Stages of Development in Adolescents

During the preteen and teenage years, adolescents go through many physical and psychological changes on their way to adulthood. From emotional and cognitive growth to sexual and social awareness, the stages of development of adolescents present both children and parents with many challenges 3. While there are standard guidelines for adolescent development, it is important to understand that each child is an individual and will develop at her own pace 3.

Physical Development

During early adolescence from 11 to 13 years of age, children develop body hair, increased perspiration and oil production on the skin, often resulting in acne. Boys will begin rapid growth, in height and weight, show maturation of sexual organs, and their voice begins to deepen. In early adolescences, most girls begin to develop breasts,develop wider hips and begin menstruation. In the middle-adolescent years, between 14 to 15 years of age, growth will typically slow for girls; they will become fully developed in the latter adolescent years of 19 to 21 3. Boys will continue to grow in height and weight through late adolescences, up until their early 20s, in some cases.

Cognitive Development

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, during the early adolescent years, children develop a growing capacity for abstract thought. The ability to use perceptive reasoning increases and children develop a stronger capacity for morality. In the early adolescent years, most children will focus on the present, without giving the future much regard. During middle adolescence, children will start developing a greater interest in the future, setting goals as they begin to look inward, as they examine themselves. As teens enter late adolescence, they will develop a greater capacity for moral reasoning and an ability to postpone gratification, as they begin to understand the need to work toward future goals.

Social Development

According to psychologist Erik Erikson’s model of psychosocial development, children begin to struggle with their sense of identity when entering adolescence, when they begin the transition to adulthood 1. Adolescents will begin to examine their future in terms of their relationships with their parents and peers. This often leads to feelings of confusion as teens struggle to figure out how they fit into the world. As adolescents become more aware of their identity, they will begin to question authority, frequently becoming rebellious to authority, such as with parents and teachers. During adolescence, teens develop a greater wish for privacy and will often distance themselves from others. In late adolescence, teens often develop more serious relationships, including deep romantic involvement.

Transitioning From High School

As adolescents prepare to enter the adult world, they are not always ready for the challenges that await them. In a longitudinal study, psychologists Norman Amundson, William Borge and Elizabeth Tench discovered that by their final year of high school, adolescents frequently expressed optimism at leaving school and entering the workforce or college. However, approximately a year after graduation, many had issues with depression and self-esteem, which appeared to be tied to their perceived success at work or school. The study further found that the adolescent’s perception of his success or failures was related to how much support he may have had from family, friends and coworkers during his transition to adulthood.