Changes To Expect In Late Adolescence

By Marie Miguel

Updated August 07, 2019

Reviewer Sonya Bruner

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When we talk about adolescence, we generally think of teens and pre-teens, but did you know that adolescence can be broken down into three separate parts? Early adolescence refers to the ages of 11 to 14 years old, middle adolescence is ages 15 to 17, and late adolescence age range is 18 to 21.

Depending on the source, some believe late adolescence lasts until you're 24. This extended range may be more accurate, as the human brain has not finished developing until a person is in his or her early to mid 20s.

What Is Late Adolescence?

Late adolescence definition: The period of development in a person's life from ages 18 to 24 wherein that person becomes a young adult.

Late adolescence is arguably the hardest of all three periods of adolescence because nothing stays the same. You're graduating high school and saying goodbye to everyone you've known and loved thus far, save for those few who are coming to college with you. (Pro tip: the chances are good that even if you do go to college together, you're probably not graduating together.) If you don't go on to college, then you may be starting the career that stays with you for life, or you may be considering entering the service.

Once you're in college, you may have to learn how to live on your own for the first time, in a dorm with people your age. You know no one and nothing about your new location and have to learn everything from scratch and make friends all over again. Over the course of your college career, you'll probably learn more out of class than in it, but college is the glue that holds this part of your life together. Without it, you wouldn't have met the people you've met, had the experiences you had or lived your life in quite the same way.

At the risk of sounding corny, late adolescence is perhaps the most magical time in a person's life. Upon graduating college, usually by the age of 22 years old, you may have found the person you want to spend the rest of your life with, so you get married. Then you both need someplace to live, so you buy a house. You want to start a family, so you have kids.

All of this can happen in late adolescence, from the time you're 18 until the time you're 24. In some cases, for those who fall in love and get married right out of school, the window may be even shorter. That's a lot of significant life changes to happen to a person all at once.

The Course Of Late Adolescence Development


Just like the other stages of adolescence, some changes are going on in a person's development during late adolescence. Everything on your physical, social, emotional and intellectual levels is in flux. No wonder young adults tend to be so stressed out!

Physical Changes

By the time a person has reached late adolescence, his or her physical changes have, for the most part, finally settled down. You are no longer a teenager and are settling down into adulthood. By this point, you have already reached, or come pretty darn close to, the height and weight that will be considered your baseline as an adult. Also by this point, your reproductive system has fully matured, rendering you fully capable of having a family, if you so choose.

Social Changes

Adolescence is tough on the family for some reasons, mainly because the child's life no longer revolves around his family and is instead widening to include friendships with their peers and even other adults, like a teacher or coach. Eventually, friendships turn to romances, as the teen's emotions mature and he or she can fall in love with another person.

In this area, late adolescence is a much grayer area than it is in physical changes. You can see when a young adult has reached physical maturity. You can't on the other hand, tell exactly when the other changes catch up. For instance, a 14-year-old boy may look like a teenager but still act like a child because the other areas of development haven't caught up yet.

There's no magic age when social maturity takes hold, which is why an average range is given. And nowadays, it may take even longer for the social aspect to catch up because children are being forced to rely on their parents for longer than either might have anticipated when it's too difficult to find a job that will allow them to move out and get a place of their own finally.

Emotional Changes

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In early adolescence - heck, even as early as the toddler years - the one thing children fight for more than anything else is their independence.

While a young adult, just like a young teen, may not be overly affectionate toward his parents and will probably spend more time with his friends, it's less of an act of rebellion and more an evolution of the natural state of things.

More so in early adolescence, but also present in late adolescence, is the constant struggle to balance the safety and security of home with the unyielding desire to get out there into the wide open world and discover life for yourself. Early on in late adolescence, as the young adult is still coming into his or her own, he or she may yo-yo back and forth between spending time with Mom and Dad and doing things independently from his or her parents.

Intellectual Changes

As we grow, we begin to open up to the idea that the world may not be as black and white as we once imagined. While we initially believed wholeheartedly as a young teen that the man who stole bread to feed his family was wrong, we can empathize with him better as a young adult (especially when we learn just how hard it is out there to make a living!).

By late adolescence, we have come to not only understand but embrace subtlety. In being able to see things from a different perspective, we are better equipped to solve more complex problems, and we get better at perceiving what others may be thinking. However, because these tools are fairly new, we don't get good at practicing them until we're well into adulthood. This is why teens in late adolescence tend to act seemingly without thinking in certain situations.

Late Adolescence Milestones


Once you've reached late adolescence, there are certain milestones that you should be able to check off of the list.

Emotional Milestones

By now, you should be able to take pride in your work. You should be more emotionally stable, care more about those around you, and have an improved sense of self.

Social Milestones

By now, you should be able to trust in yourself that you will be able to make the right decision when called upon in a particular situation. You should have outgrown your rebellious phase and can now enjoy time with your parents again.

Mental Milestones

By now, you should be able to set reasonable goals for yourself and plan a strategy that will help you reach those goals. You should have all the tools at the ready necessary to help you express your ideas, and you should have a good idea of, and a deeper connection to, the issues that you will become passionate about (e.g., pro-choice vs. pro-life, environmental activism, etc.).

As for physical changes, by this point, if you're a girl, you have fully developed. If you're a boy, you will continue to gain both height and weight, as well as body hair and muscle mass. This is one of those times that you hear a lot about, where sometimes the girls beat the boys when it comes to how fast they develop.

Of course, it is important to understand that no two people are the same. So while these may be the average age ranges for these milestones and developments to occur, what happens to one person at 18 years old may not happen for another until much later.

Are you in your late adolescence period and are finding it difficult to deal with all of the changes coming your way? Reach out to our counselors at BetterHelp. We can give you the advice and information necessary to help you get through the day-to-day and put you on the path to success.


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