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by Joseph Nowinski
American Management Association, 2007
Review by Leo Uzych, J.D., M.P.H. on Jun 24th 2008

The Identity Trap

The Identity Trap, at its heart, is a book about parenting, teenagers, and identity development.  The author, Joseph Nowinski, is an Associate Adjunct Professor of  Psychology at the University of Connecticut, with a deep reservoir of professional experience counseling teenagers and their parents spanning over twenty years.  As contemplated by Nowinski, as a teenager's "identity" takes form, it will mold the ensuing shape of the teenager's attitudes, actions, and expectations.  And for some teenagers, the shackles of an emerging identity may have sorely problematic consequences.  Nowinski's determined exploration of some of the myriad tributaries of the psychologically turbulent waters of identity uncovers a great abundance of practical advice, penned in easy to understand English, and targeted especially to parents of teenagers ensnared by identity traps.

The book's respective chapters encompass quite distinct structural elements.  A "Reality Check" component embodies the text with an expansive source of anecdotal information.  Critical readers may admonish that the not inconsiderable tinging of the text with information of an anecdotal nature dilutes its didactic potency.  But discerning readers may counter compellingly that the Reality
Check case materials suffusing the textual substance instructively illustrate problems real life teenagers have experienced in the course of developing their identities.  And further, that the acumen revealed by Nowinski in evaluating these materials may strengthen the efforts of readers (who are parents of teenagers) struggling to help their children escape from debilitating identity traps and enter adulthood bound tightly to healthy identities.

Another structural tool ("Guiding Your Teen…") wielded with considerable power by Nowinski has the form of identity centric guidelines fleshed out by accompanying commentary.  Some of the guidelines proposed by Nowinski are arguably relatively simplistic and generalized in nature; and some may disagree with particular views expressed by Nowinski in the commentaries adding flesh to the bones of the guidelines.  But a powerful contrary view is that the information presented may intellectually empower parents of teenagers with a saber to sever identity chains entrapping their children.

At a chapter's end, Nowinski customarily presents questions ("FAQs"), pertinent to concerns parents may confront in the nettlesome realm of identity development in teenagers.  Nowinski shows considerable insightfulness in the answers he proposes to such questions (which may incite a multiplicity of expert views).

A relatively limited number of "Exercises" embedded in the text are designed well to intellectually stimulate parents to think in ways that may facilitate the demanding task of helping their children develop a wholesome identity.  Critics may caution, however, that answers to exercises of the sort prepared by Nowinski should optimally be evaluated in tandem with a knowledgeable professional.

Numerous "HEADS UP!" fragments inserted into the text pithily offer practical focused counsel to parents of identity challenged teenagers, although some may decry the HEADS UP! advice as being trite in nature.

Substantively, the text overflows refreshingly with pleasingly helpful comment joined to the subject area of parenting, teenagers, and identity development.

In Chapter Two, Nowinski expounds on the necessity of appropriately balancing an understanding of a child's past with wise appreciation of the great importance of a child's present and future.

Perspicacious examination of the identity trap of alienation is the crux of Chapter Three.  As explicated by Nowinski, an alienated youth may develop an identity as an "outsider",  which may  plant the seeds of self destructiveness.

The concept of transparent parenting absorbs the close interest of Nowinski, in Chapter Four.  As conceptualized by Nowinski, being a "transparent" parent means exposing your child to a window openly showing the child how your own identity was formed.

The focus of Chapter Five is sharply on the problematic issue of how parents properly should communicate with combative teenagers.

As is his wont, Nowinski in particular relation to this issue endeavors to inform parents sagely.

The tapestry of Chapter Six is interwoven artfully with commentary showing how parents can help a teenager develop a "resilient" identity (in contradistinction to a "fragile" identity).

The intellectually penetrating gaze of Nowinski reaches, in Chapter Seven, to the relationship entwining adversity and identity.  Nowinski thematically propounds the message that perseverance, in the face of adversity, is a conduit leading to a healthy identity.  Congruently, Nowinski warns that parents who with good, if naïve, intentions seek to shield their children from adversity may unwittingly foster fragile identities.

Drawing center stage attention, in Chapter Eight, is parental setting and enforcing of reasonable limits affecting teenagers.  Inside this frame, family culture, rituals and traditions garner rapt attention.

Self destructive behavior by teenagers ("cutting"), as pieces often importantly relevant to solving the enigmatic puzzle of a teenager's emerging identity, is the sobering subject of penultimate Chapter Nine.

"Spirituality", especially as it may affect identity development, is the cynosure of concluding Chapter Ten.

A "Guide" presented in question and answer format, and intended to summarize major elements of the book, is appended to the text.

Readers in search of the usual trappings of academic writing may take critical note of the heavy dose of anecdotal matter injected into the textual corpus, a stylistic informality slanted steeply away from academic styled writing, and the dearth of academic references.

But the virtues of the book vastly exceed any real or imagined deficiencies.  The book's intellectually delectable savor should gladden parents of teenagers, teenagers, and other family members of teenagers.  The contents of the book likewise should be a great boon to psychologists, psychiatrists, and pediatricians.

© 2008 Leo Uzych

Leo Uzych (based in Wallingford, PA) earned a law degree, from Temple University; and a master of public health degree, from  Columbia University.  His area of special professional interest is healthcare.