When I was a teenager, an “identity crisis” was very different from what it is today. Now, it’s more than figuring out if you want to be a nerd or a jock. Or if you’re angsty or perky. Not that any of those are identity, anyway. A lot of things have complicated this issue, but I’d put social media at the top of the list. There seems to be such an urgency to have an online presence that kids are in a hurry not only to establish an identity, but to present it as fully developed.
But that’s not how identity works. Identity is not a brand, or even a series of decisions. It’s not even fluid. Personality is fluid; identity is not. The question, “Who am I?” is much more basic than our kids are being led to believe, and the stakes are high.
Talk about this with your tweens and teens. If you have younger kids, you need this, too. It’s not too early to start teaching them where their real identity is. There’s tremendous security for them in that in the years to come.
If you have younger kids, you need this, too. It’s not too early to start teaching them where their real identity is.
Let’s Define Terms, or at Least Try
This is not the first draft of this post. I was done and ready to go, but I wanted to run the topic by my 16-year-old daughter to get her thoughts. She made me think harder about where the hard lines are, or if there are any. It made me realize that defining “identity” is not as simple as I thought.
So, I did what I always do. I looked for Scripture specifically about identity so I could do a word study. Hebrew or Greek, there’s no word that is consistently used to mean identity. Most translations don’t even have the English word “identity.” Where other translations choose it, it means a nation, a people , or making self known. Of course, there are many, many verses about who we are in Christ (I’ll get to some of those), but nothing straightforward enough to help me draw lines. Which means… we have to be careful about drawing lines!
For the purposes of this post (and I am totally open to discussion), identity is going to be what we know about ourselves if we dig all the way down. It is not overly complex or involved; it’s our set of most basic truths. From identity springs all of that other stuff like personality, preferences, interests, goals, and so on. We often wrap all of that other stuff into something we call identity, but that’s misguided.
As Christians, we view identity very differently than non-believers. Just like the Hebrew words that mean “nation” or “people”, identity is determined by whose we are, which determines who we are. We are followers of Christ, and we belong to Him. That’s where our identity rests, and our security is in knowing that it’s so permanent, it’s eternal.
Personality is fluid; identity is not.
I’m going to talk a lot about social media and identity, but this issue is broader than just that. Really think about how this applies to your parenting of your child. Do it prayerfully. God knows your child better than you–or your child–ever will, and He knows where you need to challenge, applaud, nudge.
What’s the Rush?
Because being on social media is such a competition, you have to set yourself up to win. You only wear clothes that get enough likes. You only retweet what makes you look deep, or funny, or political. Having a lot of followers equals a lot of value, right? All of this together defines who you are online, and if you want to be competitive, you need to get it pulled together quickly. If you look too juvenile, nobody is interested. Even though you are still a juvenile. (Yes, I realize this is not how all teens take on social media! I’m just describing a common mindset.)
What happens when the self you’ve put out there turns out not to be interesting enough? If you’re trying to fill something within yourself, it’s tempting to become more extreme. If this isn’t enough, let’s see if that is. And if that’s not enough, it keeps going. You end up identifying as someone you never would have been otherwise. That’s hard to come back from.
The point is that these decisions are not made thoughtfully or wisely–they’re made as a means to an end. And then it all feels like identity. Identity is never a means to an end, though.
What’s the Problem?
I’ve got four. Stay with me!
First, overcomplicating identity leads to making things permanent that are temporary.
For example, if I decide that part of my identity is that I am a libertarian, then I’m kinda stuck being libertarian for life, or at least for a long time. Because “identity” is who you are at the core, and that doesn’t change. Instead, I need to realize that whatever political party I associate with represents values and priorities that are being shaped by my identity. I’m more than a political logo.
So, the problem is making a bunch of so-called identity decisions when you’re a teen and if you have integrity, feeling like you have to stick with those decisions. Imagine, parent reader, if the “identity” you had as a teenager was the one you believed was your permanent identity. And you were still who you were then. Yikes.
Second, the things we’re calling identity are almost always things we can lose.
Then what? Let’s say your identity is that you’re an athlete; it’s what you do, it’s who you are, it’s why people admire you. Then you blow out your ACL. Now who are you? Or let’s say your identity is that you’re so Irish you bleed green. Well, you’ll always be Irish by heritage, but you may not want that to be the center of your sense of self if you marry someone Greek, or fall in love with Italy. Or don’t want to feel confined to that “profile.” Don’t anchor your identity in anything that can go away or change.
Third, these quick, check-the-box decisions about who we are actually make it harder to know ourselves.
Once you decide on a “profile”, you kinda have to match it. And that means matching it according to how you’ve set up the profile, but also matching it to what other people expect of that profile. The connection you originally sought on social media gets warped. Nobody is connecting with anybody else’s authentic self, and connections tend to be made based on things that don’t really matter. And here’s the kicker–This is a big mess as it is, but when we’ve blurred the line between personality (or season) with identity, it’s so much worse.
And the fourth problem is the claim that identity is fluid.
This is very problematic because if your identity is subject to change, then you never really know who you are, or if it’s even possible to have an identity. Then what? If you have no identity, or you’re constantly trying to discover and rediscover what it is, there’s no peace. It’s hard to love yourself if you don’t know who “yourself” is, which makes life and relationships a total beat-down. Again, I’ll say it-personality is fluid; identity is not. Let’s stop calling personality and preferences “identity.”
What’s the Answer?
As Christians, we don’t have to wrestle and worry about who we are and what our identity is. Our identity is in Christ, and He never changes. That means our identity is solid, and it’s secure. We can stand on that and move through life.
Our identity is in Christ, and He never changes. That means our identity is solid, and it’s secure.
People with wildly different personalities, lives, and preferences share the same identity, although it may not look like it by the world’s standards. But it’s true. What’s more, your child can have one personality or set of interests at one point in life, and another set later as he grows and matures. Freedom.
What does that mean, “identity in Christ”? Let’s see what God says it means (all verses in NASB).
You’re hope to the world
“‘You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden…’” Matthew 5:14
You’re a child of God
“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name…” John 1:12
You’re a friend of Christ
“No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” John 15:15
You’re freed from slavery to sin
“For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin…” Romans 6:5-6
“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1
You’re a holy dwelling place of the Holy Spirit
“Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” 1 Corinthians 3:16
“But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him.” 1 Corinthians 6:17
You’re a new creation
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17
You’re God’s masterpiece
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10
You’re special to God
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light…” 1 Peter 2:9
Get these verses on one printable here:
There are even more verses that speak to this, but this is a really good sampling. Aren’t you encouraged at how God sets out to redeem His image-bearers? And don’t miss this– Identity in Christ doesn’t mean giving up individuality. God is really creative, and He somehow manages to make billions of unique people, across time. He isn’t gathering an army of automatons. He has purpose in your uniqueness.
Identity in Christ doesn’t mean giving up individuality.
Do your kids understand their identity? (Do you understand yours?) If they have chosen to follow the Lord, their identity is not a mystery. God doesn’t want it to be a mystery, so be sure you’re teaching them who they are in Christ. And start early! If you already have teens, it’s not too late. Use whatever time you have to honor the Lord in this.
If your child has not chosen to follow the Lord, maybe this is a good way to initiate another conversation that leads to the Gospel. Don’t shy away.
I’ve pointed at social media as a culprit in this issue. Besides social media, what do you think is making this hard on kids today? What problems with identity have I missed? Add your voice to the conversation. I would love to hear what you have to say!