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What Is It?
During the teen years, adolescents experience changes in their
physical development at a rate of speed unparalleled since infancy.
Physical development includes:
|Rapid gains in height and weight. During a one-year growth
spurt, boys and girls can gain an average of 4.1 inches and 3.5
inches in height respectively. This spurt typically occurs two
years earlier for girls than for boys. Weight gain results from
increased muscle development in boys and body fat in girls.
|Development of secondary sex characteristics. During puberty,
changing hormonal levels play a role in activating the development
of secondary sex characteristics. These include: (1) growth of
pubic hair; (2) menarche (first menstrual period for girls) or
penis growth (for boys); (3) voice changes (for boys); (4) growth
of underarm hair; (5) facial hair growth (for boys); and (6)
increased production of oil, increased sweat gland activity, and
the beginning of acne.
|Continued brain development. Recent research suggests that
teens’ brains are not completely developed until late in
adolescence. Specifically, studies suggest that the connections
between neurons affecting emotional, physical and mental abilities
are incomplete. This could explain why some teens seem to be
inconsistent in controlling their emotions, impulses, and
How Do These Changes Affect Teens?
|Teens frequently sleep longer. Research suggests that teens
actually need more sleep to allow their bodies to conduct the
internal work required for such rapid growth. On average, teens
need about 9 1/2 hours of sleep a night.
|Teens may be more clumsy because of growth spurts. If it seems
to you that teens’ bodies are all arms and legs then your
perception is correct. During this phase of development, body parts
don’t all grow at the same rate. This can lead to clumsiness as the
teen tries to cope with limbs that seem to have grown overnight.
Teens can appear gangly and uncoordinated. (just think about a
puppy with big feet and legs but no developed balance yet!)
|Teenage girls may become overly sensitive about their weight.
This concern arises because of the rapid weight gain associated
with puberty. Sixty percent of adolescent girls report that they
are trying to lose weight. A small percentage of adolescent girls
(1-3%) become so obsessed with their weight that they develop
severe eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia.
Anorexia nervosa refers to starvation; bulimia refers to binge
eating and vomiting.
|Teens may be concerned because they are not physically
developing at the same rate as their peers. Teens may be more
developed than their peers (“early-maturers”) or less developed
than their peers (“late-maturers”). Being out of developmental
“step” with peers is a concern to adolescents because most just
want to fit in. Early maturation affects boys and girls
differently. Research suggests that early maturing boys tend to be
more popular with peers and hold more leadership positions. Adults
often assume that early maturing boys are cognitively mature as
well. This assumption can lead to false expectations about a young
person’s ability to take on increased responsibility. Because of
their physical appearance, early maturing girls are more likely to
experience pressure to become involved in dating relationships with
older boys before they are emotionally ready. Early maturing girls
tend to suffer more from depression, eating disorders, and
|Teens may feel awkward about demonstrating affection to the
opposite sex parent. As they develop physically, teens are
beginning to rethink their interactions with the opposite sex. An
adolescent girl who used to hug and kiss her dad when he returned
home from work may now shy away. A boy who used to kiss his mother
good night may now wave to her on his way up the stairs.
|At this stage, adolescents are trying to figure out their
sexual values. Teens often equate intimacy with sex. Rather than
exploring a deep emotional attachment first, teens tend to assume
that if they engage in the physical act, the emotional attachment
will follow. Questions arise about how to abstain without becoming
embarrassed or about how they will know when the time is right. You
may also have specific questions about methods of birth control and
protection from sexually transmitted diseases. One thing to
remember – ALWAYS ASK QUESTIONS!!
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Here is some more good information on
What Is It?
You may recognize that you have better thinking skills than when
you were younger. These advances in thinking can be divided into
|Developing advanced reasoning skills. Advanced reasoning skills
include the ability to think about multiple options and
possibilities. It includes a more logical thought process and the
ability to think about things hypothetically. It involves asking
and answering the question, “what if…?”.
|Developing abstract thinking skills. Abstract thinking means
thinking about things that cannot be seen, heard, or touched.
Examples include things like faith, trust, beliefs and
|Developing the ability to think about thinking in a process
known as “meta-cognition.” Meta-cognition allows individuals to
think about how they feel and what they are thinking. It involves
being able to think about how one is perceived by others. It can
also be used to develop strategies, also known as mnemonic devices,
for improving learning. Remembering the notes on the lines of a
music staff (e, g, b, d, and f) through the phrase “every good boy
does fine” is an example of such a mnemonic device.
How Do These Changes Affect Teens?
|Teens demonstrate a heightened level of self-consciousness.
Teens tend to believe that everyone is as concerned with their
thoughts and behaviors as they are. This leads teens to believe
that they have an “imaginary audience” of people who are always
|Teens tend to believe that no one else has ever experienced
similar feelings and emotions. They may become overly dramatic in
describing things that are upsetting to them. They may say things
like “You’ll never understand,” or “My life is ruined!”
|Teens tend to exhibit the “it can’t happen to me” syndrome also
known as a “personal fable.” This belief causes teens to take
unnecessary risks like drinking and driving (“I won’t crash this
car”), having unprotected sex (I can’t possibly get pregnant), or
smoking (I can’t possibly get cancer”).
|Teens tend to become very cause-oriented. Their activism is
related to the ability to think about abstract concepts. After
reading about cruelty to animals a teen may become a vegetarian and
a member of “People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals”
(P.E.T.A.). Another teen may become active in “Green Peace” or
“Save the Whales” campaigns.
What Is It?
There are five recognized psychosocial issues that teens deal
with during their adolescent years. These include:
|Teens tend to exhibit a “justice” orientation. They are quick
to point out inconsistencies between adults’ words and their
actions. They have difficulty seeing shades of gray. They see
little room for error.
|Establishing an identity. This has been called one of the most
important tasks of adolescents. The question of “who am I” is not
one that teens think about at a conscious level. Instead, over the
course of the adolescent years, teens begin to integrate the
opinions of influential others (e.g. parents, other caring adults,
friends, etc.) into their own likes and dislikes. The eventual
outcome is people who have a clear sense of their values and
beliefs, occupational goals, and relationship expectations. People
with secure identities know where they fit (or where they don’t
want to fit) in their world.
|Establishing autonomy. Some people assume that autonomy refers
to becoming completely independent from others. They equate it with
teen “rebellion.” Rather than severing relationships, however,
establishing autonomy during the teen years really means becoming
an independent and self-governing person within relationships.
Autonomous teens have gained the ability to make and follow through
with their own decisions, live by their own set of principles of
right and wrong, and have become less emotionally dependent on
parents. Autonomy is a necessary achievement if the teen is to
become self-sufficient in society.
|Establishing intimacy. Many people, including teens, equate
intimacy with sex. In fact, intimacy and sex are not the same.
Intimacy is usually first learned within the context of same-sex
friendships, then utilized in romantic relationships. Intimacy
refers to close relationships in which people are open, honest,
caring and trusting. Friendships provide the first setting in which
young people can practice their social skills with those who are
their equals. It is with friends that teens learn how to begin,
maintain, and terminate relationships, practice social skills, and
|Becoming comfortable with one’s sexuality. The teen years mark
the first time that young people are both physically mature enough
to reproduce and cognitively advanced enough to think about it.
Given this, the teen years are the prime time for the development
of sexuality. How teens are educated about and exposed to sexuality
will largely determine whether or not they develop a healthy sexual
identity. More than half of most high school students report being
sexually active. Many experts agree that the mixed messages teens
receive about sexuality contribute to problems such as teen
pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
|Achievement. Our society tends to foster and value attitudes of
competition and success. Because of cognitive advances, the teen
years are a time when young people can begin to see the
relationship between their current abilities and plans and their
future vocational aspirations. They need to figure out what their
achievement preferences are-what they are currently good at and
areas in which they are willing to strive for success.
How Do These Changes Affect Teens?
|Teens begin to spend more time with their friends than their
families. It is within friendship groups that teens can develop and
practice social skills. Teens are quick to point out to each other
which behaviors are acceptable and which are not. It is important
to remember that even though teens are spending increased amounts
of time with their friends, they still tend to conform to parental
ideals when it comes to decisions about values, education, and
|Teens may have more questions about sexuality. They may ask
about adults’ values and beliefs. They may ask how you knew it was
time to have sex or why you waited.
|Teens may begin to keep a journal. Part of achieving identity
is thinking about one’s thoughts and feelings (reflective thought).
Teens often begin journaling as a way of working through how they
|When they are in their rooms, teens may begin to lock their
bedroom doors. Locking doors is a way to establish privacy
|Teens may become involved in multiple hobbies or clubs. In an
attempt to find out what they are good at, teens may try many
activities. Teens’ interests also change quickly. (Today you are
into yoga, and tomorrow you are into soccer).
|Teens may become elusive about where they are going or with
whom. When asked what they’ll be doing for the evening, teens
typically reply with “nothing” or “hanging out.” When asked whom
they’ll be with, teens reply, “just some friends.”
|Teens may become more argumentative. Teens may question adults’
values and judgments. When teens don’t get their way, they may say,
“you just don’t understand.”
|Teens may not want to be seen with parents in public. They may
make parents drop them off a block from their friends’ houses or
|Teens may begin to interact with parents as people. Even though
they may not want to be seen with parents in public, teens may
begin to view parents more as people. They may ask more questions
about how a parent was when he or she was a teen. They may attempt
to interact with adults more as equals.
1) When do males “typically” begin and end puberty?
2) When do girls “typically” go through puberty?
3) What are 2 physical changes that both boys and girls go
through (you can list 2 each if they aren’t the same changes)
4) Can you relate to any of the changes discussed in either
of these two articles?
5) What do you think is the hardest part about the physical
changes you endure during puberty?
6) What is autonomy (in your own words)?
7) How do you feel your psycho-social development has
affected your relationship with your parent(s)?
8) Physical Development – Please summarize all your
findings in two or more paragraphs
9) Cognitive Development – Please summarize your findings
in two or more paragraphs
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