Self-concept refers to the idea and narrative one had about oneself. Self-concept determines how does the person perceive oneself, behave, react, and communicate with others. The development of self-concept begins in the early childhood and continues throughout adolescence and early adulthood, going through important changes on every stage. Assessing statements of children and adolescents of different age about themselves, the first thing that catches attention is the how these statements become more complex and start incorporating more aspects of their personality, behavior, achievement, and social relationships with others as important contributors to their self-concept.
The reviewed statements of different-aged young people make it noticeable how does the way the children identify themselves change with age. Namely, younger children are fast to identify themselves primarily with their families, while older children assess themselves mainly through the reference to their social circles of friends and classmates, and teenagers demonstrate the attempts to come up with their own point of reference for defining their personal identity even though this is apparently quite challenging and complicated to do at this point.
The fact that every account except for the one that belongs to the youngest child (3 years old) in way or another reference their social circles as a ground for assessing themselves, identifies that as children grow older, their peers become a very important factor that influences how they see themselves and what level of self-esteem they have. In other words, being accepted by peers becomes crucial for children’s psychological well-being. Importantly, the accounts that belong to teenage respondents identify an existing tension between trying to conform to what their parents expect of them and what is considered cool and normal among their peers.
This tension becomes a source of inner conflict and emotional difficulties for many young people. Lastly, in the accounts of older participants, it becomes clear that they start to differentiate between their social identity and what they see as their “true selves”. This indicating that they start to think more critically about their identity.
- Smith, P.K., & Hart, C.H. (2002). Blackwell Handbook of Childhood Social Development. Blackwell.