How important is our identity?
What team do you support? Where are you from? What are you listening to at the moment? The answers to these questions feed into your social identity. They are the building blocks to making you, you. Identity can help create a sense of belonging but can also make people feel left out. What does social identity mean to young people growing up?
Developing an identity
Everyone likes to think they are in control of their identity. But we make choices every day based on those around us. Whether it’s that friend you are trying to impress with new trainers. Or a colleague you ask out for sushi even though you don’t like Japanese food. We will go above and beyond to fit into groups. This is especially true of young people.
Beth, one of our well-being counsellors, says ‘when a young person is identifying or questioning who they are, that can bring a lot of pressure emotionally. They might feel like they’re not fitting in or that there isn't a place for them in their peer group.’
It's quite confusing.
Take that shy boy in class. His peers might notice he is quiet and leave him alone. This has a knock-on effect. He ends up becoming even more distant. On the other hand. That popular girl in class. The one with a group hanging off her every word. She gets treated differently. This will probably mean she is more confident.
Our identity is formed by the groups we are in and the way we see ourselves. If children have a positive view of themselves and those they hang out with, they are more likely to have good self-esteem.
Avoiding identity crisis
Studies have shown that young people, and adults, with a lot of hobbies are more likely to have better well-being. Whether it’s being into music, learning new dance trends, or playing for the local rugby team. Having a variety of interests can be good for our well-being.
To give an example. A girl might be the best footballer in school. She has spent all her time focusing on being at the top of her game. But if she gets injured, she loses that status for a while. She gets down. She can’t play with her friends. She feels lost without sport. This is identity crisis.
But it is never too late to try something new. We should be encouraging young people explore their identity. Mix with different classmates. Find what else they enjoy.
Social media and digital identity
The media has always played a big part in shaping what is hot and what is not. From impossibly skinny women showing off a trendy new skirt in a magazine, to muscle men on TV selling the latest cologne. These have long kept alive age old gender stereotypes.
But young people today now have social media, such as Instagram and TikTok, to contend with. All these pressures are now at their fingertips. Posting pictures of workouts, trainers, instaworthy breakfasts. If they don’t get enough likes, it can leave them feeling down.
Helen, a well-being practitioner, explains ‘I think this whole social media issue is a big thing. So many young people are conscious about their body image and comparing themselves with others. They see everyone else is having this amazing life and looking amazing and then they feel that they don't have that at all.’
Our research has shown that the way you come across online, the things you do online and the relationships you have online all impact young people's online happiness. However, when we asked a group of 2,000 children aged 10-17 about their experiences online, most told us it was generally positive.
online well-being facts
felt their online life had a positive or mixed impact on how they feel overall
said online life had a negative impact on how they feel about themselves
Culture not crisis
Social identity can be a good thing. It helps children make friends and can bring those of different backgrounds together over a common interest. At the same time, it can make young people feel left out, or chasing an idea that isn't really them.
We work to build a more inclusive society for young people. So they can express themselves freely and try new things. Growing up should be about finding out who we are and having fun while we do it.