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The Theory of Identity Development

The theory of identity development, which emerges from studies of how children establish identities across different social contexts, cultural groups, and genders, creates a construct that is critical to the development and social decision making of minority youth (Erikson, 1968; Gilligan, 1982; LaFromboise & Rowe, 1983; Phinney & Navarro, 1997). Some studies have suggested that it is important for ethnic minority youth to be consciously socialized to understand the multiple demands and expectations of both the majority and the minority cultures (Spencer & Adams, 1990). This process may offer psychological protection by providing a sense of identity that captures the strengths of their culture and by buffering against racism and other risk factors. Effective prevention programs have components that help youth establish clear and positive self-identity. For American Indian (AI) youth and other youth of color, the development of positive self-identity and its role in healthy psychological functions are closely linked with the development of ethnic identity (Mendelberg, 1986; Parham & Helms, 1985; Phinney et al., 1990; Zou & Trueba, 1998).

Prevention programs that foster prosocial norms seek to encourage youth to adopt healthy beliefs and clear standards for behavior through a variety of strategies. Prosocial norms address what is and is not necessary in order to be a member of the ‘‘normal’’ group. Younger children are influenced by older youth in their environment and by the adults who are their models. Children have to be taught to recognize what are healthy and unhealthy behaviors. This includes learning how to avoid unhealthy situations (e.g., sexual abuse, substance use, violence) and where to get the necessary help and support from trusted adults. Therefore, providing a set of coping skills and knowledge for children to make appropriate choices and decisions was one of the primary program objectives.

IINII uses a revolutionary Design Thinking process to help your school community gain an understanding of one’s sense of self, as well as developing an understanding of students’ and parents’ values; having an understanding of one’s values matters because research has shown that it is linked to better well-being, less stress, and increased confidence in one’s ability to succeed.

Understanding students’ values can be developed with culturally sustaining practices that reflect a student’s identity and experience. Particularly helpful is focusing efforts on cultural competence and relevance and providing opportunities for students to practice bridging differences between diverse identities in a safe environment. To learn how you can create a dynamic youth-centered environment that honors the unique values of your students and parents, visit our website at, or contact us at or 1800-507-2502.

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