The early adolescent years are marked by dramatic physical changes as the body starts developing into its adult form (going through puberty). Girls tend to start this process one to two years ahead of boys, with some girls having already developed breasts and a few even having their periods (menstruation) by age 10. As puberty begins, both girls and boys often have long arms and legs that appear out of proportion to their bodies, and they may seem clumsy at times.
Although his thinking still tends to be concrete and oriented to the present, your early adolescent is increasingly able to think abstractly and understand ideas without having experienced them himself. He can also go beyond the literal meaning of words and understand how one thing may be used as an example to better understand something else (figurative speech). More demanding coursework in middle school may result in lower academic performance and grades.
The early adolescents sense of morality is concrete and driven by rules. He sees people and their behaviors as good or bad, right or wrong. The jump from elementary to middle school, with larger class sizes and less individual attention, can make the early adolescent anxious.
Young teens are sensitive to their changing bodies and may feel uncomfortable, if they think they look different from everyone else. Early adolescents shift their focus from family toward friends as a source of security and status. They have an intense need to belong to a group, usually of the same sex. Many early adolescents join Scouts, religious youth groups or other organizations to develop outside interests and spend time with their peers. For others, sports play an increasingly important role, providing friends, adult role models, and a chance to be active and do well at something.
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By middle adolescence, most girls have completed the body changes associated with puberty and have menstrual periods. Most boys also are obviously well into puberty, for example, with noticeably bigger muscles and facial hair.
Middle adolescents experience rapid growth in how they think, becoming less concrete and more able to understand abstract concepts, solve problems, and look toward the future.
Friends continue to play an important role during middle adolescence, helping teens separate from their parents and establish their own independent identity. As they spend more time with friends and less time with family, they are strongly influenced by their friends but also are motivated to do what is right.
Middle adolescents start to develop strong opinions and may question their parents (and others) authority. They often will test their rules, as well, leading to family conflict. Experimentation with cigarettes, alcohol, other drugs and sexual activity is increasingly common during these years.
Middle adolescents start to think and care about the world around them and many get involved with volunteer work during this time. Many continue to be anxious about their academic performance, especially as they worry about future career plans.
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By late adolescence, pubertal development and growth are complete for boys and girls (now young men and young women).
Toward the end of adolescence, most young adults have developed the ability to think at the most complex levels (formal operational thinking), drawing on concrete knowledge as well as abstract ideas to solve problems.
One of the major tasks of late adolescence is to choose a career path, and most 18- year-olds have decided whether they will start by going to college, getting a job or joining the military.
Older adolescents continue to establish a sense of personal identity and, as they become more comfortable with themselves, their relationships with family members improve.
Last updated May 29, 2011