Adolescence Development: Meaning and Characteristics

The word adolescence comes from a Greek word 'adolescere' which means 'to grow to maturity'. Some psychologists define it as the transitional period

Meaning and Definitions of Adolescence

The word adolescence comes from a Greek word 'adolescere' which means 'to grow to maturity'. Adolescence is the most important period of human life. It is the spring of life of human being and an important era in the total life span. Some psychologists define it as the transitional period of life. The child experiences a number of changes in this transitional period. The period runs between childhood and adulthood and is some times called the period of teenage.

Adolescence Development: Meaning and Characteristics

1. According to A. J. Jersild, "Adolescence is that span of years during which boys and girls move from childhood to adulthood, mentally. emotionally, socially and physically."

2. According to Dorth Rogers, "A process rather than a period, a process of achieving the attitudes and beliefs needed for effective participation in the society."

3. According to Jean Piaget, "The age of great ideals and the beginning of theories as well as the time of simple adaptation to reality."

Chronologically, adolescence comes roughly in between the years from 12 to the early 20's. The onset of adolescence varies from culture to culture depending on to socio-economic conditions of the country. In this period, great changes occur in all developmental dimensions of the individual.

Significance of the Study of Adolescence

Adolescence is the most important period of human life. A major part of a country's population ranges between the ages 13 to 21 years. The country's success in various field of life depends on the proper guidance of adolescents. Following is the significance of the study of this period.

(1) Understanding developmental characteristics and problem:- Every teacher and parent must know about the nature and changes emerging in transition period from childhood to adulthood. They must also know the various problems fraught with developmental characteristics to deal effectively with the problems of adolescents. It is also necessary for them to be familiar with casual factors of the problems of adolescents so that proper individual, educational and vocational guidance may be provided for adequate adjustment in the society.

(2) Maintenance of mental health:- The progress of a country depends on the maximum exploitation of its human resources. The sound mental health is one of the first requisite conditions of development Adolescence is marked wit a number of problems which affect the mental health. The study of adolescence is very important in order to preserve. cure and prevent incidences of maladjustment.

(3) Adjustment to responsibilities:- The study is significant to provide the knowledge of needs and developmental tasks for adolescents. Parents and teachers can help adolescents to adjust to their responsibilities. By understanding the needs of adolescents, the teacher a administrator can frame appropriate curriculum, school policies and methodology of teaching them.

(4) Curiosity:- To study the psychology of adolescent may be a desire to know something about oneself. Such a desire is quite justifiable and understandable if the student is of adolescence period. But it is also a sound motive for an older person. The older person who studies the adolescence has within himself a potential source of insight into issues facing the person of adolescence period-issues that once the had to face. It may also be due to the scholarly interest of the individual.

Stages of Adolescent Development

The period of transition from childhood to adulthood is called adolescence. Adolescence is very crucial stage of development. In Indian conditions the period of adolescence may vary from 12-13 years to 18-21 years.

1. Early Adolescence (Ages 10-14)

Early Adolescence occurs between ages 10-14. During this developmental period, adolescents experience the beginning stages of puberty. Both sexes experience significant physical growth and increased sexual interest. Cognitively, adolescents in this stage have a limited capacity for abstract thought but intellectual interests expand and become more important. Although adolescents in this stage have limited interest in the future, they develop deeper moral thinking during the early adolescence stage.

2. Middle Adolescence (Ages 15-17)

During the middle adolescence stage, puberty is completed for males and females. Physical growth slows for females but continues for males. Adolescents in this stage continue to experience a growing capacity for abstract thought. During this stage, adolescents begin to set long-term goals and become interested in the meaning of life and moral reasoning. Adolescents in this stage of development experience numerous social and emotional changes including increased self-involvement and an increased drive for independence.

3. Late Adolescence/Young Adulthood (Ages 18-24)

Adolescents in the late adolescence phase typically experience fewer physical developments and more cognitive developments. Adolescents gain the ability to think about ideas rationally, delay gratification, plan for the future, and gain a firm sense of identity. During this last phase of adolescent development, young people also experience increased emotional stability and independence.

Relationship with Peer Group

The adolescents have a strong loyalty and devotion to their groups. They are deeply influenced by peer groups and their decisions. At this stage, the adolescent acquires many habits, attitudes, ideals and social skills.

During early adolescent period the close-friend is usually a member of the same sex. At the later adolescent period, one usually tries to seek friendship with a member of the opposite sex. However, this is not generally permitted in some cultures, and so same sex friendships are more common.

Crow found that in the selection of friends both adolescent boys and girls place considerable emphasis on display of traits like sincerity, consideration for others, good manners, friendliness, modesty and self control by members of the opposite sex.

Identification with peer groups, hero-worship, growth of patriotic spirit, development of a sense of sacrifice and leadership are some of the important features of the social development of the adolescent.

Importance of Adolescence

Adolescence is one of the periods when both the immediate and long-term effects on attitudes and behaviour are important. Adolescence has both physical and psychological effects accompanied by rapid mental developments. These give rise to the need for mental adjustments and necessity for establishing new attitudes, value and interests.

Adolescent's life is full of hopes. The Adolescent is eager to interact with new experiences, to find new relationships to examine inner strengths and explore the strengths of inner ability. Adolescents try to have freedom to think and set their own goals and discover means to achieve them. Adolescents want to have more freedom to enjoy. Although they are not fully mature to shoulder the responsibilities of life, they enjoy life in youthful dreams. Love and power become a strong motivating force in life.

An Adolescent lives in a lush season and it falls between the springtime and the summer of life. Adolescence is a time when boys and girls feel the joy and pride of growing up. Personality Development gets stronger at this period and continues to be in the same for a long time. A proper shaping of the personality during adolescence can prepare a valuable human resource for our nation. Hence the life script of adolescence continues through out for a long time.

The adolescence period is spent in High school or Secondary school for the school going adolescents, a right career choice or a future plan can help them settle well in their, future. Hence this period is very important to plan their future.

Fallacies about Adolescence

1. The first fallacious view is that adolescents are awkward in physical appearance. It is very difficult to determine the origin of this popular misconception about adolescents. Perhaps it arose from the fact that some adolescents are as large as adults. Society expects them as graceful as the adults because of their size. Undoubtedly, adolescents are not so well-coordinated and graceful as adults but they are better coordinated. than children. They play, better, run better, jump better so there is little reason to think this period as awkward.

2. The second misconception is that adolescents are rebellious. People held this for a long time but it is not based on psychological principles. Modern studies have proved that the view is false. If the energy of adolescents is properly channelized, then there is no reason of their bring rebellious.

3. The third misconception is that adolescents grow rapidly. It has been proved by developmental studies that human growth is a continuous process and it is correct to say that few changes take place during adolescence than during an equal number of years beginning with birth.

4. The fourth fallacious view is that adolescents are bothered by sex maturation and its problems. It is a wrong view. No doubt interest in sex is quite a new area but it depends on the cultural and socio-economic conditions of the country, whether the adolescents will be bothered by sex problems.

Changes during adolescence

Adolescence is the period of transition between childhood and adulthood. Children who are entering adolescence are going through many changes (physical, intellectual, personality and social developmental). Adolescence begins at puberty, which now occurs earlier, on average, than in the past. The end of adolescence is tied to social and emotional factors and can be somewhat ambiguous.

1. Physical Changes of Adolescence

There are three main physical changes that come with adolescence:

  1. The growth spurt (an early sign of maturation);
  2. Primary sex characteristics (changes in the organs directly related to reproduction);
  3. Secondary sex characteristics (bodily signs of sexual maturity that do not directly involve reproductive organs)

2. Intellectual Changes of Adolescence

Adolescent thinking is on a higher level than that of children. Children are only able to think logically about the concrete, the here and now. Adolescents move beyond these limits and can think in terms of what might be true, rather than just what they see is true. They are able to deal with abstractions, test hypotheses and see infinite possibilities. Yet adolescents still often display egocentric behaviors and attitudes.

3. Social and Emotional Changes of Adolescence

Adolescents are also developing socially and emotionally during this time. The most important task of adolescence is the search for identity. (This is often a lifelong voyage, launched in adolescence.) Along with the search for identity comes the struggle for independence.

Characteristics of Adolescence

1. Adolescence is a co-period of storm and stress:- Many Adolescents come into conflict with norms. They are divided between independence and conformity. Their need to establish their identity often makes them confronting others.

2. Change in the expression of emotions:- Emotional expressions of Adolescents are greatly influenced by maturity and training. They do not express their emotions directly like young children but have great control over them. Emotions become less general and more specific in expressions. With adult guidance, they are able to control babyish anger, jealousy, fear etc. They learn to use those expressions, which are more likely to be socially approved; in case of an Adolescent, the heightened emotionality, results from the physical and glandular changes. Hence this stage is also called the period of storm and stress.

3. Acquiring skills and building up attitude:- During early Adolescence various skills and special abilities are developed. In the later Adolescence, the individual is more interested in the vocational courses, which will be useful for his adult life. He also takes interest in reading novels, stories and other literature concerned with romance, scientific invention, adventures, biographies etc. The reasoning and abstract thinking also develop considerably in Adolescence.

4. Adolescence is a period of individuals' emancipation:- Western culture emphasizes the teenage years as appropriate for establishing one's independence as a mature person. The experiences of an Adolescent represent a struggle towards the advancement of the behaviour pattern. The Adolescent becomes an emancipated person who attempts to achieve a new self-definition in many ways.

5. Westernized Interests:- Adolescents are primarily interested in knowing more about sex, and are especially curious about birth control, "pills", abortion and pregnancy. Boys on the other had want to know about venereal diseases, enjoyment of sex, sexual intercourse and birth control. Their major interests is in sexual intercourse, its context and its consequences. Adolescents today are sexually very active. Sexual activity. like casual kissing, petting and genital contact fulfill a number of Adolescent's important needs, one of which is physical pleasure. Some of the sexual behaviour and practices of Adolescence are during, masturbation, pre-marital sexual behaviour and homosexual tendencies.

Friendships are likely to be closer and more intense in Adolescence than at any other time of life. Adolescents have the most fun when they are doing something with their friends with whom they feel free, open, involved, excited and motivated. An important part of many teenagers' lives is the music they listen to, binding them to their peers and separating them from their parents. Music is an important symbol, and rock music stands or many things in a teenager's life.

6. Adolescence in today's context:- Adolescents are the citizens of tomorrow. Behavioural patterns followed by a person during Adolescence will last a lifetime. They influence the health and well being of an individual. Worldwide, in the 21st century, life is undergoing significant changes and the most affected are the Adolescents.

7. Stress and Adolescents:- One of the greatest times of stress for families the onset of the Adolescent or teenage years. In today's complex society, these years can be more turbulent than ever before. The frightening realities of AIDS, drugs, violence and broken homes add a real dimension to stress that make being teenager one of the greatest challenges a young person will face. No parent is perfect. Regardless of age, all children experience the stresses of life and are just prone to stress reactions as we are.

8. Psychological characteristics of Adolescents:- Adolescents are keenly aware of the problems of morality. They are ambitious. They are not easily amenable to discipline, authority and strictness. They favour freedom and democratic life. They like permissive atmosphere. They want parents and teachers to be lenient towards them. They tend to be rebellious by nature.

9. The Adolescent and Religion:- Adolescents possess a self-owned yearning for religion. God worship, prayer and spiritual values. If religion is shown to them as something which is not monotonous, irksome, and burdensome, and if God is not pictured to them as a monstrous creature, ready to punish and condemn, then. Adolescents will find the fulfillment of their own achievements in the love of God.


We can conclude from the above discussion, adolescence is a very tough time coping-up with stress. Stanley Hall called this period “Stress and Storm”. The best way to help adolescence to get through the stage is to make them, aware of these hormonal changes. Enable them to stay healthy and fit through nutritious food and exercise. Teachers should use their excessive energy in educational and other creative activities. Lastly, the roles of teachers and parents and Schools play a crucial role in Adolescence development.

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