An individual progresses from childhood to adulthood during the decade of adolescence ages 10 to 20, approximately. This progression includes not only the physical development of puberty but also the psychological and social transition needed to establish an adult identity. Adolescence is characterized by change. A young person comes to terms with body changes, copes with the awakening of sexual feelings and development, plans for a societal role, and ultimately achieves independence. While the teenage years often are described as tumultuous, insecure and rebellious, these stereotypes do not characterize all situations, and we must keep in mind the power that our stereotypes have on teenage development.
The adolescent growth rate is second only to that of a newborn infant and most often occurs in middle school. The development of a positive self-concept is crucial at this stage. Body size and shape, the timing of their development compared to their peers, and feelings of anxiety about these changes are important issues. Students are worried about whether or not they are normal and if their classmates accept them. Typically, weight almost doubles and height increases by approximately 25 percent. For example, at the age of 12, an average boy may weigh 70-80 pounds and stand about 56 inches tall. Within 7 years, he may weigh 150 pounds and measure almost 70 inches (p. 529). Girls undergo a similar dramatic growth spurt that usually occurs 2 years earlier than in boys. However, growth patterns vary and not all children grow according to established patterns.
Sexual development is a large part of the physical adolescent. In girls, the first physical signs of sexual development are the budding of breasts, usually between the ages of 9 and 13. Not uncommonly, one breast may begin to develop before the other, or the breasts will be asymmetrical. This is very normal, and it is important that the girl knows this because it can appear to be a cause of concern. At the same time as the breasts develop or shortly thereafter, pubic and other body hair begins to grow. As puberty progresses, girls experience an adolescent growth spurt and begin to accumulate body fat in an adult female pattern: rounded hips and butt and a fuller filling out of the breasts. Often this weight gain frightens young girls who are taught to be walking Barbie dolls. At this point the answer is often eating disorders. Anorexia and bulimia are what plague many young girls today. At the same time, vaginal discharge may increase, a sign of impending menarche, or the onset of menstruation. The average age of menstruation in the United States and other Western countries is now about 12.5 years, although menstruation between the ages of 8 and 16 is considered normal. A fact that I find to be very interesting is that the age of menarche has been declining by about 8 months per generation. The reasons for this are unclear but the percentage of body fat is believed to be a large factor.
I began menstruation when I was nine years old. I remember quite calmly telling my mom it had occurred, she went to her bathroom and brought me back a super-plus size tampon, it was miserable. I have vowed to keep pads or smaller tampons in the house when my daughter reaches puberty. This whole experience forced me to play an older, more sexual role in life.
Boys generally enter puberty an average of 1 to 2 years later than girls, usually between the ages of 10 and 14. The first physical signs are growth of the testes and penis, accompanied or followed by growth of pubic and other body hair. A growth spurt follows these initial signs by about 2 years, and because males generally are larger than females, their growth is more pronounced. Changes in the larynx cause a deepening of the voice and growth of an Adam s apple. At this time there is also an increase in facial hair that begins with a mustache and within a few years extends over most of the lower face. Rising testosterone levels stimulate increased muscle mass during the growth spurt. Ejaculations generally begin sometime between the ages of 11 and 15, although anytime between the ages of 8 and 21 is considered normal. Although the major events of adolescence in boys are usually completed by the age of 18 or 19, growth may continue at a slower rate.
Discovering and forming one s sexual identity is a focal point of adolescence. But today s teens are coming of age in a culture of confusion. Words such as postponement and safer sex compete with our popular culture, a culture that pummels us with images of immediate gratification and unsafe, violent sexual behavior. Teenage decisions about sexuality are influenced by complex, intertwined factors such as love, substance abuse, poverty, family, sexual abuse, racism and religion. But certain truths are clear. Everyday, three thousand teenagers in the United States become pregnant. Eighty percent of young Americans have intercourse before they turn twenty. Thousands of people in their twenties are dying after having contracted HIV as teens. Popular culture has a profound influence on teenagers sexuality. That s where they get their ideas about what is attractive, what s feminine, what s masculine, what s cool, what s sexy, what s romantic. Melrose Place is not just a soap opera; it s an instruction in how to be. And images of sexuality play a large part in that instruction. People may respond to these images in different ways, but no one exists outside them, in a bubble of cultural immunity. Sex is so pervasive and it s presented as such an essential part of being an attractive human being with an exciting and fulfilling life that if you reject sex, you become the ultimate outsider. We present ourselves to the world through our bodies. We show ourselves to friends, lovers, employers and ask to be acknowledged, accepted, loved, desired. And so, the body is where popular culture has its greatest effect, especially on teenagers, who want desperately to fit in.
As a teen I experimented with sex at a young age. Starting at age 11 I was tossed around in a world of casual, unsafe and aggressive sex. I believe that there is a huge difference in the experiences of an individual that matures early versus late. Those who mature early are seen as older and are often involved in activities meant for older people, while those who mature slower are less popular and considered younger and inexperienced. My body had developed early, which caught the attention of mostly everyone. At age 12 I would walk home from school and for amusement s sake I would count every guy who turned around to take a second look at me as they drove by; the numbers where astounding. By observing my role models on television I discovered a power that went along with promiscuousness, I saw were it got those women, and I intended to use that power as well. Although I had to deal with a large amount of pain and emotional damage due to my sexuality, I was relieved that at least I was popular and didn t have to deal with the loneliness and turmoil of being unpopular. The most important thing was to be sexy, admired, and longed for. I see this same thing in young girls around me, I wish I could clue them into what s really important and how to value themselves, but the reality of adolescents is of a different nature than the rest of society.
Adolescents are bombarded with so many different stressful factors, there is bound to be psychological impact. The battle with self-concept and self-esteem and how this battle is resolved determines a great deal the impact that an adolescent will have psychologically. Adolescents go through many ups and downs, and ones mood can almost never be determined. Depression is a huge factor in the psychology of an adolescent. When I was 13 my parents sent me to a therapist for depression and I was put on Prozac, which I am on to this day. Adolescents is a very hard time and for me it was or is a tremendous challenge. I would fall into deep depressions from which I could not get out of for days. I would lye in bed and sleep or sulk my way through school. This also caused a lot of health problems for me and I was always sick. At other times I was the life of the party and was as happy and spiritual as can be. My attitudes also changed dramatically. Struggling with different beliefs and ways of looking at the world, my opinion would change from day to day. Confusion is a good word to describe the psychological impact of adolescence.
Adolescence is a critical point in the lives of every human being and it is getting harder and harder to get through it alive. I believe that we are on the verge of having to make drastic changes in society in order to keep our youth safe, physically, sexually, and psychologically. The struggles that our adolescents are going through are staring us straight in the face. In order to help them we must get over our fear pain and change.