The Physical, Social & Emotional Characteristics of High School Students

By Flora Richards-Gustafson
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Like infancy, the teen years are a time when large developmental strides are made in a relatively short period. A teen’s developing brain, hormones and body can make the high school years seem turbulent. By understanding teenagers' characteristics and the changes they undergo, a parent can better support the child in developing her own identity and becoming more independent.

Brain Development

During the high school years, changes in the brain affect a teen’s emotional and social characteristics. The American Psychological Association states that young people develop cognitive skills that enable them to reason and think abstractly during adolescence. The development of the forebrain, which includes the limbic system and cerebrum, is responsible for memory, emotions and skills like reasoning and evaluating consequences. According to Johns Hopkins University, changes in the brain associated with adolescence continue until about age 25. Because the brain and body develop at different rates during the high school years, a teen’s body may be almost fully developed, while the brain has yet to mature.

Physical Characteristics

Between the ages of 15 to 19, girls fully develop physically. Boys continue to develop physically after graduating from high school. During the high school years, hormonal changes cause increases in weight and height, changes in skin complexion, the growth of body hair and increases in appetite. Johns Hopkins University states that eating during the late teen years becomes irregular. For example, a teen may skip meals or eat late at night. As teen boys continue to develop, their voices lower and they begin to grow facial hair.

Social Attributes

As a teen’s brain develops cognitively, he gains social awareness as he discovers new ways to relate to parents, peers and others. As they make the transition into adulthood, teens test boundaries and experiment with new behaviors. In high school, they typically begin spending less time with their family and more time with friends. Johns Hopkins University states that it’s normal for teens to be influenced by their friends and peers regarding attitudes, clothing and behaviors in school. However, a high school student’s family has more influence over decision-making, core values, and drug and alcohol use.

Emotional Traits

The emotional changes young people experience during high school help them gain a sense of self and figure out what they want to do in the future, according to the American Psychological Association. As cognitive skills improve, teens gain the ability to empathize better with others. They form a sense of self-identity as they test their newly developed communication skills, explore new interests and consider the future. The American Psychological Association states that a teen’s self esteem can remain stable, steadily get worse or steadily improve during the high school years.