An Overview Of Adolescence

Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Erban, LMFT, IMH-E
Updated April 12, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
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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 modern times, scientists have speculated that adolescence can physically begin around ten and end around 24.

Living with adolescents can be challenging

What happens during adolescence?

Adolescence is a phase of life that often starts at ten and may end around 24. It often involves discovery, growth, and change, with both physical development and psychological development. Individuals often start to develop physically, emotionally, and psychologically, and the changes may impact the thoughts, actions, and behaviors of those experiencing them. 

Adolescence, like young adulthood, can come with challenges. As teens mature, they might feel eager to experience adulthood and may not understand the responsibilities often faced by adults within their culture. Additionally, many teens and young adults experience tension with their caregivers. Adolescence can involve new choices regarding school, peers, substances, rules, and relationships. As teens experiment with the varying aspects of their lives, consequences may occur, particularly if they engage in risky behavior.

For instance, young people may push back against the rules. Some teens might want to skip class, sneak out late, try a new dangerous trend, or become sexually active and have unsafe sex. These actions can have consequences, and teens might hide their actions from caregivers, which could cause conflict.  

However, not all adolescents partake in risky behaviors. Some may work hard to follow the rules, get good grades, and plan for the future. In some cases, the actions taken in adolescence could improve opportunities for teens in the future, such as the option for a scholarship or internship in a competitive field. 

Adolescence can feel stressful for teens and their families. At times, mental health conditions may develop during this life course. In these cases, it could be beneficial for teens to reach out for support from their families or a professional counselor.

How should caregivers handle adolescence?

Caregivers may feel unsure of how to parent teens and young adults. As an older adult, you may have already experienced adolescence and may want to prevent your children from experiencing the same complications you might have experienced during your adolescent years. However, your teen could be experiencing stress, irritability, or misunderstanding. There are a few ways to work with your teen through this transitional period. 

Practice anger management 

You might feel angry when interacting with your teen. However, anger management techniques may help you reduce the urge to act out, yell, or feel angry with your child. Studies show that yelling does not work and can worsen a conflict.

Teenagers may still be learning and taking cues from the adults in their lives. Acting aggressively may show your child that yelling or acting on anger with harmful physical activity is a healthy way to handle irritation, even if it isn't. Model healthy behavior by taking deep breaths, being empathetic to yourself and your teen, and learning to step away when needed. 

Maintain realistic expectations for your adolescent

Even when teenagers behave within their limits and try to make positive life changes, adults may pressure them to take an extra class, take a part-time job, or take on more responsibilities at home. However, asking your teen to take on many responsibilities at once may cause them to feel stressed. 

If your teen wants to take on many extracurricular activities, let them know that it's okay if they decide they want to drop one in the future. Encourage them to focus on the areas that can positively impact their future, such as secondary education grades, skills training, and social pursuits. 

While adolescents may be encouraged to do their best, try to show them love and compassion no matter how they perform. For example, if they do not ace every test or don't want to partake in a hobby you hoped they'd enjoy, consider letting them take a break and remind them that their worth doesn't depend on their performance. This can benefit their cognitive development.

Understand the central changes of adolescence

Although adolescence is well-known for being a time of change, the gravity of these changes is not always explored.

As noted by Healthy Children, four significant changes occur during adolescence, including:

  • Physical growth 
  • Intellectual growth 
  • Emotional growth 
  • Social growth

Understanding these changes may help you understand what your teen is experiencing. 

Physical growth

Often, puberty begins with various physical changes that can indicate reproductive maturity. Teens assigned males at birth may get taller and experience a deepening of the voice, while teens assigned females at birth often develop a menstrual period and grow more defined hips and breasts. Teens might take a while to adjust to these changes and feel comfortable in their bodies as they reach sexual maturity. They might also struggle with acne, body hair, or sweat. 

Living with adolescents can be challenging

Intellectual growth

When kids are young, they might see external stimuli as part of themselves and struggle to see the world more abstractly. As they mature, young people often observe the complexities of life in greater detail. 

The same philosophy can also apply to actions and consequences. Young children might act without thinking and cannot care for themselves in many ways. However, adolescents often understand that their actions have consequences and that independence will increase as they age. Teens may notice how their actions impact those around them more significantly, particularly during late adolescence. 

Emotional growth

Emotional growth may seem less apparent than physical growth. In many cases, emotional development presents itself as wanting independence, such as spending more time with friends or getting a first job. Nevertheless, teenagers may feel conflicted between spending time alone or interacting with family. They may sometimes crave parental support and sometimes reject it, which can be a normal experience in this stage between childhood and adulthood.

During emotional development, teens may experience symptoms of a mental health condition, such as depression. If you notice your child is experiencing a change in eating and sleeping habits accompanied by a decreased desire to partake in previously enjoyed hobbies, consider speaking to a counselor to have your child assessed. Adolescent health, both physical and mental, should be taken seriously.

Social growth

Young children may want to spend more time with their parents and families. They might spend most of their time at their caregiver's side. As kids grow, their attachment to their parents often changes. Although teens may not stop loving or caring for their parents, they may start to see themselves as individuals outside their families and want to experience more of the world on their own as they move toward early adulthood. 

As teens make new friends, join new peer groups, and explore their social climate at school, they might be exposed to negative influences or peer pressure. Talking to your teen about social expectations and healthy boundaries may help them navigate these challenges. It can be beneficial to speak to your adolescent about substance abuse, reproductive health, sexual identity, and the risks of unsafe sex once they have reached an appropriate age for the discussion.

Counseling for teens and parents 

Adolescence can be a challenging time for young people and adults in their lives. Although teens may switch from pulling away to being close to their families, they may still require guidance. In some cases, parents and teens might experience mental health challenges brought on by this period of life. 

In these cases, counseling could be rewarding. Although parenting and adolescence can be stressful and busy, there are many options for therapy. Online therapy can be a practical choice for those with busy schedules. Additionally, online counseling has been proven to be as effective as in-person therapy. 

For those interested in trying counseling, platforms like BetterHelp for those over 18 and TeenCounseling for those under 18 may be beneficial. Both platforms offer a growing database of counselors specializing in various topics, including parenting, adolescence, and family conflicts. 


Although adolescence often comes with challenges, parents and teens may be able to find support. Although we all go through adolescence, there may be generational challenges throughout the years that are unique to each group of adolescents. If you're a caregiver, adolescent, or young adult struggling to understand life's transitionary periods, consider reaching out to a licensed therapist for further professional insight and guidance.
Adolescence can be a challenging life stage
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