The tumultuous years of adolescence are marked by the conflicting notions of individuality and society.  Increased pressure to integrate, to become a “productive member of society,” is pushed back by a desire to isolate oneself from society because the responsibilities are too great and come too soon. Yet the process of separating self from society becomes the basis for how one could be productive while still satisfying internal desires. Furthermore, it is society that forms the realm of possibilities; our identification with the rest of the world is relative to the world we’re in. It is impossible to separate society from self-identity just as it is impossible to enter the world alone. Yet society is made up of individuals. So the ideas of self-identity and group-identity are intertwined, and adolescence is not resolving the differences between the two ideas.   Every teenager, at one point or another, has to answer the question “who are you?” The answer, no matter what, will always be in the context of society. The typical rebellious teenager must be rebelling against something: if they’re in a world of laziness, they’ll be productive.  But it is difficult for the rebellious teenager to determine how much of their worldview has been influenced by society and how much has been created internally. In that sense, a child who wants to grow up to be a firefighter is more true to themselves - or at least what they know - than a teenager who wants to be a doctor. Such a teenager may be mixing their desire to “make their parents happy” with a lack of confidence in their other desires, and thus their long-term goal becomes satisfying their parents. It is a commendable selflessness, though being selfless doesn’t have a lot of self in it.   Of course, teenagers have friends, and a group of friends will have its own identity. The group-identity may not be what society desires - it may be a part of culture or counter-culture or bohemian, and its demands are stronger than the demands of society. Yet the selection of a group of friends is an indication of internal preferences, and a reciprocal relationship between self and group influences is established. It is only in a small group that an individual can influence others with nearly instant response, and that feedback allows for the rapid development of ideas and reactions to the outside world. A teenager must establish themselves as a member of the group, through clothing choice, through course selection, through musical taste, and so on, while making their own, individual contributions. So in addition to identifying self as in an individual in society, a teenager must identify themselves an individual member of a group, distinct from close up yet indistinct from far away.   Yet all this identification is simplified by action: “what do you do?” For example, it would be difficult for a teenager who doesn’t play an instrument to become a musician, at least without some time spent learning how to play one. It is also difficult to believe that someone wants to be a musician wouldn’t at least want to learn how to play an instrument, if they aren’t playing one already. A musician would hang out with other musicians, they would all identify as musicians, and they would differ in the instrument or pieces they play. If only it were easy to become a musician who does nothing else. What a teenager already does is a reflection of who they are, and doing something puts dreams into reality, a crucial first step into becoming what they want.   If everyone could reach their goals and the goals of society organically, then there would be no need for any structure in society at all, least of all school. It is easy for the educated teenager to fall into the tantalizingly regular pattern of school and schoolwork, where problems are given and solutions are proven. It allows one to avoid choosing what they do and instead rely on society, not even their parents or friends, to choose for them. Clubs are not required. Yet choosing a direction too early without having an idea of all the directions one may go may lead to a disastrously inappropriate choice. So it is important to choose without dropping all other options, just as it is important to select friends without ignoring everyone else. Required classes are a reflection of what society wants from students, while electives are a reflection of the options that society has available. School thus provides a framework for the adolescent mind as society views it: this is what you have to do, and this is what you are allowed to do.   Appropriately enough, college applications become the culmination of years before spent determining personal identity. Applications contain foreign things to high school students, such as “resumes” and “personal statements” that involve writing about themselves. Often it is the first time they do. The application, whether to college or work, is probably the main societal pressure to have a strong sense of “who you are.” Guidance counselors recommend students to distinguish themselves from other applicants, and for many this involves one-off events that don’t define applicants as much as tell an interesting story. Fortunately, cohesiveness in identity is difficult to achieve, even more so for a teenager, so scattering of activities just means that applicants only have an idea of what they want to do. In fact, the most common major for undergraduate freshmen is “undecided.” So college students are indistinct in their indecision.   Obviously, college students actually choose the school they attend, so they are not completely indecisive. Yet what college allows is the ability to break away from past decisions in a managed way. Friends who are no longer friends can be easily separated from and interests no longer current can be easily forgotten. The pressure of group influences disappears until new groups are formed, so there is no group-identity beyond the college atmosphere, only self-identity, and so it is common to see students change as they move into college into who they actually want to be. Of course, that new identity is a response to the old one, so it isn’t truly new.  And with past relationships gone, there is a greater willingness to try new activities to find out where the new identity can go. This forms the basis for the college atmosphere: students taking their personal interests to extremes with others. There is significantly less pressure to “fit in” because of the separations by field and the variety of electives, and thus the playing field between the individual and the group becomes much more level, at least academically, and society accepts that.   Adolescents manage to form an idea of how they want to identify themselves to the rest of the world by establishing who it is they actually are. Their identity is always personal, but the identity of the group they are in and the way they choose to present themselves to society is a reflection of that personal identity. It is impossible to remove the influences of the past, but it is important to be aware of how the society a child is raised in affects their world view. And it is also important to realize that the actions of teenagers reflect their beliefs and desires, so many decisions regarding identity are made rapidly and subconsciously. At the same time education provides a structure for the formation of identity and friends within the context of society, pushing along the process. So asking a teenager “who are you?” a vague question, can be answered by breaking it down into a series of questions: “What do you like to do? What do you do? What do you want to do? What do you want to be? What are you now?” In the end, identity is the conclusion of introspection.