Adolescence

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" 

Adolescence Adolescence

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Contents
Table of contents

    When you were eight, your answer may have been "dinosaur!" Or, "professional gocart racer!" However, by adolescence, the answer may begin to change as you discover more about yourself and your interests.

    • What is the definition of adolescence?
    • We will look at what the characteristics of adolescence are.
    • What is adolescence in psychology?
    • What is adolescence development?
    • We'll be looking at what actually occurs during the stages of adolescence.

    Adolescence Definition

    Adolescence is one of the most active times of growth in our lives socially, physically, and cognitively. It begins around the age of 10 and spans into the early twenties. Our middle school, high school, and college years occur during adolescence, and a lot of the events of this time will shape the development of our adult lives. During adolescence, we begin to discover new things about ourselves.

    Characteristics of Adolescence

    Many characteristics of adolescence are unique from other stages in life. Compared to childhood, decision-making improves and the search for self ensues. Adolescents also become more aware of their appearance than in childhood. Children often don't notice the ice cream all over their face or the skirt tucked into their pants, and they usually don't care. By adolescence, we become more aware of these things, causing us to begin forming self-conscious or insecure feelings.

    Biological growth also spikes during adolescence. Some cultures refer to it as a time in which a person becomes a "real man" or a "real woman", as it marks the development of our reproductive systems. Once just a child, adolescents gain the ability to reproduce a child. This is one of the most drastic physical changes a person is likely to experience, and it all occurs during adolescence.

    Adolescence, girl on boy's back couple, StudySmarter

    Fig. 1 Teenage couple, Freepik.com

    Many of us will begin to experience sexual attraction during adolescence as well. We may find ourselves developing feelings for a person that feels new and exciting but may also feel scary and confusing. Gender identity and sexual orientation also begin to blossom during adolescence.

    Adolescence Psychology

    Several well-known psychologists have formed their own theories of adolescent development. Let's take a look at what Erik Erikson, Jean Piaget, and Lawrence Kohlberg say happens during adolescence.

    Erik Erikson's Psychosocial Stages of Development

    Erik Erikson's Psychosocial Stages of Development outline the conflicts that we face during each major stage in our lives. Erikson suggests that during adolescence, the primary conflict is identity versus confusion. It is the time when we begin exploring who we are and who we want to be.

    A large part of our identities during adolescence is based on our families, peers, and other groups we identify with. During late adolescence, the conflict of intimacy versus isolation begins to arise. We start looking for love. Not only romantic partners, but also close and intimate friendships. Connecting with others becomes the primary focus.

    In the 3rd grade, Jason was always focused on showing off his abilities and proving to his parents and teachers that he could do things on his own. However, now that he's an 8th grader, Jason has been trying a lot of new activities to discover things he may like.

    Jean Piaget's Stages of Development

    Jean Piaget's Stages of Development theory suggests that we move through four stages of mental development during childhood. The final stage, formal operational thinking, occurs at the cusp of adolescence. At this time, adolescents move away from concrete thinking, in which they see things as black and white, toward abstract thinking. They are able to reason about hypothetical situations rather than just tangible events or things.

    Lindsey's five-year-old sister was crying the whole way home because she thought her brother got more juice than her. However, as a fifteen-year-old, she knows her mom poured the same amount of juice in their cups, but her brother's cup looked taller. She is able to use abstract reasoning to understand this.

    Lawrence Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Reasoning

    Lawrence Kohlberg suggested that moral reasoning develops in progressive stages. All adolescents may not be at the same stage of moral reasoning. Some may still operate under stage 3 (good boy/nice girl) in which their moral reasoning is dictated by the approval of others. Adolescents at this stage choose to be good only so that they are recognized as a "good boy or nice girl." Following this stage is "Law and Social Order", in which adolescents do good only because the law says so. When deciding what is right or wrong, adolescents at this level of moral reasoning think social law and order should be maintained above all else. Most people do not make it to the final 2 stages of moral reasoning.

    In the debate team, Keisha argued that even if a person is starving, it is never ok for them to steal food because it's against the law. Other students argued that sometimes it's ok when it is a matter of life or death.

    Adolescence, seven hands with thumbs up, StudySmarter

    Fig. 2 Thumbs up approval, Freepik.com

    Adolescent Development

    Adolescent development takes place at different rates for everyone. Some boys may have facial hair as early as twelve, and some girls may develop breasts in one summer in sixth grade. Adolescent development takes place physically, socially, and cognitively.

    Physical Development

    Physical development is at a bit of a lull until it spikes during adolescence. One of the most marked characteristics of physical development during adolescence is puberty, which is primarily characterized by the maturation of sexual reproduction organs. For girls, puberty can start as early as 8 years old when they experience menarche.

    Menarche is the first occurrence of a woman's menstrual cycle.

    These changes are accompanied by weight gain around the mid-section, breast development, and pubic hair.

    Boys experience the maturation of sexual reproductive organs in spermarche.

    Spermarche is the first occurrence of male ejaculation.

    Spermarche may occur as early as 10. Other physical changes during puberty for boys include facial hair, growth spurts, and voice changes.

    Social Development

    Social development is especially important during adolescence. As we mentioned, the search for identity is a common theme in this time of life. Adolescents begin to test several versions of themselves and contemplate who they are and who they want to be.

    As adolescents become more independent from their parents, they begin to cling more closely to their peers. They share more intimate information, and connections become deeper than in childhood. Some parent-child relationships may become more strained and more frequent arguments and disagreements may occur. But usually, these issues do not cause catastrophic problems within the relationship.

    Peer influence is vital to social development for adolescents who seek approval. This, however, leads to social conflicts such as bullying. That can cause serious mental health issues that can continue well into adulthood. Self-esteem may be low, especially for young girls who are experiencing weight gain for the first time in their lives.

    Cognitive Development

    By adolescence, pathways in the brain become more established than in childhood. Neurogenesis continues in many areas of the brain during adolescence, while pruning also occurs to rid the brain of unused pathways. By adolescence, most of us have learned delayed gratification, and are less impulsive than during childhood. However, the frontal lobe is still not fully developed, resulting in more impulsive behaviors when compared to the adult brain.

    Vandalism, underage drinking, and speeding are examples of risky behaviors that adolescents may engage in due to an underdeveloped frontal lobe. That lobe is responsible for functions such as impulse control. Additionally, the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for emotion, is almost fully developed. This paired with an underdeveloped frontal lobe results in adolescents being more emotionally influenced when making decisions.

    Adolescence Stages

    Let's take a look at when these changes occur in each of the adolescence stages.

    Early Adolescence (10 to 13 years)

    Puberty starts early on during adolescence. Early adolescents begin to experience bodily changes and sexual interest increases. Thinking is still egocentric and self-conscious and things can only be seen as black and white. Early adolescents also value their privacy and independence. They no longer resemble the toddler clinging to their mother's leg. They begin to care more about the opinion of their peers than their parents.

    Adolescence, middle school kids standing in classroom, StudySmarter

    Fig. 3 Early adolescence, Freepik.com

    Mid Adolescence (14 to 17 years)

    As puberty continues, males will likely experience a growth spurt, while most girls have already had their growth spurt and will probably not grow much taller. Girls may gain weight in their midsections around this time and most girls have a regular menstrual cycle. Boys may start to grow facial hair for the first time and their voice may start to crack as their voice changes. Adolescents at this age often display more creativity, as abstract thinking and reasoning skills are more established.

    Mid-adolescence is also a time when impulsiveness is at an all-time high. Fights with parents may become more frequent at this time and romantic relationships may be emotionally unstable. This is also the time when we begin contemplating more existential ideas such as the meaning of life and our purpose. You begin to set goals that will steer your life in the direction you want it to go.

    You join the debate team because you think you might want to be a lawyer, or you attend a basketball camp in the summers because you want to play professionally.

    Late Adolescence (18 to 21 years and beyond)

    By late adolescence, cognitive development in the frontal lobe has progressed and impulsive behaviors begin to diminish (though not entirely). Physical development has slowed drastically and your height at this point is likely to remain the same throughout the rest of your life. Late adolescence may also be referred to as emerging adulthood. You are able to vote, join the military, and buy a lottery ticket at this age. Ideas become more rational and many of us at this age have learned delayed gratification.

    Intimacy becomes especially important during late adolescence as most people are beginning to have more emotionally stable relationships. You may start to consider the kind of life partner you would like to have and if you would like to start a family one day. Relationships with parents also may become less tense and you may find yourself creating an "adult relationship" or friendship with your parents.

    Adolescence - Key takeaways

    • Adolescence is one of the most active times of growth in our lives socially, physically, and cognitively. It begins around the age of 10 and spans into the early twenties.
    • Compared to childhood, decision-making improves and the search for self ensues. Adolescents begin to become more aware of their appearance than in childhood.
    • Some cultures refer to it as a time in which a person becomes a "real man" or a "real woman", as it marks the development of our reproductive systems.
    • Erikson suggests that during adolescence, the primary conflict is identity versus confusion. It is the time when we begin exploring who we are and who we want to be.
    • For girls, puberty can start as early as 8 years old, when they experience menarche.
      • Spermarche is the first occurrence of ejaculation in boys.
    • Neurogenesis continues in many areas of the brain during adolescence, while pruning also occurs to rid the brain of unused pathways.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Adolescence

    What is adolescence?

    Adolescence is one of the most active times of growth in our lives socially, physically, and cognitively.

    What ages are adolescence?

    It begins around the age of 10 and spans into the early twenties.

    What are the 3 stages of adolescence?

    The three stages of adolescence are early (10 to 13 years), middle (14 to 17 years), and late adolescence or emerging adulthood (18 to 21 years and beyond).

    What are 5 characteristics of adolescence?

    Five characteristics of adolescence include improved decision-making, search for self, increased awareness of appearance, development of reproductive systems, and gender identity. 

    What is the difference between youth and adolescence?

    The term youth refers to young people in general, while the term adolescence refers specifically to the teenage years.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Compared to childhood, decision-making _________ during adolescence.

    Which of the following is not a characteristic of adolescence? 

    Adolescents become _______ independent from their parents.

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