All About Adolescence

The World Health organization (WHO) defines adolescence as the stage that occurs after childhood (at about the age of 10) and before one reaches adulthood (at about 19 years). It represents a critical transition in human growth and development, which is characterized by an increased pace of growth and change that plays second to infancy. Growth and development during this period are driven by biological processes such as puberty, which marks the passage of girls and boys from childhood to early adolescence. Although the biological factors affecting adolescence are universal, the duration and characteristics of this stage vary according to time, culture, and an individual's socioeconomic situation. Read on to learn what changes to expect during pregnancy as well as parenting tips for kids at this stage. 

What Are the Physical Developments in Adolescence?

Adolescence is a period when children undergo physical changes towards maturity. These physical changes often occur in stages, but not on regular, predictable schedules. It is normal for adolescents to undergo awkward stages, especially when they are anxious about their appearance and physical coordination.

Physical Development for Girls

  • Breast buds begin to develop as early as eight years old. Fully developed breasts may be seen by the time they are 18 years old or even younger.
  • Hairs in the armpits, legs and pubic area begin to appear at around nine to ten years old, and this follows adult patterns of distribution by the age of 13-14 years.
  • Menstrual period begins (menarche) about two years after breast buds develop and pubic hair appears. This may come as early as the 9th year or as late as their 16th birthday. In the US, girls typically have their menarche at age 12.
  • Growth spurt (rapid growth rate) peaks at age 11½, but slows down by the age of 16.

Physical Development for Boys

  • Testicles and scrotum begin to grow at age 9, followed by lengthening of the penis. The genitals reach their adult shape and size by age 17 or 18.
  • Hair in the armpits, legs, chest, face and pubic area begin to grow at age 12, and follows adult patterns of distribution by age 17 or 18 years.
  • Puberty does not start suddenly, unlike girls who have their menarche. However, boys begin having wet dreams or nocturnal emissions, marking the start of puberty between the age of 13 to 17 (average is 14 ½ years).
  • Voice change in boys begins as their penises grow.
  • Growth spurt reaches its peak at 13 ½ years and slows down at 18 years.

Cognitive Development in Adolescence

Adolescence is marked by many changes when children develop abilities, such as:

  • Understanding abstract ideas, including complex math concepts
  • Forming moral philosophies, which include their rights and privileges
  • Establishing and maintaining relationships, and learning to be intimate without worry or inhibition
  • Moving toward maturity and a sense of purpose
  • Questioning old values, but not losing their identities

Behavioral and Mental Changes in Adolescence

1. Sensitive and Self-conscious

Adolescents are often self-conscious and sensitive, sometimes even worried about how they look and feel. This is because they experience rapid changes in their bodies and they sometimes tend to compare themselves with children of similar age.

2. Trying to Establish Their Identity

Adolescents typically want to establish their identities and to separate from the control of their parents. This may or may not create conflict in the family, depending on how the parents and other family members perceive the adolescents' issues and how much the parents want to stay in control.

3. Acting Like Their Peers

In trying to search and establish their own identities, adolescents may pull away from the control of their parents and become more attached to friends. With their peers, they may share new ideas, form cliques or gangs, and engage in similar activities. They may find a sense of belonging to their new group, which may have common ways of talking, acting, and dressing.

4. Starting to Explore Sex and Romance

At mid-adolescence (age 14–16 years), these young people may start to expand their friendships to other individuals with romantic motives. They also begin to establish their individual sexual identities, trying to become more comfortable with their bodies and sexuality. They learn to experiment, receive and express sexual desires, and think about dating. If not given the opportunity to experience these feelings, adolescents may have issues with intimate relationships during adulthood.

Here are some myths about adolescents:

  • Adolescents appear to crave people's attention and their self-centeredness borders on narcissism, paranoia, and hysteria.
  • Adolescents engage in risky behaviors because they believe that negative effects such as getting pregnant, contracting STD, or suffering from a car crash will never happen to them.

Parenting Tips for Adolescence

The influence of parents, families, schools, communities, health services and other organizations on adolescents is quite significant as they learn coping skills to face the pressures they experience during this period. Therefore, these social institutions bear the responsibility of helping them adjust and develop into mature individuals, and to intervene when needed as problems arise. Here are some tips for parents:

1. Pay Attention to Their Safety

Adolescents feel stronger and sometimes they feel the need to exercise more independence before they have even developed skills in decision-making. They may engage in risky behaviors or dangerous feats just to gain peer approval. For example, they may try smoking, taking drugs and drinking alcohol. Some may also try to drive dangerously or take part in risky sports activities.

Parents and school authorities must therefore help adolescents learn about health and safety, about consequences they might face when they engage in risk-taking activities and about their responsibilities. They must also learn that driving is a privilege, which they can earn if they show responsibility towards safety. They must also be taught about the importance of using protective gear and safety equipment when engaging in certain sports activities. Safe play and skill enhancement must also be emphasized.

2. Talk to Them

To raise healthy, happy adolescents, parents must talk to them and give them more positive attention. Being able to communicate to your teens is an important part of parenting. Make it a point to let them know that you are interested in what is happening in their life and that you love them.

3. Be Open to Their Ideas

Adolescents are very idealistic, just like you probably were when you were younger.  Try to listen to their thoughts and try not to be judgmental, so as to encourage them to express their ideas with you.

4. Talk About Drug and Sex

Although it may be awkward to talk about some topics such as drugs and sex, remember that teens need information about these sensitive topics. It is best for them to hear about these from you, rather than their friends. Some might try to experiment with sex and/or drugs because of their friends. Use current stories from TV or the internet to talk about these topics.

5. Let Them Know They Can Tell You Their Problems

Sometimes the best way to communicate with your adolescents is to listen to them without reacting. Although you may be concerned about their problems and behavior, you can help them by being open and trying to find solutions.

6. Set Limits

Let your adolescent know why you, as a parent, need to set some limits on their liberties. Talk about what they want and can do, and that you care about what happens to them.

7. Spend Time Together

Set aside some regular time with your adolescents and find out what activities you can enjoy with them. Having time to eat together can also enable you to talk more about their issues.