Major Factors at Work During Adolescent Development

When a young person hits puberty, she experiences significant changes in her brain, emotions, social life and body. In the publication, “Developing Adolescents: A Reference for Professionals,” the American Psychological Association explains that while 10 to 18 year olds get grouped together as “adolescents,” developmental changes can begin as early as age 8 1. In some cases, a young person’s body may not be fully developed until she’s 21 to 25 years old.

Physical Development

Some of the most noticeable factors at work during adolescence are the physical changes in a young person. According to Clea McNeely, MA, DrPH, and Jayne Blanchard in the publication “The Teen Years Explained” on the Johns Hopkins University website, growth spurts last a few years and generally end by age 18 for girls and 21 for boys 3. During puberty, hormones lead to the development of an adult body, which can lead to confusion, stress and anxiety regarding body image. In addition to the outward signs of physical development, a young person experiences dental changes, an increase in body fat and enlargement of the lungs and heart.

Cognitive Development

As a young person’s brain develops, there is a shift in how he reasons, thinks and understands. When a child goes through adolescence, his thoughts go from concrete to being able to understand abstract ideas. Thoughts become more logical, it gets simpler for the young person to understand hypothetical situations and he develops a better understanding of cause and effect, according to the American Psychological Association 1. Cognitive development allows a young person to make mature and introspective decisions, plan for the future and reflect upon his past. As a young person’s brain matures and he exercises his new reasoning skills, it’s normal for him to jump to conclusions, be argumentative, find fault in what adults say and act dramatically. Because it takes time for an adolescent to acknowledge the perspectives of others, it’s natural for a young person to also act self-centered.

Social and Emotional Development

With cognitive development comes the task of developing a sense of identity in regard to how a young presently sees herself and how she imagines herself in the future. The American Psychological Association states that adolescence is the time when a person gains the cognitive abilities to figure out who she is and why she’s unique. As self-awareness forms, so does social awareness, self-management and the ability to relate to others, according to McNeely and Blanchard. Self-awareness refers to how a young person feels, while social awareness relates to empathy and how others feel. Young people read emotions using a different part of the brain than adults when the prefrontal cortex isn’t fully developed, making social awareness difficult for some adolescents.

Behavioral Development

The various changes that young people undergo prompt them to experiment with different behaviors, particularly risk-taking. When done in a healthy manner, taking risks helps an adolescent practice decision-making skills, shape his identity and assess himself and others. Risk-taking doesn’t always take the form of destructive behaviors; it can also involve studying, after-school activities and trying new hobbies. The American Psychological Association states that there is no single theory about why young people take risks. Prominent theories hypothesize that adolescents are risk-takers because they seek fun, excitement, the acceptance of peers or romanticize adult behavior. When males and females go through adolescence, the increase of testosterone swells the brain’s amygdala, the area associated with emotions and social acceptance. As a young person’s reasoning skills develop and he receives guidance from adults he trusts regarding healthy risks, he can learn how to explore and control his behaviors in a positive manner.