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Identity gives meaning to one’s individual existence and that of the group to which one belongs (often in unison with or in contrast with the other individuals forming the group). It is a clearly social and multi-faceted construct; we have many identities since we relate with (and thus exist in relation to) a number of groups. Personal identity derives from a feeling of identification with and belonging to a group, and since we belong to various groups (gender, generation, profession, ethnic group, region, hobbies, etc.), we develop different social identifications. All of them together makes up our overall identity.

The identity of adolescents may be interpreted in two different ways, that is, according to a diachronic or synchronic meaning. In other words, by analyzing their components or tracing back the process through which they form an identity. Identity has been found to be made up of several components; a) self-identification as a member of the group in question; b) knowledge of and attitudes towards this group and the way one perceives it; c) one’s attitude towards oneself as a member of said group; d) practical behavior developed by the individual on the basis of this identification (language, group activities, rituals, clothes, etc.); e) an individual’s commitment to his group and its development (moral dimension of identity). The identity building process involves at least three key phases: the crisis phase, the exploration phase and the phase of definition of and commitment to one’s identity. All of these basic elements are extremely important to analyze the process of adolescent identification.

For an adolescent boy or girl, conquering their identity is a complex process involving both their psychological characteristics as well as the conditions of the surrounding environment (especially the quality and intensity of their relationships with their relatives and the social group to which they belong). The particular ecosystem in which adolescents grow up generates in them psychological and behavioral changes related to the three aspects which I analyzed in the previous point, namely learning, self-assertion and overcoming oneself. The three trigger dynamics which in one way or another are stimulated by the adolescent’s group of reference (family, friends, school, “other privileged people”), and cause him or her to have a different type of acceptance based on the type of culture (including religious culture). There is a superficial form of acceptance (reduced to the acceptance of facts and involvement in events without any special belief); an intermediate form of acceptance (which includes learning and the expression of preferences when faced with a number of choices, etc.) and significant acceptance (which includes a certain personal engagement vis à vis the beliefs and meaning underlying actions, and in the best of cases, a sort of “cosmic vision”). Obviously, there can also be outright rejections.

This is why from the point of view of identity, it is important to highlight the main focus of identification. Personal identity is built on the basis of elements of a different quality and centrality. It is fundamental to establish a hierarchy between the various components making up personal identity. Personal identity may be built upon external elements (way of dressing, of expressing oneself and of behaving) or on more substantive elements (a political choice, an idea, a belief, an intellectual or social engagement). Due to the contradictions characterizing this phase, the focus of identification sometimes results from the imitation or assimilation of the context’s cultural customs. However, the opposite reaction may also occur (in the attempt to assert oneself in contrast with the group of reference). The case of the veil worn by

The challenges in education. Recovering the past, promises, commitments

Italian Episcopal Conference, European Symposium, Roma 1-4 July 2004

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