One of the biggest challenges of adolescence is constructing a self-identity. Teens between the ages of 13 and 20 are not only maturing physically, but they are also growing into their new role as adults. In order to do this, they need to answer for themselves the question "Who am I?"
In traditional or particularly rigid communities or families, the young person may have very limited choices in who or what they become, but for most Western adolescents, the teen years are a time of "psychosocial moratorium" during which young people can experiment with different life choices. This stage can often involve at least some delinquency, rebellion or acting-out of negative behaviors, and it will probably also include times of self-doubt and indecision. Nonetheless, toward the end of this period, the young adult has usually settled on a positive role for him or herself.
Part of this process is that adolescents want to differentiate themselves from those who have been responsible for them until now. They deliberately choose to be different and make different choices. Along with this, they begin to turn to their peers and friends, rather than their family, for their social and emotional needs. Peer pressure becomes a powerful force and, whether for good or bad, it can have a major impact on behavior.
Teens start establishing a sexual identity as their bodies become sexually mature. They are likely to experiment with various physical encounters, as well as with intimate emotional relationships. Older adolescents may begin forming long-term commitments.
Shaping one's identity is seen as the fifth of Eric Erikson's eight stages of social-emotional development. Young people envision various life possibilities, imagining what they might become and what they might do. However, to successfully pass this turning point, they must begin to define ideals and beliefs that will guide them and help move beyond identity-diffusion toward a clear picture of how they want their lives to be.