Although puberty is the most obvious developmental difference between children in middle childhood and those in adolescence, many other changes occur in children between the ages of 6 to 18. Physical, social, cognitive and emotional development occurs during these years, and while there might not be a great deal of difference between a 7-year-old and an 8-year-old, there is a world of difference between an 8-year-old and an 18-year-old.
The Outer Shell
Physical changes are visible and easily recognizable. All children continue to grow in height and weight between middle childhood and adolescence. They lose baby teeth and develop permanent teeth. Girls begin to develop breasts as early as age 8 in some cases, and both genders develop increased muscle mass as they move into adolescence. Girls also develop increased body fat in the breasts, hips, buttocks and thighs. Body and pubic hair typically begin to develop around age 9 in girls and 12 in boys. Boys also develop facial hair and many are shaving by about age 15 or 16. Girls typically start their menses at around age 12.
Independence is the Name of the Game
Socially, children in middle childhood begin to develop more independence from their parents and family. The peer group and friendships with other children become more important. Middle childhood is a time when children begin to want acceptance from their friends. By adolescence, the drive for independence becomes more pronounced. Adolescents often question authority or become openly defiant. Cliques, clubs and gangs become important, and many adolescents withdraw from the family to some degree. Teens also may be socially awkward, especially if physical changes are sudden or very noticeable.
Rights and Responsibilities
In middle childhood, children are beginning to become less concrete in their thinking. Their attention span increases and, although they may face academic challenges, they are more able to focus on the process of learning. They begin to master sequencing and ordering, which are necessary for increased reading fluency and math skills. Adolescents continue along this developmental path, as they begin to develop their ability to understand abstract concepts and moral philosophies. Adolescents also begin to grasp the concepts of rights as well as privileges, and the consequences of their own behavior.
Romance is in the Air
Emotional development also progresses from the stage of dependence to independence. Although those in middle childhood can dress and feed themselves, for example, they still need a great deal of parental supervision and guidance. The adolescent needs guidance as well, although she may openly discount or ignore what her parents suggest. As the connection with parents lessens, relationships with peers strengthen, so that in middle childhood, children begin to develop strong friendships, usually with children of the same sex. Older children may begin to take an interest in the opposite sex, and by the teen years, dating and romantic relationships are more common. Teens also are more likely to become sexually active.