An Overview of the Adolescence Definition

By Sarah Fader

Updated December 18, 2018

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Adolescence is defined as "the transitional period between puberty and adulthood in human development, extending mainly over the teen years and terminating legally when the age of majority is reached." In most cases, adolescence begins around age 12 and ends around age 18. This period of one's life consists of many changes and developments. Adolescence is essentially a time of growing up, learning about oneself, and coming to terms with who we are.

What Happens During Adolescence?

Psychology Today affirms that adolescence is a time of discovery, growth, and change. Individuals in this stage of life are developing physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Each one of this categories intertwines with one another and can impact the thoughts, actions, and behaviors of young people.

Adolescence can also be a very tricky period. As teenagers mature and develop, they are often eager to experience the upsides of adulthood even though they are unable or unprepared to deal with the accompanying responsibilities. Adolescents may also experience tension with their parents, guardians, or caregivers. In many circumstances, adults are eager to protect young people from making mistakes; however, sometimes adolescents may view their well-intentioned parents as overbearing or suffocating.

As teenagers grow through adolescence, they will have to make some very serious choices regarding school, peers, drugs, alcohol, and sex. Many of the choices made involving the elements above can have serious ramifications or consequences which impact teenagers later in life.

For instance, a young person who abuses alcohol and drugs may eventually develop an addiction and become dependent upon the preceding substances. This dependence could lead to going to any lengths to secure drugs and alcohol even if they involve cutting class, lying, or stealing. Nine times out of ten, these actions will catch up to adolescents who commit them, and they may find themselves in trouble with not only their parents but the law.

However, the same principle applies to young people who choose to make the right choices. An adolescent who works hard gets good grades, and surrounds themselves with other like-minded peers is setting themselves up for success both in the present and later on down the road. Good grades can lead to scholarships at prestigious universities or other opportunities which may not be available to students who chose not to apply themselves academically.

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Rarely is adolescence ever an easy, smooth-sailing phase of life. However, it is paramount for young people to understand the gravity of the decisions they make. For better or for worse, every choice comes with a set of consequences.

How Should Parents/Guardians Handle Adolescence?

For as challenging as young people may find adolescence to be, parents and guardians may also have difficulty during this time of their children's lives. As adults, parents have already gone through adolescence and are likely eager to prevent young people from making the mistakes that they once did. However, as previously stated, not all teenagers are open to help from their guardians. They may even lash out as a result. This dichotomy can breed frustration very easily, but with the proper steps and actions, tensions can be reduced for everyone, especially for adults.

Handling Anger Appropriately

It is critical for parents to control their anger when dealing with testy adolescents. Believe it or not, teenagers are still learning and taking cues from the adults in their lives. Sometimes parents make the mistake of lashing out at their children in the heat of the moment, and this decision can backfire. Not only does it serve to alienate the teenager further, but it may also send the message that aggression is the proper way of handling anger or frustration. Adults have the responsibility to model appropriate behavior to young people, especially at a time when the later is going through so many changes and new experiences.

Maintaining Realistic Expectations

Virtually every parent or guardian wants the best for their children. It is only natural for adults to want to see their children do well and succeed in life. Even when teenagers are on the right path and behaving as they should, adults may still sometimes push for them to do more, take an extra class, take on a part-time job, etc. As well-intentioned as parents may be, asking too much of adolescents can sometimes have the opposite impact that what is intended.

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Parents and guardians should encourage their children to work hard in school, maintain good grades, and take on the appropriate amount of extracurricular activities. However, as the old saying goes, too much of a good thing is never good. While adolescents should be encouraged and motivated to do their best and perform well academically, they should also know that the world is not going to end if they don't quite knock a pop quiz out of the park or ace an exam. Nobody is perfect, and everyone makes mistakes. It is important and healthy for young people to be made aware of this and for parents and guardians to abstain from unhealthy pressure and unrealistic expectations.

Understanding The Central Changes Of Adolescence

Although adolescence is well-known for being a time of change in the lives of young people, the gravity of these changes is not always explored in-depth as it should be. As noted by Healthy Children, there are four central changes which occur during adolescence: physical growth, intellectual growth, emotional growth and social growth. Understanding each one of these changes is important for both young people and the adults who are around them.

Physical Growth

Bodily changes are one of the most notable indicators of puberty. Boys will usually get taller and experience deeper voices, while girls will get periods and develop hips and breasts. Both boys and girls will usually take time to adjust to these new changes. As a result of such, adolescents' taste in attire may or may not change. It is not uncommon for girls to want to wear more provocative outfits as their bodies mature and develop.

Intellectual Growth

Critical thinking, problem-solving, and the ability to think ahead, take note of potential consequences are telltale signs of intellectual development and growth within adolescents. When kids are very young, they think of things as either good or bad, right or wrong, fun or boring. As they mature intellectually, young people can observe the complexities of various issues and circumstances in life.

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The same philosophy also applies to actions and consequences. Very young children often act without thinking and inherently expect someone else to come in and clean up their mess. However, adolescents will gradually grow to understand that their actions do have consequences and hopefully think before making certain decisions. A mark of maturity in teenagers occurs when they can solve problems, take note of other people, and consider how their actions will impact themselves and those who are around them.

Emotional Growth

As adolescents grow physically and intellectually, they will also mature emotionally. However, this form of growth can be slightly less apparent than the forms above. In many cases, emotional development presents itself as the desire for more independence, such as going out alone or with friends or no longer craving pastime, childhood experiences. Nevertheless, teenagers may sometimes feel conflicted between their desire to do their own thing and the certainty that comes with being with their parents and family.

In time, they will grow and mature enough to be able to leave the nest and create their own life outside of their parents' home, but during adolescence, they may go back and forth. While this can be confusing for both adolescents and parents, this dichotomy is a part of the development process and should be expected.

Social Growth

Last, but certainly not least on the list of central changes of adolescence comes social growth. From the time that children are very young, they eagerly cling to their parents and usually want to spend all of their time with them. Just about everyone has heard of preschoolers who are afraid to leave their parents to attend school for the day.

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As young people grow and develop through adolescence, their attachment to their parents will likely change, as it should. This does not mean that teenagers will cease to love or care for the adults in their life; it simply means young people may want to spend more time apart from their parents or guardians. They'll likely experience the desires to go out with friends and other people their age and that is a good thing. Parents and caregivers should certainly ensure that their children are not spending time with negative influences, but ultimately, social growth should be viewed as an innate and positive indicator of budding adulthood.

A Final Word

Adolescence is a unique and challenging time for young people and the adults in their lives. Even though teenagers may seem to be rebelling or pulling away, at the end of the day, they do still need the parents and guardians in their lives.

Sometimes life can get rough, especially when adolescents and teenagers are involved. Sitting down and speaking with a licensed professional can also make all the difference in the world for people of all ages. Despite the stigma which often surrounds counseling and therapy, seeking out the preceding services is a sign of strength, not of weakness. A simple conversation with someone who specializes in helping other people can be life-changing.

Ultimately, the choice is yours, but if you ever feel inclined to contact BetterHelp for any reason, you can do so by clicking here.


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