5 Characteristics of Adolescence

The years between 10 and 14 years of age are known as adolescence. It is a time characterized by rapid change and development, as it is the transition between childhood and young adulthood. Changes can be inconsistent and also uncomfortable. Adolescents experience physical, social, as well as personal and emotional changes. Cognitive processes will also begin to differ. The rate at which adolescents experience changes will vary depending on gender, genetics, environmental factors and health.

Physical Changes

Physical change is a primary characteristic of adolescents. Preteens will experience growth spurts, changes in skeletal structure, muscle and brain development, as well as sexual and hormonal development. Gender differences play a role in when these changes occur. For girls, physical changes begin to happen at about age 12, while boys typically begin to see changes at about age 14. Eating disorders, drug use and sexual activity can pose serious health risks if teens engage in these behaviors during these rapid physical changes.


Socialization is another characteristic of adolescence, as they begin to socialize more with their peers and separate themselves from their family. During childhood, kids have a loyalty to their adult role models, such as parents or teachers. However, during adolescence, this loyalty shifts, making preteens more loyal to their friends and peers. For adolescents, self-esteem is largely dependent on their social lives. Girls tend to stick to small groups of close friends, while boys build larger social networks. Adolescents are highly aware of others and how they are perceived during this stage.

Cognitive Development

Changes in cognitive processes are characteristic during adolescence 1. Preteens experience higher thinking, reasoning and abstract thought. Preteens develop more advanced language skills and verbalization, allowing for more advanced communication. Abstract thought allows adolescents to develop a sense of purpose, fairness and social consciousness. Adolescents also decide how moral and ethical choices will guide their behaviors during this time. Cognitive processes are affected by overall socialization, meaning that adolescents will develop differently during this stage based on the individual factors.

Personal and Emotional Characteristics

Adolescence is a time when emotions begin to run high. Parents and teachers may begin to notice argumentative and aggressive behaviors due to sudden and intense emotions. Adolescents are also characteristically self-absorbed. They are preoccupied with themselves because they are beginning to develop a sense of self, but they are also scrutinizing their own thought processes and personalities. Possibilities begin to look endless during adolescents, leading some teens to become overly idealistic. They also believe that their thoughts and feelings are unique, doubting that others could possibly understand what they are experiencing.

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