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The Place that is the Self

Anne Dalke's picture

A False Self?
A True Self?

The Place That Is the Self
Bryn Mawr College Provost and Psychology professor
Day Two of Summer Institute on
Kim began the morning with a "personality inventory,"
in which gave us a "diamond" diagram to
"think about ourselves in relation to others"--
students, administrators, romantic interests, and friends.
How did we feel about each of the attributes?
Which ones are opposites? Which ones are in conflict?
Which ones represent our "true selves," which ones our "false selves"?
Which attributes describe "who we really are,"
which ones the "way the context wants us to behave"?
She followed this by describing two curent theories,
by David Elkind and Susan Harter, about adolescent development of self.
Elkind argues that some of the baffling behaviors of adolescence are the result of the developing ability to think abstractly, and so imagine alternatives, an audience for one's behavior, and a "personal fable" regarding one's uniqueness.
Harter's work focuses on the implication of cognitive development on how adolescents understand themselves: they move from thinking about themselves as having enduring traits, to comparing those abstractions, to reconciling what seem to be contrasts.
Our discussion ranged widely, from gender differences in "context sensitivity,"
to the particular example of gay teenagers who find themselves in unhospitable environments.
Below find a list of resources for those who would like to learn more:

GLSEN, or the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, is the leading
national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for ALL
School Climate Survey "75.4% of students heard derogatory remarks such as "faggot" or "dyke"frequently or often at school, and nearly nine out of ten (89.2%) reported hearing "that's so gay" or "you're so gay" - meaning stupid or worthless-frequently or often." "75.4% of students heard derogatory remarks such as "faggot" or "dyke" frequently or often at school, and nearly nine out of ten (89.2%) reported hearing "that's so gay" or "you're so gay" - meaning stupid or worthless-frequently or often." School Bullying "One-third (33%) of teens report that students are frequently harassed because they are or are perceived to be lesbian, gay or bisexual. The survey finds that LGBT students are three times as likely as non-LGBT students to say that they do not feel safe at school (22% vs. 7%) and 90% of LGBT students (vs. 62% of non-LGBT teens) have been harassed or assaulted during the past year." Suicide "The study also found that about 10 percent of Massachusetts high school students attempted suicide, according to a survey of about 4,000 students in 1997. Broken down by sexual orientation, about 40 percent of gay and bisexual students attempted suicide, compared to about 10 percent of their heterosexual peers."


Anne Dalke's picture

Puberty in the First Degree

I'm writing now during the weekend after, catching up on NYTimes articles from the week before, and came across this one, which had some real resonances from Kim's presentation: How Can You Distinguish a Budding Pedophile From a Kid With Real Boundary Problems?

It says, in part:

The last part of the brain to develop is the frontal lobe, which is responsible for impulse control, moral reasoning and regulating emotions — the things that adolescents lack when they decide, if they make a conscious decision, to molest a younger kid. So, instead of being compulsive like pedophiles, adolescents tend to be impulsive....It’s not that juveniles can’t distinguish right from wrong; it’s that they don’t perceive risks and consequences the way adults do — as parents of teenagers know all too well. “I’ve been arguing for a classification called ‘puberty in the first degree,’ ” said Timothy Kahn, a Seattle therapist ...

The article also talks about a treatment called

psychodrama. During these exercises, a teenager stands in front of an audience of peers, parents and other relatives who attend the group therapy. Then, the teenager describes the victim — hair color, personality, age — and what the offender did.

This seems like a way of re-vising what Kim's called adolescent's "personal dramas," a way of working productively with their sense that they are on stage--though it's controversial, because it can

reinforce their self-image as “sex offenders” with bad, deviant traits rather than as kids needing lessons in setting boundaries and creating better relationships. Critics complain, too, that intensive monitoring of adolescents may have similar consequences.

Anonymous's picture

Homosexual experimentation

I see the point that is made in the article. This last development of the brain may explain why back in the 60's and 70's, when homosexuality was still "in the closet", it was normal for adolescents to explore brief homosexual activities with friends. Because being Gay is so much in the forefront today, these explorations probably do not occur as frequently (that being said, many adolescents never mentioned what happened anyway)because of possible chastisement. It seems likely that one of the participants of such exploration may later experience deeper homosexual
feelings, but others may not see the possibilities of such engagement because of that last brain development.

Does this make sense?

joycetheriot's picture

Kim's Presentation on the

Kim's Presentation on the work of Elkind and Susan Harter was very well done. I was thinking about my own connections as a teacher and parent. The diamond diagram was an interesting tool to analyze my students from a new perspective. I probably will change this diagram to serve me while watching my students work cooperatively. I think it’s beneficial to concisely shorthand my observations on each student's behavior. This method could help me to think about their behavior in a new frame of reference and perhaps give me greater insights about their motivations.
Angela Bryant's picture


I enjoyed Kims' presentation this morning. I took alot of notes on her lessons on implication of cognitive,the different levels of adolescents. I thought she was taking directly to me because I have a daughter who is 11 years old and I feel like she is at the age of a middle adolescent. I could really relate to what she was talkling about. I need to know when is the cut off point for a parent to stop spoiling a child?
Wil Franklin's picture

spoiling children

i only have a toddler and i too wonder when do you stop spoiling children. this is one of the toughest issues i have encountered so far as a parent. you want your child to know you love them, but you also want them to be prepare to be independant and have a realistic understanding of the world. as a toddler, my little one whines a lot and i want to help her, but i also don't want to reinforce her behavior.

do you have any suggestion?

Diane OFee-Powers's picture


I agree with Jennifer about wanting more discussion on how to assist the students on how to survive adolescence! I also think this information should be a mandatory professional development for teachers. The more we understand why the kids are behaving so oddly, the better we can handle their behaviors in the classroom without making the situation worse!
Mary Ellen McGinnity's picture

Stages of Adolescence

Today's session was fascinating! Kim Cassidy was very informative and entertaining. I kept thinking of my own children when they were in their teens and wishing I had been aware of where were developmentally, so that I might have been more understanding. (Or, in the heat of the moment, maybe not!) I also kept thinking of the third graders I worked with who exhibited some of the early adolescent behaviors. Describing ourselves in relation to others was an effective exercise. What parts of those different selves do we bring into the classroom on our good/bad days? How do our perceptions of other people affect us so that we exhibit our false self?
J Parks's picture

Implications of Adolescent Cognition

I would have preferred a richer discussion of methods for assisting the adolescent as they navigate stages of cognition.  At (search Thinking in a New Key) theories of David Elkind's are explored and helpful suggestions are made.
Victoria Brown's picture

Tuesday Morning's Reflection

This morning session was extremely informative. I enjoyed Elkines theory on the "Implication of Cognitive". The pseudo-stupidity, imaginery audience, and the personal fable descriptions. As a high school teacher I can see these characteristics in many of my students. I also liked Harter's theory on "Imlication of Cognitive" dealing with Early Adolescence, Middle Adolescence and Late Adolescence. From our discussion this morning I see that these theories are pretty consistent with all teenagers, urban, suburban and rural areas.
Syreeta Bennett's picture

We are from the same planet

Sometimes after one of my students has done something incredibly strange, I always wondered are we from the same planet. Who are these weird beings who forget how to glue (5th Grade) or cut out their own hair? Well today's session helped me understand that they are not aliens but Early Adolescents. It all made sense like "pseudo stupidity". For example, a few girls couldn't tell me why their rock art project wind up all over them. Now I know that it wasn't because they were crazy, but maybe they were trying to figure out the best way to dip rocks into paint and unto paper. Now instead of being annoyed because "Leslie" swears everyone hates her today and "Jasmine" can't go outside because her braids are not perfect that they are performing in front of an imaginary audience. What I learned today is that they are not me and we don't think alike. I can't expect them to draw the same conclusions because their cognitive ability is still developing. So even though I can't codone "Mike's" temper tantrum because he didn't get the book from the library he wanted maybe I can better understand where the behavior is coming from.
Patricia Mundy's picture

Session 2

Todays lecture was a blast to the past,it was a window to my puberty days in the late 1960's. I remember the struggles of trying to find my individuality in a sea of followers. Discussing David Elkind levels of adolescence behavior made sense because of the connection to some of the behaviors I have observed in my classroom. I found the lecture to be very interesting and thought provoking. Thanks Kim Cassidy for sharing!
RecycleJack Marine's picture

Adolescence Theories

This morning's session with Kim Cassidy was very informative. I found Elkind's three stages of adolescence behaviors helpful understanding my own 14 and 17 year old children. There are definitely behaviors that children exhibit depending on who they are with at certain times. They don't always understand what they are going through, so why should they listen to their parents? My childhood was messed up. I had a hard time discovering myself and missed out on the group friendships. I was and in some ways, still a loner. I don't think I was an outcast, but I certainly thought of myself as a non-conformist. Many of my students attempt to fit-in by hanging with kids of similar interests, or with kids who accept them as their peers. I had most contact last year with the fourth graders, and many were already happy being independent of groups. Others were into groups in class, but comfortable being of a "different self" when they were either alone with me or with others not part of their regular posse. So I understand now why some kids act different in differently in different situations/environments. Great Session!
Judith Lucas-Odom's picture

Self as a Sense of Place

This morning's session was excellent because it allowed you to think about how adolescents really think! It is often difficult to teach students who are at various stages of adolescence and trying to motivate them to learn for themselves can be challenging. I personally think, that we are very tolerant of deviant behaviors and then we get frustrated when bad outcomes occur from the deviant behaviors. If we truly want to understand the adolescent then we need to change the way society thinks but of course this is just a story!
Rita Stevens's picture

Day 2 - Self and a Sense of Place

This morning's session with Kim Cassidy, really made me and I hope others to think about the development of adolescents. The three stages and how do adolescents migrate through them or do they migrate through them. She talked about the true self and the false self. Are adolescents able to distinguish and/or know which is which for them? Do we, as adults, know our true self versus our false self. Adolescents today are exposed to so much more and have a hard time determining who they are because of all of this exposure and especially the peer pressure and even advertisements. Who am I and why am I here? The one thing that I did observe in our discussions about adolescents is that economics doesn't play a large role. The only reason that I say this is because it never entered into any of the discussions. It was just adolescents in general. Thanks Dr. Cassidy for an informative and thought provoking session.