Developmental Milestones with Teens

Developmental Milestones

Guiding Your Teen Through Healthy Developmental Milestones 

Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development is a theory introduced in the 1950s by the psychologist and psychoanalyst Erik Erikson. Erikson's theory is often looked to as a guideline for appropriate behavior in each age and stage of life. As we move through our lifespan, his theory suggests, we move through stages of human development. He identified eight stages which represent specific conflicts or crises that individuals must resolve. The stage relevant to the teenage years is Identity versus Role Confusion, which occurs during adolescence (ages 13-18). 

Here are key aspects of this stage and how they manifest during the teenage years: 

1. Identity Exploration: Adolescents are seeking to define their personal identity. This involves exploring various roles, values, and beliefs. Teens may experiment with different styles, hobbies, and social groups as they seek to understand who they are. 

2. Peer Influence: During this stage, peers become increasingly important in shaping one's identity. Teens may be influenced by their friends' values, behaviors, and attitudes. The desire for social acceptance and the need to fit in can play a significant role in identity formation. 

3. Parental Influence: While peers play a crucial role, parents continue to exert influence. The adolescent is in the process of differentiating their identity from that of their parents. There may be conflicts as teens seek independence and autonomy while still relying on parental guidance. 

4. Role Confusion: The exploration of different identities can lead to a temporary state of confusion. Teens may struggle to integrate the various aspects of themselves, leading to uncertainty about their future roles in society, relationships, and work. 

5. Career Exploration: Adolescents start considering potential career paths and life goals. Erikson believed that successful resolution of the identity crisis during this stage would lead to the development of a clear sense of one's role in society, including career aspirations and life purpose. 

6. Values and Beliefs: Teens grapple with moral and ethical questions, exploring and solidifying their own set of values and beliefs. This process is often influenced by cultural, religious, and familial factors. 

7. Intimacy and Relationships: Erikson suggested that establishing a solid identity is crucial for forming healthy intimate relationships later in life. Teens begin to explore romantic relationships, developing a deeper understanding of themselves within the context of interpersonal connections. 

8. Peer Pressure and Rebellion: The need for social acceptance can sometimes lead to conformity or rebellion against societal norms. Teens may experiment with behaviors that challenge authority or conform to peer expectations as they navigate the balance between fitting in and asserting individuality. 

Now that we have reviewed some of the issues that are very likely presenting themselves in your teen’s life, how can we apply that to parenting?  


Understanding Erikson's Identity versus Role Confusion stage provides valuable insights for parents and caregivers. Guiding your teen through healthy developmental milestones is a collaborative experience. Showing understanding of this season of life and the skills they are working so hard to develop can look like embracing their individuality, encouraging progress over perfection, exploring supportive resources together, fostering values-based conversations, and being a supportive presence in their life. 

1. Acknowledge Their Individuality: Similar to recognizing that your teenager is not a "mini you," understand that their mental health struggles are unique to them. Avoid imposing unrealistic expectations on how they should cope or feel. Embrace the reality that your teen is an individual with their own thoughts and emotions. Celebrate their strengths and understand that their journey might not align with your expectations. 

2. Embrace Progress, Not Perfection: Encourage a mindset that sees failure as progress. Mental health is a journey, and setbacks are a natural part of it. Be curious, not judgmental, when discussing their feelings and experiences. This approach can open up communication channels and allow them to share their struggles without fear of judgment. 

3. Explore Supportive Resources Together: Engage with your teen in exploring resources that can help them navigate their mental health challenges. This could involve books, articles, or community-based programs. Your involvement in their exploration shows that you're committed to understanding and supporting them on their journey. 

4. Foster Values-Based Conversations: Engage in discussions about values to better understand your teen's perspective. Explore what they find important in life and how their values shape their mental health journey. Be open about your own values and encourage a non-judgmental dialogue. If conflicts arise, express that differing values might be at the core of the issue, fostering understanding rather than judgment. 

5. Be a Supportive Presence: Your role as a parent is crucial in supporting your teen's mental health. Be present, listen without judgment, and offer encouragement. Let your teen know that you are there for them, whether they want to talk about their struggles or simply share a moment together. Your support can make a significant impact on their overall well-being. 

This suggested approach can be difficult to accomplish without support. Reach out for your own help with processing your emotions in order to remain calm and engaged with your teen. Remember, you are not alone in this journey, and your commitment to understanding and supporting your teen can make a lasting difference in their mental health and overall well-being. 


  1. Orenstein GA, Lewis L. Erikson's Stages of Psychosocial Development. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing. 

  2. Meeus W, van de Schoot R, Keijsers L, Branje S. Identity statuses as developmental trajectories: A five-wave longitudinal study in early-to-middle and middle-to-late adolescents. J Youth Adolesc. 2012;41(8):1008-1021. doi:10.1007/s10964-011-9730-y 

  3. Fadjukoff P, Pulkkinen L, Kokko K. Identity formation in adulthood: A longitudinal study from age 27 to 50. Identity (Mahwah, N J). 2016;16(1):8-23. doi:10.1080/15283488.2015.1121820 

  4. Erikson, E.H. Childhood and Society. (2nd ed.). New York: Norton; 1993. 

  5. Erikson, EH & Erikson, JM. The Life Cycle Completed. New York: Norton; 1998.