Adolescence Essay, Research Paper


Adolescence is the developmental stage between childhood and adulthood;

it generally refers to a period ranging from age 12 or 13 through age 19 or 21.

Although its beginning is often balanced with the beginning of puberty,

adolescence is characterized by psychological and social stages as well as by

biological changes.

Adolescence can be prolonged, brief, or virtually nonexistent, depending

on the type of culture in which it occurs. In societies that are simple, for

example, the transition from childhood to adulthood tends to occur rather

rapidly, and is marked by traditionally prescribed passage rites. to contrast

this, American and European societies the transition period for young people has

been steadily lengthening over the past 100 years, giving rise to an adolescent

subculture. As a result of this prolonged transitional stage a variety of

problems and concerns specifically associated with this age group have developed.

Psychologists single out four areas that especially touch upon adolescent

behavior and development: physiological change and growth; cognitive, or mental

development; identity, or personality formation; and parent-adolescent


Physiological Change:

Between the ages of 9 and 15, almost all young people undergo a rapid

series of physiological changes, known as the adolescent growth spurt. These

hormonal changes include an acceleration in the body’s growth rate; the

development of pubic hair; the appearance of axillary, or armpit, hair about

two years later. There are changes in the structure and functioning of the

reproductive organs; the mammary glands in girls; and development of the sweat

glands, which often leads to an outbreak of acne. In both sexes, these

physiological changes occur at different times. This period of change can prove

to be very stressful for a pre-teen. For during this stage of life appearance

is very important. An adolescent child who develops very early or extremely

late can take a lot of ridicule from his or her peers. However, the time at

which a girl goes through this stage and a male goes through it are different.

Girls typically begin their growth spurt shortly after age 10. They

tend to reach their peak around the age 12, and tend to finish by age 14. This

spurt occurs almost two years later in boys. Therefore boys go through a

troubling period where girls are taller and heavier than them. This awkward

period occurs from ages ten and one-half to thirteen. Time is not the only

difference in the pubescent period for boys and girls.

In girls, the enlargement of the breasts is usually the first physical

sign of puberty. Actual puberty is marked by the beginning of menstruation, or

menarche. In the United States, 80 percent of all girls reach menarche between

the ages of eleven and one-half and fourteen and one-half, 50 percent between 12

and 14, and 33 percent at or before age 11. The average age at which

menstruation begins for American girls has been dropping about six months every

decade, and today contrasts greatly with the average age of a century ago, which

is between 15 and 17.

Boys typically begin their rapid increase in growth when they reach

about twelve and one-half years of age. They reach their peak slightly after 14,

and slow down by age 16. This period is marked by the enlargement of the testes,

scrotum, and penis; the development of the prostate gland; darkening of the

scrotal skin. The growth of pubic hair and pigmented hair on the legs, arms,

and chest takes place during this period. The enlargement of the larynx,

containing the vocal cords, which leads to a deepening of the voice causes much

stress for a pubescent boy. In this transitional period in his voice tends to


Cognitive Development:

Current views on the mental changes that take place during adolescence

have been affected heavily by the work of the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget,

who sees the intellectual capability of adolescents as both “qualitatively and

quantitatively superior to that of younger children.” According to Piaget and

the developmentalist school of psychology, the thinking capacity of young people

automatically increases in complexity as a function of age. Developmentalists

find distinct differences between younger and older adolescents in ability to

generalize, to handle abstract ideas, to infer appropriate connections between

cause and effect, and to reason logically and consistently.

Whether these changes in cognitive ability are a result of the

developmental stage, as Piaget suggests, or should be considered the result of

accumulating knowledge that allows for new mental and moral perspectives, an

enlarged capacity for making distinctions, and a greater awareness of and

sensitivity to others, is a question that psychologists continually debate.

Behaviorists such as Harvard’s B. F. Skinner did not believe intellectual

development could be divided into distinct stages. He preferred to emphasize the

influence of conditioning experiences on behavior as a result of continuous

punishments and rewards. Trying to prove that intellectual ability in

adolescence differs from that of earlier years, as a result of learning, or

acquiring more appropriate responses through conditioning. Other investigators

have found a strong tie between certain socioeconomic characteristics and

adolescent intellectual achievement. Statistics suggest that well-educated,

economically secure, small-sized families provide the kind of environment which

intellectual development among adolescents is most apt to flourish. This

environment should also include parental encouragement, individual attention,

and an extended vocabulary use. Test scores, however, seem to be more related

to the verbal ability than to the performance aspects of adolescents’


Identity Formation:

Psychologists also disagree about the causes and significance of the

emotional and personality changes that occur during adolescence. Many Freudian

psychologists believe that the straightforward sexual awakening of adolescents

is an inevitable cause of emotional strain. This strain sometimes leads to

neurosis. Psychologists who have different beliefs place less emphasis on the

specific sexual aspects of adolescence. These physiologists consider sex as

only one of many adjustments young people must make in their search for an


The effects of physical change, the development of sexual impulses,

increased intellectual capacity, and social pressure to achieve independence are

all contributor to the molding of a new self. The components of identity

formation are connected to the adolescent’s self-image. This means adolescents

are greatly affected by the opinions of people who are important in their lives

and interact with them. Gradually, the emotional dependency of childhood

transforms into an emotional commitment to meet the expectations of others. An

adolescent seeks to please parents, peers, teachers, employers and so on. If

adolescents fail to meet the goals set for them by the important people in their

lives, they usually feel like they have to reevaluate their motives, attitudes,

or activities. The approval that seems necessary at this stage can help

determine both their later commitment to responsible behavior and their sense of

social competence throughout life.

The peer group of an adolescent also provide a standard in which they

can measure themselves during the process of identity formation. Within the

peer group, a young person can try out a variety of roles. Whether taking the

role of a leader or follower, deviant or conformist, the values and norms of the

group allow them to acquire a perspective of their own. A peer group can also

help with the transition from reliance on the family to relative independence.

There is a common language amongst adolescents, whether it is clothing, music,

or gossip, these forms of expression allow them to display their identity. This

new form of association helps to ease the anxiety of leaving their past source

of reference to their identity. Parent-Adolescent Relations:

The family has traditionally provided a set of values for young people

to observe. Through this observation they can begin to learn adult ways of

behavior. In modern industrial societies the nuclear family has come to be

relatively unstable, for divorce is growing increasingly common and many

children reach adolescence with only one parent. In addition, rapid social

changes have weakened the smoothens of life experience. Adolescents a greater

difference between the parental-child generations then their parent did. They

tend to view their parents as having little capacity to guide them in their

transition from their world to the larger world. The conflict that sometimes

results from differing parent-adolescent perceptions is called the “generation

gap.” Such conflicts are not inevitable, for it is less likely to happen in

families in which both adolescents and parents have been exposed to the same new

ideas and values.

Other parental characteristics that commonly influence adolescents

include social class, the pattern of equality or dominance between mother and

father, and the consistency with which parental control is exercised. Young

people with parents whose guidance is firm, consistent, and rational tend to

possess greater self-confidence than those whose parents are either overly

tolerant or strict. Adolescence In Modern Society:

Adolescence is often looked upon as a period of stormy and stressful

transition. Anthropologists have noted that in less developed cultures the

adolescent years do not always have to exhibit such characteristics, when

children can participate fully in the activities of their community. As life in

industrialized societies grows more complex, however, adolescents are

increasingly cut off from the activities of their elders, leaving most young

people with education as their sole occupation. Inevitably, this has isolated

many of them from the adult world and has prolonged their adolescence. In

advanced industrial societies such as the United States, the adolescent years

have become marked by violence to an alarming degree. The phenomenon of teenage

suicide has become particularly disturbing, but risk-taking behaviors of many

sorts can be observed, including alcohol and drug abuse.


Conger, John J., Adolescence: Generation under Pressure (1980) Dacey, J. E.,

Adolescents Today, 3d ed. (1986) Fuhrman, B. S., Adolescence, Adolescents (1986)

Hauser, Stuart T., et al., Adolescents and Their Families (1991) Santrock, J. W.,

Adolescence: An Introduction, 3d ed. (1987) Sprinthall, Norman, and Collins, W.

A., Development in Adolescence, 2d ed. (1985).

Table Of Contents

Introduction………………………………………Page: 1

Physiological Changes………………………………Page: 1-2

Cognitive Development………………………………Page: 3-4

Identity Formation…………………………………Page: 4-5

Parent-Adolescent Relations…………………………Page: 5-6

Adolescence Today………………………………….Page: 6

Bibliography………………………………………Page: 7

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