Erikson (1968) viewed adolescence as a transitional period of development occurring prior to adulthood. Within his psychosocial theory of development, he characterized identity formation as the primary task of that period (Erikson, 1968). While his theory predates the notion of emerging adulthood as introduced by Arnett (2000), there is seemingly notable overlap related to the continued pursuit of identity into this contemporary life phase. This is mentioned because of the relatively fluid nature of the chronological bounds of identity exploration and achievement. It stands to reason that identity development is a major focus during adolescence which continues into emerging adulthood. Many adolescents and emerging adults find themselves in search for answers to who they are and or who they are becoming while engaging in life within the cyber world.
While Erikson’s identity theory supports the idea that individuals tend to move through different Identity Statuses, as they pursue an ‘achieved identity, this phase has also been associated with a demonstration of certain characteristic ways of thinking such as adolescent egocentrism, imaginary audience, personal fable, and the illusion of invulnerability (Elkind, 1978). Adolescent egocentrism refers to a sense of self-absorption. This concept suggests that adolescents have a keen interest in their own feelings and experiences. Similarly, they assume that they are the focus of others’ thinking (Kail & Cavaunaugh, 2017). Imaginary audience describes the perception that many adolescents believe that they are “actors” who are constantly being watched by their peers (Kail & Cavaunaugh, 2017). Personal fable is used to describe adolescents’ belief that their experiences and feelings are unique and that no one has felt or thought like them (Kail & Cavaunaugh, 2017). Illusion of invulnerability refers to the belief that misfortune only happens to others (Kail & Cavaunaugh, 2017). Add to these cognitive schemas or ways of thinking, the behavioral tendency towards risks often associated with adolescence (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2017). Steinburg (2008) asserts that risk-taking increases during the period of adolescence, and such behaviors are attributed to changes in the brain’s socio-emotional system during puberty. This contributes to increased reward seeking, especially in the presence of peers, which has been related to “a dramatic remodeling of the brain’s dopaminergic system (Steinburg, 2008, p.1).”
Considering that adolescence is a period centered on the search for identity, increased peer influence, and biological changes which support in an increase in high risk behaviors, it is important to consider the implications for such changes within the context of the cyber world. This module will highlight the relationship between developmental characteristics attributed to adolescence and social media use patterns and vulnerabilities associated with the cyber engagement of adolescents.