Understanding The Stages Of Adolescence

Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Erban, LMFT, IMH-E
Updated May 10, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Adolescence is a period of life often marked by significant changes. Teens may experience physical, emotional, and hormonal adjustments as they go through puberty, life changes, and the navigation of social challenges. There are several stages of adolescence, and each one may carry with it different adjustment periods. 

When teens turn 16, they are legally allowed to drive, drop out of school, or declare emancipation from their parents in the US. However, they cannot rent a car until they are 25. Young people are allowed to vote at 18 but may not legally drink until they are 21. For some parents and teens, this may cause uncertainty about when adolescence begins and ends. Some experts state the late adolescence period ends only at age 24.

Learning more about the different stages of adolescence as a parent may assist you in caring for your child. If you're an adolescent, knowing the adolescent age range could benefit you by offering you the chance to learn more about what you're experiencing and know that there are biological and scientific reasons behind each stage of the adolescent years. 
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Understanding adolescents isn't always easy

The stages of adolescence 

Adolescence is often broken into three stages: early, middle, and late adolescence. The age ranges for these three stages may be debated, however. Experts often believe that adolescence begins with puberty, or around ages 10 to 14.

By middle adolescence (ages 15 to 18), symptoms of puberty may subside, and teens might be closer to their adult height, weight, and size if they are in good health. 

Puberty in modern teens may occur earlier than in the past with adolescent development, often beginning from seven to ten years of age. Adolescence may also be prolonged. Adolescents or young adults might attend university for longer or wait to get married and have families. Additionally, scientific discoveries about brain development reveal that the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain responsible for rational decision-making) is not fully developed until age 25.

Learning about adolescence and its accompanying stages can help parents and teens understand why specific changes occur, and it can promote adolescent health, both physical and mental. 

Early adolescence (ages 10-14)

Early adolescence often accompanies puberty and rapid growth, and this is often a crucial part of human development. A young person going through this stage may notice their height and weight changing. For those assigned males at birth, a change in voice, a more prominent Adam's apple, and genital changes may occur. For those assigned females at birth, menstruation often begins, and breasts may develop. All teens may notice more hair growth around their bodies. 

Puberty often accompanies hormonal changes, which may make teens feel that their parents are acting unfairly. They might also feel overwhelmed by responsibilities, relationships, and home life. In some cases, mood disorders begin to develop around this time, such as teenage depression. If you believe your child may be experiencing any kind of mental health risk, please reach out for medical care. There are many child and adolescent therapists who may help.

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Middle adolescence (ages 15-18)

In the middle adolescent stage, symptoms of puberty for those assigned females at birth might subside. However, many individuals assigned male at birth will experience growth spurts, deeper voices, and higher testosterone levels. For some adolescents, sexual activity may begin during this stage, so it can be helpful to speak to your child about the potential risks associated with unsafe sex.

During this stage, teens may engage in abstract and relativist thinking, which could help them form their own identities. They might often think about the future and set clear goals. In middle adolescence, many teens have their first romantic relationships. They might also establish long-term friend groups or close connections with others. These social relationships can be important for young people’s health.

Late adolescence (ages 19-24)

At this stage, adolescents may demonstrate concern and compassion for others. They might have developed a sense of self separate from their parents or peer group, although relationships often continue to be an essential part of their lives. Their upbringing and cultural traditions may become values as they move into adulthood. 

Those in late adolescence may often experience "firsts," such as getting their first car, enrolling in university, or having their first serious relationship. These years of development may be essential for learning lessons they will carry into adulthood. 

When does adolescence end?

Until recent years, scientists believed adolescence might end around 18 or 19. In many cultures, this coincided with the end of secondary education and the beginning of a young person's encounter with the full-time working world. However, these changes may be more cultural than physical. 

Since the brain is not fully developed until the mid-twenties and many young adults still live with their parents or require emotional and financial support, many individuals feel that 24 is a better estimate. Once adults reach 25, they may be more situated in the career world and have a better idea of what they want their future in society to look like. 

Understanding adolescents isn't always easy

Counseling for teens and adults 

Many cultural, physical, emotional, and hormonal changes may occur in a teen's life, even past 18. As a parent or an adolescent experiencing these transitions, stress, anxiety, or depression may occur. Therapy and other mental health services can be highly beneficial tools for young girls and boys dealing with any difficulties during adolescence.  

As parenting and being a teen are both busy life stages, it may be tricky to find a counselor to undertake an adolescent psychology appointment that meets your scheduling needs. If that is the case for you, online counseling for child health could be beneficial. Online counseling allows you to meet with a counselor from a location that feels safe to you, such as your home or office. Additionally, it is often more affordable than in-person therapy. 


Adolescence can feel confusing, complex, and scary for many. Learning the varying stages of adolescence and what they could mean for you may be rewarding. If you're a teen or adult dealing with the impact of any adolescence stage, consider reaching out for further professional guidance from a counselor.

Adolescence can be a challenging life stage
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