Identity is an Active Process; Who is in Control?

Posted by: John Stewart on September 27, 2012 4:11 pm

I have a number of friends whose children are just now making the transition from high school to university.  My own oldest child made this transition just last year. With this transition came the requisite decision making regarding “what am I going to do for a career?”  I have come to believe that this is a very difficult decision for generation Y, in contrast to the decision making processes of my own generation (somewhere between the Baby Boomers and Generation X).  Generation Y is also sometimes referred to as the Peter Pan Generation, because of the perception that some of the traditional rites of passage into adulthood are often delayed with this group, most significantly the trend toward members remaining dependent on their parents for longer periods than previous generations.  Christian Smith (2011) has identified some additional contributors to this delay in adult identity development including the growth in higher education, delay in marriage by young adults, and a less than stable economy.

What appears to be consistent regardless of generation is that the development of adult identity is an active process.  As is the case with all active processes, someone or something is in control of the process.  In many instances for Generation Y, parents retain a substantial part of the control by taking care of development inducing tasks, fostering dependence, and monitoring and making decisions on behalf of their youth.  In one sense parents in control can be compared to a chess game between a master chess player and a novice.  Because of their life experience, parents are able to see the whole board (their progeny’s life), albeit from their own perspective, and are quite adept at managing the pieces to get the outcome that they desire. The young person, the novice in this analogy, is likely to, given the opportunity, make poor strategic decisions which can result in the loss of games.  To prevent the loss of esteem (another issue for another blog) the master may suggest moves and control both sides of the board in an effort to teach the novice good strategy.  This can’t really be viewed as a selfish action on a parent’s part as the end goal is almost always the happiness and success of their child rather than the desire for something completely aimed at their own self-gratification. It does, however, represent a desire to maintain control over various aspects of the development process.  This desire can also be conceptualized as a need on the part of parents to have things their own way (because they know best what is right for their own child?).  In a culture where anxiety has grown to epidemic proportions, the prospect of things happening outside of their control can be problematic both for an anxious generation of parents and for their increasingly anxious next generation.  This raises the question, when working with Generation Y clients, of who has ownership (control) of your identity.  

BY: Jeff Landine & John Stewart


Smith, C., Christoffersen, K., Davidson, H., & Snell Herzog, P. (2011). Lost in translation: The dark side of emerging adulthood. New York: Oxford University Press.

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

1 comment on “Identity is an Active Process; Who is in Control?”

  1. Linda Thompson says:

    Good morning Jeff & John – great thought provoking article concerning the topic of generations, ownership and control. Being aligned with existentialism at my core, I return and recall a snipent of wisdom gleamed from Victor Frankyl – the only thing we control in any given moment is our attitude…so I guess whether the generation be pre/post war, Baby Boomers, X or Y – working on and owning one’s attitude in any given situation remains relevant irregardless of one’s financial state of affairs.

    Another good old saying – where there is will, there is a way…individuation and career development are acts of free will and change is inevitable, so we endure both across our entire lifespan. We act and change within the context of health, relationships and culture that in turn affects our productivity that is dependent upon supply/demand and need of the times.

    My thought is that – not launching as a young adult and being a late bloomer whicle getting higher education out-there in the world is not a new concept and rests upon attitudes and belief systems. If Generation Y have delayed lauching and are late bloomers, then and perhaps, instead of viewing them as being in an extended state of parental dependence, they ought to be viewed as old enough to be engaged in mature states of interdependence with their parents while attending to a higher education. This is also not new and I do believe the auristocrats raised/reared their young adults in this manner sending them to schools to become cultured.

    Helping appears to be a key word and does not imply entitlement nor control. Knowledge does not necessarily equate to wisdom and I return to attitude and beliefs gleamed from across a collective, transgenerational conscience-raising perspective.

    Spending quality time reflecting upon heritage and roots, refining one’s primary, functional and operational – core values & belief system, having duable goals towards potential dreams is identifyable ownership. Extended interdependence inherent in late launching and blooming, if perforemd within healthy, respectful boundaries and environments provides generation y with time to perfect collaboration within, so they will be at-home no matter what street address they reside in while they spend the rest of their life learning.

    Some adult children do not leave (physically; emotionally) the nest, however, these folks are not perceived as dependent or co-dependent. They are individuated, contributing and interdependent members of their family system and community-at-large. These arrangements are also not new, designed ought of need and arrangements made by parents, elders – adult children which I view as acts of free will and choice.

    Acts of free will and choice always carries accountabilkity and responsiblilty and is a reciprocal arrangement – give and take. Help generation y figure our what they are receiving and what they can give so they learn to be contributing members of their at-home, in specific learning fields always towards their ever-changing world of work.

    Regards Dr. Linda AK Thompson

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