What Is Adolescence? - Definition, Stages & Characteristics

Lesson Transcript
Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Expert Contributor
Nicola Taccone

Honours Bachelor of Physical and Health Education with a minor in English, Bachelor of Education, and Master's degree in Professional Kinesiology.

Adolescence is a stage of development in which many changes occur at the emotional, physical, and cognitive levels. Learn the definition and stages of adolescence, including early, middle, and late adolescence, and discover the characteristics of each of them. Updated: 09/29/2021

Defining Adolescence

Henry is a 12-year-old who has just entered junior high school. Henry has noticed that his body is going through some physical changes. As a result, he has become self-conscious about his physical appearance. He has also begun taking measures to insure more privacy at his home. For example, he locks the door every time he enters the bathroom, and he always takes his phone calls in his room with his door closed. Henry also values his relationships with his friends and has begun spending more time with them. Henry's behaviors and physical changes are common during adolescence.

Adolescence refers to the period of human growth that occurs between childhood and adulthood. Adolescence begins at around age 10 and ends around age 21. Adolescence can be broken into three stages: early adolescence, middle adolescence, and late adolescence. Each stage has its own characteristics. Let's take a look at each stage in more detail below.

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  • 0:01 Defining Adolescence
  • 1:05 Early Adolescence
  • 2:05 Middle Adolescence
  • 3:15 Late Adolescence
  • 4:07 Lesson Summary
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Early Adolescence

Early adolescence is the first stage and occurs from ages 10 to 14. Puberty usually begins during this stage. Like Henry, people in this stage become aware of their rapidly changing bodies and start to worry about their physical appearance. They might experience shyness, blushing, modesty, and a greater interest in privacy.

Early adolescents may feel invincible and start to engage in risky behaviors such as smoking and alcohol use. This period is also characterized by sexual curiosity, which is usually expressed through admiration of celebrities, teen idols, and musicians. Relationships with close friends become more important than family relationships. Early adolescents start to realize that their parents are not infallible and begin to identify their own faults. It is also common for early adolescents to show acting-out behaviors.

Middle Adolescence

Middle adolescence is the second stage and occurs from ages 15 to 17. By this time, puberty has passed. Teens in this stage are extremely concerned with how they look, and they think others are concerned, too. They spend a large amount of time grooming, exercising, and modifying their physical appearance.

Girls are especially preoccupied with their physical appearance and being sexually attractive.
young girl wearing makeup

Relationships are often changing during middle adolescence. There is also worry about sexual attractiveness. Middle adolescents complain about their parents preventing them from becoming independent, and they withdraw from them. They may try to assert their independence by refusing to bathe, not cleaning their rooms, and picking up annoying habits. There is an intense focus on peer groups during middle adolescence, and teens in this stage tend to confide in each other more than they do their parents.

As with early adolescence, teens in middle adolescence may feel invincible. Risk-taking behaviors are significantly increased during this stage. On the other hand, acting-out behaviors begin to decrease, since teens in this stage have a better grasp on how to use words as a means of expression.

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The Changes of Adolescence


Recall the three stages of adolescence that were discussed and the characteristics of each stage. Early adolescence takes place from ages 10 to 14 and is characterized by close relationships with friends, a changing body, acting out, and some risk-taking behaviour. Middle adolescence occurs from ages 15 to 17 and is characterized by increased importance on intimate relationships, physical appearance, and trying to achieve independence from parents. Late adolescence takes place from ages 18 to 21 and is characterized by a smaller more intimate peer group, intimate relationships, and a closer relationship with parents.

How Do These Changes Affect Us?

Consider the characteristics for each stage of adolescence and answer the following questions for each of the three stages.

  1. What aspects of this adolescent stage do you think are challenging? Why?
  2. What aspects of this adolescent stage do you think are exciting? Why?
  3. From an emotional standpoint, how do you think this adolescent stage affects the individual?
  4. What aspect of this stage do you think is most important? Why?

Sample Answers

Below are some examples of sample answers to the above questions.

  1. For early adolescents, I think changing body characteristics and resisting taking part in risky behaviours are challenging. Changing body characteristics can be uncomfortable and awkward to experience while resisting taking part in risky behaviours, such as drinking or smoking, can impact how one's peer group thinks of them.
  2. For late adolescence, developing a new and stronger bond with one's parents can be an exciting and eye-opening experience. The relationship that a late adolescent develops with their parents is much different from that of childhood, early adolescence, and middle adolescence. As a result, late adolescence may develop a new appreciation and perspective of their parents, strengthening the child-parent bond.
  3. I think middle adolescents often feel frustrated and angry as they attempt to assert their own independence. Parent rules and restrictions that inhibit this assertion of independence can cause tension between parents and children, and result in negative feelings towards parents.
  4. For the early adolescent stage, I think the most important aspect is the changes in the body. Although not always a comfortable experience, these bodily changes are important for proper adult functioning from a physiological standpoint.

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