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Adolescence and the Teen Years

Adolescence and the Teen Years

Author: Erick Taggart

Examine the life stage of adolescence.

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Hello, class. So today we're going to be talking about adolescence, which is also known as the teenage years, or when a child transitions into becoming an adult. So that's those in between years we're talking about.

So it's important to note right off the bat that there's certain cultural variation that goes along with the idea of adolescence, which is to say that different cultures have different measures of adolescence. They determine adolescence as starting at different times for a person. So in some cultures, like ours, 14-year-olds are considered to be school-aged. And they're not doing anything except going to school, playing with their friends, doing extracurricular activities. But in other cultures, a 14-year-old can already be married and have children. So you see it's a very different idea of what constitutes adolescence or what they're supposed to be doing at certain ages.

In the US specifically, we generally call the adolescent time the years between 11 years old and 18 years old, which is to say when they're just beginning to hit puberty, which we'll talk about in a second. But then they are able to do things more independently. And there are certain measures there, like being able to vote. And oftentimes it's also important to note that some cultures have ceremonies that mark this transition to adulthood or this adolescent time. For example, the Jewish culture there are bar or bat mitzvah.

So first let's talk about the physical changes that occur. So this period of time from between 11 and 14 years of age specifically is a period of rapid growth, when there are certain changes within the body, specifically sexual changes, and the person reaches maturity. The term puberty is used to describe this biological period of time in which a person grows and becomes sexually mature, or in other words they're able to have a child.

So there are changes to their sexual organs. But there are other changes that occur with this as well. For example, men start to grow facial hair. Their voice drops. Muscles begin to grow more.

And in women, the breasts grow. The hips widen a bit. So these are all changes that coincide, those secondary sexual characteristics.

Now, going along with those physical changes, we have coinciding psychological changes as well. One of the most important ones to note during this time is the formation of an identity, or a sense of self. It's during this time that a teen begins to question who they are as people. Erikson used the phrase identity crisis to describe this period of time. It's a time where there's an intense analysis and exploration of the different ways that a person considers themself or looks at themself in different ways. And a lot of this is formed as a result of social experiences during this time.

The person during this time will also experiment with different types of roles. They try on different skins. So it's during this time that a teen might try to engage in activities that they wouldn't normally do as a child. They might try out different things. For example, a guy might try out different kinds of sports. Or they might go into different clubs. Or they might experiment with activities that they wouldn't normally have engaged in.

So this leads to an eventual achievement of identity, where they solidify and they realize what kind of person they are, what their likes and dislikes are, things like that. Or else a person who doesn't go through that identity formation might be uncertain about who they are and what they're trying to do in life. So they have that kind of wavering idea of who they are.

Going along with that, we also have cognitive changes. Remember, we're still developing biologically, so the brain is developing as well, especially areas like the prefrontal cortex, which is identified with personality, identity, and cognition in general. So you can see how these things sort of go along with each other.

Piaget formulated in his theory of development that it's during this time that children start to think abstractly. They can think beyond the concrete world itself. And they also start to form hypotheses about the world. They can think deductively and come to reasonable conclusions about things.

There's also what's called egocentrism at this time, which is to say the children are very self-centered. They're concerned with themselves only. Or they're kind of selfish.

To go along with that, we have two other terms. One is a personal fable, which is to say it's this belief that an adolescent has that he or she is very special and unlike anybody else and that nobody else understands what they're feeling or have experienced those kinds of things. So when an adolescent says, "you don't understand me," it's coming from this sort of egocentrism.

Along with that, we also have the idea of an imaginary audience, which is to say that the adolescent has the experience of constantly being on stage or being the focus of everyone's attention. Everybody's watching them. And this emerges along with the adolescent's idea or ability to think about what others are thinking. So originally, children aren't able to necessarily put themselves in another person's shoes. So because of that, adolescents constantly think that other people are thinking about them.

Finally, adolescence is a time of social development as well, in which a child is looking for acceptance from other people. Their self-esteem depends on the relationships that they have with other people. This is called a self-concept, which is an idea that they form as a result of the opinions of others. So it's during this time that the peers of a person become more important than their family in terms of social influence. And this is also a time when peer pressure becomes important, because there's a push for the adolescent to conform or to be more like their peer group.

And this is also why during this time there's experimentation with things like drugs or sex, especially since, as we said, physically the child is developing as a sexual being. So there's more likelihood for them to engage in or try out those sorts of things.

Terms to Know

The time when a child transitions to adulthood; the teenage years.


Sexual maturation; when an individual becomes capable of reproduction.