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Going to a Cleveland Clinic location? Children who are entering adolescence are going through many changes. This article offers advice for adolescents and parents to negotiate these changes. Adolescence is the period of transition between childhood and adulthood. Children who are entering adolescence are going through many changes physical, intellectual, personality and social developmental.


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Adolescence is defined as the years between the onset of puberty and the beginning of adulthood. In the past, when people were likely to marry in their early 20s or younger, this period might have lasted only 10 years or less — starting roughly between ages 12 and 13 and ending by age 20, at which time the child got a job or went to work on the family farm, married, and started his or her own family. Today, children mature more slowly, move away from home at later ages, and maintain ties with their parents longer.

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For instance, children may go away to university but still receive financial support from parents, and they may come home on weekends or even to live for extended time periods. Thus the period between puberty and adulthood may well last into the late 20s, merging into adulthood itself.

In fact, it is appropriate now to consider the period of adolescence and that of emerging adulthood the ages between 18 and the middle or late 20s together.

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During adolescence, the child continues to grow physically, cognitively, and emotionally, changing from into an adult. The body grows rapidly in size, and the sexual and reproductive organs become fully functional. At the same time, as adolescents develop more advanced patterns of reasoning and a stronger sense of self, they seek to forge their own identities, developing important attachments with people other than their parents.

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Although adolescence can be a time of stress for many teenagers, most of them weather the trials and tribulations successfully. For example, the majority of adolescents experiment with alcohol sometime before high school graduation. Although many will have been drunk at least once, relatively few teenagers will develop long-lasting drinking problems or permit alcohol to adversely affect their school or personal relationships.

Similarly, a great many teenagers break the law during adolescence, but very few young people develop criminal careers Farrington, These facts do not, however, mean that using drugs or alcohol is a good idea.

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The use of recreational drugs can have substantial negative consequences, and the likelihood of these problems including dependence, addiction, and even brain damage is ificantly greater for young adults who begin using drugs at an early age. Adolescence begins with the onset of pubertya developmental period in which hormonal changes cause rapid physical alterations in the body, culminating in sexual maturity. Puberty begins when the pituitary gland begins to stimulate the production of the male sex hormone testosterone in boys and the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone in girls.

The release of these sex hormones triggers the development of the primary sex characteristicsthe sex organs concerned with reproduction Figure 7. These changes include the enlargement of the testicles and the penis in boys and the development of the ovaries, uterus, and vagina in girls. Boys typically begin to grow facial hair between ages 14 and 16, and both boys and girls experience a rapid growth spurt during this stage. The growth spurt for girls usually occurs earlier than that for boys, with some boys continuing to grow into their 20s.

Physical changes in adolescence

The age of menarche varies substantially and is determined by genetics, as well as by diet and lifestyle, since a certain amount of body fat is needed to attain menarche. Girls who are very slim, who engage in strenuous athletic activities, or who are malnourished may begin to menstruate later. Even after menstruation begins, girls whose level of body fat drops below the critical level may stop having their periods. The sequence of events for puberty is more predictable than the age at which they occur.

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Some girls may begin to grow pubic hair at age 10 but not attain menarche until age In boys, facial hair may not appear until 10 years after the initial onset of puberty. The timing of puberty in both boys and girls can have ificant psychological consequences.

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At the same time, however, early-maturing boys are at greater risk for delinquency and are more likely than their peers to engage in antisocial behaviours, including drug and alcohol use, truancy, and precocious sexual activity. During adolescence, the brain continues to form new neural connections, but also casts off unused neurons and connections Blakemore, As teenagers mature, the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for reasoning, planning, and problem solving, also continues to develop Goldberg, And myelin, the fatty tissue that forms around axons and neurons and helps speed transmissions between different regions of the brain, also continues to grow Rapoport et al.

Adolescents often seem to act impulsively, rather than thoughtfully, and this may be in part because the development of the prefrontal cortex is, in general, slower than the development of the emotional parts of the brain, including the limbic system Blakemore, Furthermore, the hormonal surge that is associated with puberty, which primarily influences emotional responses, may create strong emotions and lead to impulsive behaviour.

It has been hypothesized that adolescents may engage in risky behaviour, such as smoking, drug use, dangerous driving, and unprotected sex, in part because they have not yet fully acquired the mental ability to curb impulsive behaviour or to make entirely rational judgments Steinberg, The new cognitive abilities that are attained during adolescence may also give rise to new feelings of egocentrism, in which adolescents believe that they can do anything and that they know better than anyone else, including their parents Elkind, Some of the most important changes that occur during adolescence involve the further development of the self-concept and the development of new attachments.

Whereas young children are most strongly attached to their parents, the important attachments of adolescents move increasingly away from parents and increasingly toward peers Harris, According to Erikson Table 7. One approach to assessing identity development was proposed by James Marcia In his approach, adolescents are asked questions regarding their exploration of and commitment to issues related to occupation, politics, religion, and sexual behaviour. The responses to the questions allow the researchers to classify the adolescent into one of four identity see Table 7.

Some teens may simply adopt the beliefs of their parents or the first role that is offered to them, perhaps at the expense of searching for other, more promising possibilities foreclosure status. Other teens may spend years trying on different possible identities moratorium status before finally choosing one.

To help them work through the process of developing an identity, teenagers may well try out different identities in different social situations.

Adolescence: developing independence and identity

They may maintain one identity at home and a different type of persona when they are with their peers. Eventually, most teenagers do integrate the different possibilities into a single self-concept and a comfortable sense of identity identity-achievement status. For teenagers, the peer group provides valuable information about the self-concept. I was smart, so I hung out with the nerdy .

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I still do; my friends mean the world to me. I pierced various parts of my body and kept my grades up. Answerbag, Responses like this one demonstrate the extent to which adolescents are developing their self-concepts and self-identities and how they rely on peers to help them do that. The writer here is trying out several perhaps conflicting identities, and the identities any teen experiments with are defined by the group the person chooses to be a part of.

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Adolescents define their social identities according to how they are similar to and differ from others, finding meaning in the sports, religious, school, gender, and ethnic they belong to. The independence that comes with adolescence requires independent thinking as well as the development of morality — standards of behaviour that are generally agreed on within a culture to be right or proper. To study moral development, Kohlberg posed moral dilemmas to children, teenagers, and adults, such as the following:.

In Europe, a woman was near death from a special kind of cancer. There was one drug that the doctors thought might save her. It was a form of radium that a druggist in the same town had recently discovered. The drug was expensive to make, but the druggist was charging 10 times what the drug cost him to make.

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He told the druggist that his wife was dying and asked him to sell it cheaper or let him pay later. As you can see in Table 7. For one, children may use higher levels of reasoning for some types of problems, but revert to lower levels in situations where doing so is more consistent with their goals or beliefs Rest, Second, it has been argued that the stage model is particularly appropriate for Western, rather than non-Western, samples in which allegiance to social norms such as respect for authority may be particularly important Haidt, And there is frequently little correlation between how children score on the moral stages and how they behave in real life.

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Carol Gilligan has argued that, because of differences in their socialization, males tend to value principles of justice and rights, whereas females value caring for and helping others. Anderson, S. Relative weight and race influence average age at menarche: from two nationally representative surveys of U.

Pediatrics,— What were you like as a teenager? Baumeister, R. How adolescence became the struggle for self: A historical transformation of psychological development. Greenwald Eds. Blakemore, S. Development of the social brain during adolescence.

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Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 6140— Elkind, D. Farrington, D. The challenge of teenage antisocial behavior. Rutter Eds. Ge, X. Child Development, 67 6— Gilligan, C. Goldberg, E. The executive brain: Frontal lobes and the civilized mind. Goossens, L. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 12 2— Haidt, J.

The emotional dog and its rational tail: A social intuitionist approach to moral judgment.

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Psychological Review, 4—

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