concentration or engage in abnormal or delinquent behaviours to try and resolve the crisis and this will create a negative identity. Erikson sees identity as a single goal, which the adolescent either achieves or fails to achieve, and he emphasises the importance of crisis.
However, it is more likely that adolescence involves several transitions and goals and many people go through adolescence without appearing to experience crisis and do not become delinquent. Identity is also likely to be more complex than Erikson suggests. The suggestion that identity achievement is final is questionable- in our rapidly changing society there are increasing challenges to a stable identity and a person’s identity may change. It is also questionable that failure to achieve identity leads to delinquency and sexual confusion, as there is very little support for this from research. Erikson also mainly used case studies to base his theories on so his sample was not very representative.
Marcia (’80) developed Erikson’s theory of how identity is formed during adolescence and suggested that the adolescent must experience a high crisis and show high commitment before forming an identity. This means that stress is inevitable for all normal adolescents but this stress is adaptive because it will eventually lead to an identity where the person has firm goals and ideals. If the individual does not experience crisis and shows low commitment this leads to diffusion where the adolescent has not started thinking seriously about major life issues.
This may mean that the adolescent does not have to experience stress and turmoil by making up there opinions but remaining in this stage may result in apathy and depression, so without crisis the adolescent will not develop into a healthy adult. An identity crisis is experienced when there is high crisis and low commitment, different lifestyles and identities are experimented with but no firm commitments are made, an adolescent in this situation is likely to feel very stressed because they have no clear identity. To avoid stress the adolescent may make a commitment without seriously considering alternatives or questioning identities imposed by parents or society, this is known as foreclosure. If someone experiences foreclosure then Marcia suggests they will not fulfil their potential as an individual so some degree of crisis would be beneficial to the adolescent in the long term.
This theory is supported by Coleman and Hendry (’90) who found that identity achievers had higher self-esteem and fewer problems in adolescence. However, it has been criticised for emphasising crisis as the root to identity when evidence shows that only a minority of adolescents experience great stress and turmoil and that the transition into adulthood is generally not that bad. Marcia’s picture of identity statuses may be oversimplified , Archer (’82) found that at any one time only 5% of adolescents have the same identity status in their occupational choice and their political and religious beliefs. Marcia obtained evidence from a very untypical generation, adolescents in the 1960’s were generally not very conformist. It may be that the transition of adolescence caused a different amount of stress in teenagers from that generation than in teenagers these days.