Adolescence is a period that begins with puberty and ends with the transition to adulthood (approximately ages 10–18). Physical changes associated with puberty are triggered by hormones.
Puberty is a period of rapid growth and sexual maturation. These changes begin sometime between eight and fourteen. Girls begin puberty at around ten years of age and boys begin approximately two years later. Pubertal changes take around three to four years to complete.
Adolescents experience an overall physical growth spurt. The growth proceeds from the extremities toward the torso. This is referred to as distalproximal development.
First the hands grow, then the arms, and finally the torso. The overall physical growth spurt results in 10-11 inches of added height and 50 to 75 pounds of increased weight. As the torso grows, so does the internal organs.
From approximately age ten to fourteen, the average girl is taller, but not heavier, than the average boy.
Sexual changes are divided into two categories: Primary sexual characteristics and secondary sexual characteristics. Primary sexual characteristics are changes in the reproductive organs. For males, this includes growth of the testes, penis, scrotum, and spermarche or first ejaculation of semen. This occurs between 11 and 15 years of age
For females, primary characteristics include growth of the uterus and menarche or the first menstrual period. The female gametes, which are stored in the ovaries, are present at birth, but are immature. Each ovary contains about 400,000 gametes, but only 500 will become mature eggs (Crooks & Baur, 2007). Beginning at puberty, one ovum ripens and is released about every 28 days during the menstrual cycle. Stress and higher percentage of body fat can bring menstruation at younger ages.
Male Anatomy: the male sperm production cycle is constantly producing millions of sperm daily. The main male sex organs are the penis and the testicles, the latter of which produce semen and sperm. The semen and sperm, as a result of sexual intercourse, can fertilize an ovum in the female’s body; the fertilized ovum (zygote) develops into a fetus which is later born as a child.
Female Anatomy: Female external genitalia is collectively known as the vulva, which includes the mons veneris, labia majora, labia minora, clitoris, vaginal opening, and urethral opening. Female internal reproductive organs consist of the vagina, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. The uterus hosts the developing fetus, produces vaginal and uterine secretions, and passes the male’s sperm through to the fallopian tubes while the ovaries release the eggs. A female is born with all her eggs already produced. The vagina is attached to the uterus through the cervix, while the uterus is attached to the ovaries via the fallopian tubes. Females have a monthly reproductive cycle; at certain intervals the ovaries release an egg, which passes through the fallopian tube into the uterus. If, in this transit, it meets with sperm, the sperm might penetrate and merge with the egg, fertilizing it. If not fertilized, the egg is flushed out of the system through menstruation.
Secondary sexual characteristics are visible physical changes not directly linked to reproduction, but signal sexual maturity. For males this includes broader shoulders and a lower voice as the larynx grows. For females breast development occurs around age 10, although full development takes several years.
Acne: An unpleasant consequence of the hormonal changes in puberty is acne, defined as pimples on the skin due to overactive sebaceous (oil-producing) glands (Dolgin, 2011).
Effects of Pubertal Age: A century ago the average age of a girl’s first period in the United States and Europe was 16, while today it is around 13. Problems with early puberty seem to be due to the mismatch between the child’s appearance and the way she acts and thinks. Adults especially may assume the child is more capable than she actually is, and parents might grant more freedom than the child’s age would indicate.
Gender Role Intensification: successfully on class projects may no longer feel comfortable doing so, or alternatively may now seek to be working partners, but for social rather than academic reasons. Such changes do not affect all youngsters equally, nor affect any one youngster equally on all occasions. An individual student may act like a young adult on one day, but more like a child the next.
The myelination and development of connections between neurons continues. This results in an increase in the white matter of the brain, and allows the adolescent to make significant improvements in their thinking and processing skills. For example, the brain’s language areas undergo myelination during the first 13 years. Completed insulation of the axons consolidates these language skills, but makes it more difficult to learn a second language. With greater myelination, however, comes diminished plasticity as a myelin coating inhibits the growth of new connections.
This synaptic pruning causes the gray matter of the brain, or the cortex, to become thinner but more efficient. The corpus callosum, which connects the two hemispheres, continues to thicken allowing for stronger connections between brain areas. Additionally, the hippocampus becomes more strongly connected to the frontal lobes, allowing for greater integration of memory and experiences into our decision making.
The limbic system, which regulates emotion and reward, is linked to the hormonal changes that occur at puberty. The limbic system is also related to novelty seeking and a shift toward interacting with peers.
In contrast, the prefrontal cortex which is involved in the control of impulses, organization, planning, and making good decisions, does not fully develop until the mid-20s.
The approximately ten years that separates the development of these two brain areas can result in risky behavior, poor decision making, and weak emotional control for the adolescent. When puberty begins earlier, this mismatch extends even further.
For adolescents the brain’s sensitivity to the neurotransmitter dopamine peaks, and dopamine is involved in reward circuits so the possible rewards outweighs the risks.
In addition to dopamine, the adolescent brain is affected by oxytocin which facilitates bonding and makes social connections more rewarding. With both dopamine and oxytocin engaged, it is no wonder that adolescents seek peers and excitement in their lives that could end up actually harming them.
adolescents need about 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night to function best. As adolescent go through puberty, their circadian rhythms change and push back their sleep time until later in the evening (Weintraub, 2016). This biological change not only keeps adolescents awake at night, it makes it difficult for them to get up in the morning. When they are awake too early, their brains do not function optimally. To support adolescents’ later sleeping schedule, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that school not begin any earlier than 8:30 a.m.
Adolescent Sexual Activity
Risk Factors for Adolescent Pregnancy: parent/child closeness, parental supervision, and parents’ values against teen intercourse (or unprotected intercourse) decreased the risk of adolescent pregnancy.
Consequences of Adolescent Pregnancy: Teen mothers are more likely to live in poverty, and more than 75% of all unmarried teen mother receive public assistance within 5 years of the birth of their first child. Approximately, 64% of children born to an unmarried teenage high-school dropout live in poverty. Further, a child born to a teenage mother is 50% more likely to repeat a grade in school and is more likely to perform poorly on standardized tests and drop out before finishing high school.
Eating disorders affect both genders, although rates among women are 2½ times greater than among men.
Risk Factors for Eating Disorders: Researchers are finding that eating disorders are caused by a complex interaction of genetic, biological, behavioral, psychological, and social factors.
Health Consequences of Eating Disorders: For those suffering from anorexia, health consequences include an abnormally slow heart rate and low blood pressure, which increases the risk for heart failure. Additionally, there is a reduction in bone density (osteoporosis), muscle loss and weakness, severe dehydration, fainting, fatigue, and overall weakness. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. Individuals with this disorder may die from complications associated with starvation, while others die of suicide.
The binge and purging cycle of bulimia can affect the digestives system and lead to electrolyte and chemical imbalances that can affect the heart and other major organs. Frequent vomiting can cause inflammation and possible rupture of the esophagus, as well as tooth decay and staining from stomach acids. Lastly, binge eating disorder results in similar health risks to obesity, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, heart disease, Type II diabetes, and gall bladder disease.
Eating Disorders Treatment: To treat eating disorders, adequate nutrition and stopping inappropriate behaviors, such as purging, are the foundations of treatment. Treatment plans are tailored to individual.
For example, the Maudsley Approach has parents of adolescents with anorexia nervosa be actively involved their child’s treatment, such as assuming responsibility for feeding the child. To eliminate binge-eating and purging behaviors, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) assists sufferers by identifying distorted thinking patterns and changing inaccurate beliefs.
Piaget’s Formal Operational Stage of Cognitive Development
During the formal operational stage, adolescents are able to understand abstract principles which have no physical reference. They can now contemplate such abstract constructs as beauty, love, freedom, and morality.
adolescents demonstrate hypothetical-deductive reasoning, which is developing hypotheses based on what might logically occur. They are able to think about all the possibilities in a situation beforehand, and then test them systematically.
Adolescents understand the concept of transitivity, which means that a relationship between two elements is carried over to other elements logically related to the first two, such as if A<B and B<C, then A<C.
Does everyone reach formal operations? According to Piaget, most people attain some degree of formal operational thinking, but use formal operations primarily in the areas of their strongest interest.
Adolescent Egocentrism: Once adolescents can understand abstract thoughts, they enter a world of hypothetical possibilities and demonstrate egocentrism or a heightened self-focus. The egocentricity comes from attributing unlimited power to their own thoughts.
David Elkind (1967) expanded on the concept of Piaget’s adolescent egocentricity. Elkind theorized that the physiological changes that occur during adolescence result in adolescents being primarily concerned with themselves. Additionally, since adolescents fail to differentiate between what others are thinking and their own thoughts, they believe that others are just as fascinated with their behavior and appearance. “The imaginary audience is the adolescent’s belief that those around them are as concerned and focused on their appearance as they themselves are”
Another important consequence of adolescent egocentrism is the personal fable or belief that one is unique, special, and invulnerable to harm. Elkind (1967) explains that because adolescents feel so important to others (imaginary audience) they regard themselves and their feelings as being special and unique. Adolescents believe that only they have experienced strong and diverse emotions, and therefore others could never understand how they feel.
Consequences of Formal Operational Thought: they demonstrate greater introspection or thinking about one’s thoughts and feelings.
They begin to imagine how the world could be which leads them to become idealistic or insisting upon high standards of behavior. Because of their idealism, they may become critical of others, especially adults in their life.
Additionally, adolescents can demonstrate hypocrisy, or pretend to be what they are not. Since they are able to recognize what others expect of them, they will conform to those expectations for their emotions and behavior seemingly hypocritical to themselves.
Lastly, adolescents can exhibit pseudostupidity. This is when they approach problems at a level that is too complex and they fail because the tasks are too simple. Their new ability to consider alternatives is not completely under control and they appear “stupid” when they are in fact bright, just not experienced.
Cognitive control: However, self-regulation, or the ability to control impulses, may still fail. A failure in self-regulation is especially true when there is high stress or high demand on mental functions.
Inductive and Deductive Reasoning: Inductive reasoning emerges in childhood, and is a type of reasoning that is sometimes characterized as “bottom-up-processing” in which specific observations, or specific comments from those in authority, may be used to draw general conclusions.
In contrast, deductive reasoning, sometimes called “top-down-processing”, emerges in adolescence. This type of reasoning starts with some overarching principle, and based on this propose specific conclusions. Deductive reasoning guarantees a truthful conclusion if the premises on which it is based are accurate.
Intuitive versus Analytic Thinking: the notion that humans have two distinct networks for processing information. Intuitive thought is automatic, unconscious, and fast, and it is more experiential and emotional. In contrast, Analytic thought is deliberate, conscious, and rational. While these systems interact, they are distinct. Intuitive thought is easier and more commonly used in everyday life. It is also more commonly used by children and teens than by adults. The quickness of adolescent thought, along with the maturation of the limbic system, may make teens more prone to emotional intuitive thinking than adults.
The status dropout rate refers to the percentage of 16 to 24 year-olds who are not enrolled in school and do not have high school credentials (either a diploma or an equivalency credential such as a General Educational Development [GED] certificate).
Teenagers and Working
Holding a job may offer teenagers extra funds, the opportunity to learn new skills, ideas about future careers, and perhaps the true value of money.
Several studies have found that working more than 20 hours per week can lead to declines in grades, a general disengagement from school. Several studies have found that working more than 20 hours per week can lead to declines in grades, a general disengagement from school, an increase in substance abuse, engaging in earlier sexual behavior, and pregnancy.
Teenage Drivers motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for 15 to 20 year-olds.
Self-concept and Self-esteem in Adolescence
In adolescence, teens continue to develop their self-concept. Their ability to think of the possibilities and to reason more abstractly may explain the further differentiation of the self during adolescence.
As self-concept differentiates, so too does self-esteem. Self-esteem rises from mid to late adolescence for most teenagers, especially if they feel competent in their peer relationships, their appearance, and athletic abilities.
Erikson: Identity vs. Role Confusion
During adolescence we experience psychological moratorium, where teens put on hold commitment to an identity while exploring the options. The culmination of this exploration is a more coherent view of oneself. Those who are unsuccessful at resolving this stage may either withdraw further into social isolation or become lost in the crowd.
The least mature status, and one common in many children, is identity diffusion. Identity diffusion is a status that characterizes those who have neither explored the options, nor made a commitment to an identity. Those who persist in this identity may drift aimlessly with little connection to those around them or have little sense of purpose in life.
Those in identity foreclosure have made a commitment to an identity without having explored the options. Some parents may make these decisions for their children and do not grant the teen the opportunity to make choices. In other instances, teens may strongly identify with parents and others in their life and wish to follow in their footsteps.
Identity moratorium is a status that describes those who are activity exploring in an attempt to establish an identity, but have yet to have made any commitment.
Identity achievement refers to those who after exploration have made a commitment. This is a long process and is not often achieved by the end of adolescence. The biggest gains in the development of identity are in college, as college students are exposed to a greater variety of career choices, lifestyles, and beliefs.
Developmental psychologists have researched several different areas of identity development and some of the main areas include:
Religious identity: The religious views of teens are often similar to that of their families.
Political identity: The political ideology of teens is also influenced by their parents’ political beliefs. A new trend in the 21st century is a decrease in party affiliation among adults. Many adults do not align themselves with either the democratic or republican party, but view themselves as more of an “independent”.
Vocational identity: Vocational identity takes longer to develop, as most of today’s occupations require specific skills and knowledge that will require additional education or are acquired on the job itself. In addition, many of the jobs held by teens are not in occupations that most teens will seek as adults.
Gender identity: regarding gender keep changing. The roles appropriate for males and females are evolving. Some teens may foreclose on a gender identity as a way of dealing with this uncertainty, and they may adopt more stereotypic male or female roles.
Ethnic identity refers to how people come to terms with who they are based on their ethnic or racial ancestry.
“The task of ethnic identity formation involves sorting out and resolving positive and negative feelings and attitudes about one’s own ethnic group and about other groups and identifying one’s place in relation to both”
Phinney’s model of ethnic identity formation is based on Erikson’s and Marcia’s model of identity formation (Phinney, 1990; Syed & Juang, 2014). Through the process of exploration and commitment, individual’s come to understand and create an ethic identity. Phinney suggests three stages or statuses with regard to ethnic identity:
Unexamined Ethnic Identity: Adolescents and adults who have not been exposed to ethnic identity issues may be in the first stage, unexamined ethnic identity. This is often characterized with a preference for the dominant culture, or where the individual has given little thought to the question of their ethnic heritage.
Ethnic Identity Search: Adolescents and adults who are exploring the customs, culture, and history of their ethnic group are in the ethnic identity search stage, similar to Marcia’s moratorium status.
Often some event “awakens” a teen or adult to their ethnic group; either a personal experience with prejudice, a highly profiled case in the media, or even a more positive event that recognizes the contribution of someone from the individual’s ethnic group. Teens and adults in this stage will immerse themselves in their ethnic culture. For some, “it may lead to a rejection of the values of the dominant culture”
Achieved Ethnic Identity: Those who have actively explored their culture are likely to have a deeper appreciation and understanding of their ethnic heritage, leading to progress toward an achieved ethnic identity. One can be confident in their ethnic identity without wanting to maintain the language or other customs.
This cycling between exploration and achievement is common not only for ethnic identity formation, but in other aspects of identity development (Grotevant, 1987) and is referred to as MAMA cycling or moving back and forth between moratorium and achievement.
Bicultural/Multiracial Identity: Some may keep the identities separate, others may combine them in some way, while others may reject some of them. Bicultural identity means the individual sees himself or herself as part of both the ethnic minority group and the larger society. Those who are multiracial, that is whose parents come from two or more ethnic or racial groups, have a more challenging task. In some cases their appearance may be ambiguous. This can lead to others constantly asking them to categorize themselves. Phinney (2006) notes that the process of identity formation may start earlier and take longer to accomplish in those who are not mono-racial.
While most adolescents get along with their parents, they do spend less time with them (Smetana, 2011). This decrease in the time spent with families may be a reflection of a teenager’s greater desire for independence or autonomy. It can be difficult for many parents to deal with this desire for autonomy. However, it is likely adaptive for teenagers to increasingly distance themselves and establish relationships outside of their families in preparation for adulthood.
Teens report more conflict with their mothers, as many mothers believe they should still have some control over many of these areas, yet often report their mothers to be more encouraging and supportive (Costigan, Cauce, & Etchison, 2007). As teens grow older, more compromise is reached between parents and teenagers (Smetana, 2011). Parents are more controlling of daughters, especially early maturing girls, than they are sons (Caspi, Lynam, Moffitt, & Silva, 1993). In addition, culture and ethnicity also play a role in how restrictive parents are with the daily lives of their children.
Having supportive, less conflict ridden relationships with parents also benefits teenagers. Research on attachment in adolescence find that teens who are still securely attached to their parents have less emotional problems (Rawatlal, Kliewer & Pillay, 2015), are less likely to engage in drug abuse and other criminal behaviors (Meeus, Branje & Overbeek, 2004), and have more positive peer relationships.
time with their families, and these peer interactions are increasingly unsupervised by adults. Children’s notions of friendship often focus on shared activities, whereas adolescents’ notions of 223
friendship increasingly focus on intimate exchanges of thoughts and feelings. During adolescence, peer groups evolve from primarily single-sex to mixed-sex. Adolescents within a peer group tend to be similar to one another in behavior and attitudes, which has been explained as a function of homophily, that is, adolescents who are similar to one another choose to spend time together in a “birds of a feather flock together” way. Adolescents who spend time together also shape each other’s behavior and attitudes.
Negative peer pressure can lead adolescents to make riskier decisions or engage in more problematic behavior than they would alone or in the presence of their family. For example, adolescents are much more likely to drink alcohol, use drugs, and commit crimes when they are with their friends than when they are alone or with their family. One of the most widely studied aspects of adolescent peer influence is known as deviant peer contagion (Dishion & Tipsord, 2011), which is the process by which peers reinforce problem behavior by laughing or showing other signs of approval that then increase the likelihood of future problem behavior.
Crowds are an emerging level of peer relationships in adolescence. In contrast to friendships, which are reciprocal dyadic relationships, and cliques, which refer to groups of individuals who interact frequently, crowds are characterized more by shared reputations or images than actual interactions (Brown & Larson, 2009). These crowds reflect different prototypic identities, such as jocks or brains, and are often linked with adolescents’ social status and peers’ perceptions of their values or behaviors.
Adolescence is the developmental period during which romantic relationships typically first emerge. By the end of adolescence, most American teens have had at least one romantic relationship
The same-sex peer groups that were common during childhood expand into mixed-sex peer groups that are more characteristic of adolescence. Romantic relationships often form in the context of these mixed-sex peer groups.
Adolescents spend a great deal of time focused on romantic relationships, and their positive and negative emotions are more tied to romantic relationships, or lack thereof, than to friendships, family relationships, or school (Furman & Shaffer, 2003). Romantic relationships contribute to adolescents’ identity formation, changes in family and peer relationships, and emotional and behavioral adjustment.
Furthermore, romantic relationships are centrally connected to adolescents’ emerging sexuality. Parents, policymakers, and researchers have devoted a great deal of attention to adolescents’ sexuality, in large part because of concerns related to sexual intercourse, contraception, and preventing teen pregnancies. However, sexuality involves more than this narrow focus.