Stages of Adolescent Development

Research Facts and Findings, May 2004

A publication of the ACT for Youth Center of Excellence

PDF (532K)

by Sedra Spano

Adolescence is a time of great change for young people when physical changes are happening at an accelerated rate. But adolescence is not just marked by physical changes -- young people are also experiencing cognitive, social/emotional and interpersonal changes as well. As they grow and develop, young people are influenced by outside factors, such as their environment, culture, religion, school, and the media. A number of different theories or ways of looking at adolescent development have been proposed (see below). There are biological views (G. Stanley Hall), psychological views (Freud), psychosocial views (Erikson), cognitive views (Piaget), ecological views (Bronfenbrenner), social cognitive learning views (Bandura), and cultural views (Mead). Each theory has a unique focus, but there are many similar elements. While it is true that each teenager is an individual with a unique personality, special interests, and likes and dislikes, there are also numerous developmental issues that everyone faces during the early, middle and late adolescent years (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry).

The normal feelings and behaviors of the middle school and high school adolescent can be categorized into four broad areas: moving toward independence; future interests and cognitive development; sexuality; and ethics and self-direction. Specific characteristics of normal adolescent behavior within each area are described below.

Early Adolescence (Approximately 12-14 years of age)

Movement Toward Independence

Future interests and Cognitive Development

Sexuality

Ethics and Self-Direction

Physical Changes

Middle Adolescence (approximately 15-16 years)

Movement Toward Independence

Future Interests and Cognitive Development

Sexuality

Ethics and Self-Direction

Physical Changes

Late Adolescence (approximately 17-19 years)

Movement Toward Independence

Future Interests and Cognitive Development

Sexuality

Ethics and Self-Direction

Physical Changes

Teenagers do vary slightly from the above descriptions, but the feelings and behaviors are, in general, considered normal for each stage of adolescence.

Theories of Adolescence (Muuss, R., et. al., 1996; Rice and Dolgin, 2002)

Developmental Area - Biological

Developmental Area - Psychological

Developmental Area - Psychosocial

Developmental Area - Cognitive

Developmental Area - Ecological (interaction between individual and environment)

Developmental Area - Social Cognitive Learning

Developmental Area - Cultural

What Parents Can Do

When young people feel connected to home, family, and school, they are less likely to become involved in activities that put their health at risk. Parental warmth and strong, positive communication helps young people to establish individual values and make healthy life decisions.

Nurture a positive relationship with your child. When parent-child interactions are characterized by warmth, kindness, consistency, respect, and love, the relationship will flourish, as will self-esteem, mental health, and social skills.

Encourage independent thought and expression in your child. Teens who are competent, responsible, and have high self-esteem have parents who encourage them to express their opinions and who include them in family decision making and rule setting.

Show genuine interest in your child's activities. This allows parents to monitor their child's behavior in a positive way. Parents who, together with their children, set firm boundaries and high expectations may find that their children's abilities to live up to those expectations grow.

References