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Adolescence (from Latin adolescere, meaning "to grow up")[1] is a

transitional stage of physicaland psychological development that generally
occurs during the period from puberty to legal adulthood (age of majority).
Adolescence is usually associated with the teenage years, but its physical,
psychological or cultural expressions may begin earlier and end later. For
example, puberty now typically begins during preadolescence, particularly in
females. Physical growth (particularly in males), and cognitive development
can extend into the early twenties. Thus age provides only a rough marker of
adolescence, and scholars have found it difficult to agree upon a precise
definition of adolescence
Stages of Adolescent Development
Research Facts and Findings, May 2004
Adolescence is a time of great change for young people when physical
changes are happening at an accelerated rate. But adolescence is not just
marked by physical changes -- young people are also experiencing cognitive,
social/emotional and interpersonal changes as well. As they grow and
develop, young people are influenced by outside factors, such as their
environment, culture, religion, school, and the media. A number of different
theories or ways of looking at adolescent development have been proposed
(see below).
The normal feelings and behaviors of the middle school and high school
adolescent can be categorized into four broad areas: moving toward
independence; future interests and cognitive development; sexuality; and
ethics and self-direction. Specific characteristics of normal adolescent
behavior within each area are described below.
Early Adolescence (Approximately 12-14 years of age)
Movement Toward Independence

Struggle with sense of identity;


Improved abilities to use speech to express oneself;

More likely to express feelings by action than by words;

Close friendships gain importance;

Less attention shown to parents, with occasional rudeness;

Realization that parents are not perfect; identification of their faults;

Search for new people to love in addition to parents;

Tendency to return to childish behavior;

Peer group influences interests and clothing styles.

Future interests and Cognitive Development

Increasing career interests;

Mostly interested in present and near future;

Greater ability to work


Girls ahead of boys;

Shyness, blushing, and modesty;

More showing off; Greater interest in privacy;

Experimentation with body (masturbation);

Worries about being normal

Ethics and Self-Direction

Rule and limit testing;

Occasional experimentation with cigarettes, marijuana, and alcohol;

Capacity for abstract thought

Physical Changes

Gains in height and weight;

Growth of pubic and underarm hair;

Body sweats more;

Hair and skin become more oily;

Breast development and menstruation in girls;

Growth of testicles and penis,

Nocturnal emissions (wet dreams),

Deepening of voice,

Growth of hair on face in boys

Middle Adolescence (approximately 15-16 years)

Movement Toward Independence

Self-involvement, alternating between unrealistically high expectations

and poor self-concept;

Complaints that parents interfere with independence;

Extremely concerned with appearance and with one's own body;

Feelings of strangeness about one's self and body;

Lowered opinion of parents, withdrawal from them;

Effort to make new friends;

Strong emphasis on the new peer group;

Periods of sadness as the psychological loss of the parents takes place;

Examination of inner experiences, which may include writing a diary

Future Interests and Cognitive Development

Intellectual interests gain importance;

Some sexual and aggressive energies directed into creative and career


Concerns about sexual attractiveness;

Frequently changing relationships;

Movement towards heterosexuality with fears of homosexuality;

Tenderness and fears shown toward opposite sex;

Feelings of love and passion

Ethics and Self-Direction

Development of ideals and selection of role models;

More consistent evidence of conscience;

Greater capacity for setting goals;

Interest in moral reasoning

Physical Changes

Continued height and weight gains;

Growth of pubic and underarm hair;

Body sweats more;

Hair and skin become more oily;

Breast development and menstruation in girls;

Growth of testicles and penis,

Nocturnal emissions (wet dreams),

Deepening of voice,

Growth of hair on face in boys

Late Adolescence (approximately 17-19 years)

Movement Toward Independence

Firmer identity;

Ability to delay gratification;

Ability to think ideas through; Ability to express ideas in words;

More developed sense of humor;

Stable interests;

Greater emotional stability;

Ability to make independent decisions;

Ability to compromise;

Pride in one's work;


Greater concern for others

Future Interests and Cognitive Development

More defined work habits;

Higher level of concern for the future;

Thoughts about one's role in life


Concerned with serious relationships;

Clear sexual identity;

Capacities for tender and sensual love

Ethics and Self-Direction

Capable of useful insight;

Stress on personal dignity and self-esteem;

Ability to set goals and follow through;

Acceptance of social institutions and cultural traditions;

Self-regulation of self esteem

Physical Changes

Most girls fully developed;

Boys continue to gain height, weight, muscle mass, body hair

Teenagers do vary slightly from the above descriptions, but the feelings and
behaviors are, in general, considered normal for each stage of adolescence.
What Should We Do?
Intellectual Development
Implications for Practice
Teachers need to consider the intellectual developmental differences of
young adolescents when planning learning experiences. To address this
diversity, teachers need to provide an assortment of educational approaches
and materials that are appropriate for their students' wide-ranging cognitive
abilities. For example, the concrete thinkers require more structured learning
experiences, while the abstract thinkers need more challenging activities
(Manning & Butcher, 2012). Teachers can also provide forums for them to
examine the reasons for school, home, and societal rules. As adult role
models, teachers can guide young adolescents to connect intellectual
thought and moral reasoning.
Moral Development

Implications for Practice

Teachers need to be aware of the relationship between young adolescents'
intellectual development and their moral reasoning (Scales, 2010). They can
organize instructional experiences that foster critical thinking skills and
higher levels of moral reasoning. For example, teachers plan assignments
that help students to incorporate their thoughts and feelings in writing
(Scales, 2010). Teachers can engage young adolescents with activities that
require consensus building and application of democratic principles; teacher
advisory programs and service learning can foster teamwork and build
community (Brighton, 2007). In addition, teachers can design experiences for
students to examine moral dilemmas and contemplate responses (Scales,
Spiritual Development
Acceptance of the spiritual domain in middle level education is important.
Young adolescents often want to explore spiritual matters, develop
connections between self and others, and gain a sense of themselves and
the world (Scales, 2010). Implications for practice will depend on
commitments to educating the whole child.
Psychological Development
Implications for Practice
Teachers need to support young adolescents' quest for identity formation
through curricular experiences, instructional approaches, and opportunities
for exploration. Young adolescents need frequent opportunities to explore
and experiment with various roles and experiences within the classroom
context. Teachers can provide educative experiences such as role-playing,
drama, and reading that foster identity formation. Likewise, teachers can
acknowledge the importance of friendships and explain that shifting peer
allegiances are normal (Scales, 2010).
To foster successful experiences for every young adolescent, schools need to
provide organizational structures such as teaming and advisory programs.
These structures help to ensure that every young adolescent is known well
by at least one adult and has regular occasions to experience positive
relationships with peers. Young adolescents deserve school environments
that are free from harsh criticism, humiliation, and sarcasm.
Social-Emotional Development

Implications for Practice

Because of young adolescents' need for affiliation and belonging, they must
have opportunities to form affirming and healthy relationships with peers.
Teachers must recognize the importance of peer relationships and friendship
(Scales, 2010) and provide occasions for positive peer interactions (Kellough
& Kellough, 2008). Teachers can design cooperative learning activities and
collaborative experiences for young adolescents to interact productively with
peers (Scales, 2010).Teachers can also plan activities that engage students
in argumentation or debate in academic settings as well as those that
simulate social situations through role-plays or simulations (Kellough &
Kellough, 2008).
Schools play a key role in providing young adolescents with educative
programs that promote freedom and independence within a safe space.
Schools can also ensure young adolescents ' access to student government,
service clubs, or other leadership groups that allow them to develop their
own projects and guidelines for behavior (Kellough & Kellough, 2008).
Young adolescents warrant educational experiences and schools that are
organized to address their physical, intellectual, emotional/psychological,
moral/ethical, spiritual, and social developmental characteristics.
Practitioners, parents, and others who work with young adolescents need to
be aware of both subtle and obvious changes in developmental
characteristics. Such changes can give adults insights into the challenges
facing young adolescents and illuminate possible reasons for shifts in their
abilities and behaviors.
The middle school founders (e.g., William Alexander, Donald Eichhorn, John
Lounsbury, Gordon Vars) emphasized the need to consider young
adolescents when developing education environmental and organizational
structures. The desire for developmental responsiveness was what set the
middle school apart from its predecessor, the junior high. Today's educators
and policymakers need to continue their support of initiatives that afford
young adolescents with developmentally appropriate learning experiences
and environments.
What Parents Can Do

When young people feel connected to home, family, and school, they are
less likely to become involved in activities that put their health at risk.
Parental warmth and strong, positive communication helps young people to
establish individual values and make healthy life decisions.
Nurture a positive relationship with your child. When parent-child interactions
are characterized by warmth, kindness, consistency, respect, and love, the
relationship will flourish, as will self-esteem, mental health, and social skills.
Encourage independent thought and expression in your child. Teens who are
competent, responsible, and have high self-esteem have parents who
encourage them to express their opinions and who include them in family
decision making and rule setting.
Show genuine interest in your child's activities. This allows parents to
monitor their child's behavior in a positive way. Parents who, together with
their children, set firm boundaries and high expectations may find that their
children's abilities to live up to those expectations grow.