Identity Achievement and Emerging Adulthood

Emerging adults need to be recognized for who and where they are. They also need to be encouraged to recognize themselves for who and where they are, and not be too hard on themselves. Many CEGEP students seem to feel that they need to be more focused and committed than would be adaptive at this time in their lives, especially when it comes to their career paths.

James Marcia describes four possible statuses of identity achievement:

  • foreclosure (acceptance of an identity status assigned by someone else)
  • moratorium (exploration of and experimentation with different identity possibilities without commitment)
  • achievement (commitment to an identity status after a period of exploration)
  • diffusion (avoidance of the identity crisis and refusal to explore identity alternatives)

We can easily see Marcia’s statuses of identity achievement manifested in many of our students, especially when it comes to career objectives.

Some have already decided on their path in life, based on family or community expectations or limited options.

Many are still in a healthy state of moratorium; they may have chosen a broad area of study (social sciences, sciences etc.) without clear goals; many change programs or choose a different direction when they get to university. By the end of their CEGEP studies, however, they may feel pressure to abandon that moratorium prematurely.

A few may have had enough opportunities for exploration and enough self-awareness to have achieved a kind of committed identity status, although hopefully this achievement includes flexibility and the possibility of further exploration.

I would suggest that the status of diffusion is rare among CEGEP students, because being a student puts one in the unavoidable position of exploring at least a few options (in any program, one is exposed to several different fields and ideas) and most students are not yet old or experienced enough to be expected to make a firm commitment. We might see diffusion, however, in students who shut down, drop out of school, or fail courses repeatedly because they are not motivated to carry out the “exploration” that learning requires.

Except in rare cases where a student has had exceptional opportunity to explore different options during adolescence, moratorium is probably the most appropriate stage for most seventeen- to twenty-year-olds to be in. Discussion of identity issues in Marcia’s terms might be reassuring for many of them. I teach Erikson’s theory of identity formation in some of my classes; in the future, I intend to introduce Marcia’s model as well, and to perhaps ask students to reflect on their own status while applying the model to the characters we study.

(This post was adapted from an analytical response to the following text:

Kail, R., Cavanaugh, J. C., & Ateah, C. A. (2006) Emerging Adulthood (Canadian ed.) Custom Edition of Human Development: A Life-Span View. Scarborough, Ont.: Thomson Custom Publishing.

I wrote the original analysis for an MEd course.)

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