Chris is an educator with a background in psychology and counseling. He also holds a PhD in public affairs, and has worked as a counselor and teacher for community college students for more than 10 years.
Human growth and development is characterized by several distinct and unique stages beginning with conception and ending at death. Like all stages of human development, adolescence is an important stage. In this lesson, we will focus on the biological, cognitive, and socio-emotional aspects of adolescence, which make it unique and distinguishable from the other stages of human development.
For most humans, adolescence begins around age 10 to 12 and concludes somewhere between 18 to 21 years of age. It is important to remember that age alone does not signify the beginning and end of adolescence, but rather achieving key developmental milestones indicates when a particular stage of development has begun or concluded.
While a variety of changes are taking place during adolescence, these changes can, for the most part, be classified within three major categories:
- and Socio-emotional aspects
The onset of puberty marks the beginning of the significant physical changes that occur within the developmental stage of adolescence. Puberty encourages rapid physical growth and is triggered by the increased production of two hormones:
- Testosterone in males
- and Estradiol in females
By the end of adolescence the body has, for the most part, undergone the changes needed to result in a fully functioning adult being including physical maturity and sexual development in both genders.
As the body changes and grows during adolescence, the brain undergoes significant changes as well. Specifically, certain areas of the brain grow and develop independent of one another during adolescence. Recent brain imaging studies have shown that the amygdala, which is influential in emotional regulation, develops earlier in adolescence, and the cortex, which is influential in thinking and decision-making, occurs later in adolescence.
Renowned developmental psychologist, Jean Piaget, posited that the hallmark of adolescence, from a cognitive perspective, is the ability to engage in formal operational thinking. In general, formal operational thinking involves the ability to understand abstract concepts and the ability to make predictions about future events. In the eyes of cognitive developmental psychologists, the ability to perform functions requiring formal operational thinking, such as developing theories and solving abstract problems, marks the transition into adolescence.
As mentioned, socio-emotional development is only one part of adolescence, but for many, it is the stage that has the greatest impact on their transition into adulthood. Environmental influences are particularly impactful during this stage. As adolescents begin to develop a sense of identity and take on new responsibility, they spend more time with peers and less time with their parents. Their choice in peers has a lot to do with their socio-emotional development.
Famed psychologist Erik Erickson suggested that adolescence, from a socio-emotional point of view, is characterized by the struggle of the individual to develop an internal sense of identity. He referred to this dilemma as identity versus identity confusion. Adolescents are often torn between hanging on to childhood and handling the responsibilities of adulthood.
As new adult experiences such as jobs, romantic relationships, and personal accountability begin to present themselves, adolescents begin to form their sense of who they are and how they fit into the world. According to Erikson, the ability or inability to resolve this conflict in adolescence is critical to proper fulfillment of this stage of development.
In general, adolescence is the stage of human development that typically begins as early as 10 years of age and concludes by 21 years of age. Adolescence is most often thought of as being comprised of distinct physical, cognitive, and socio-emotional stages:
- Puberty triggers the beginning of the physical development within adolescence.
- The ability to engage in formal operational thought signifies the cognitive developmental stage of adolescence.
- And the struggle to answer questions related to self-identity characterizes the socio-emotional developmental stage within adolescence.
It is important to remember that not all people will go through adolescence the same, but in general, adolescence is comprised of engagement in these key developmental milestones.
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