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Adolescent Development   


Each teenager is an individual with a unique personality and special interests, likes and dislikes. In general, however, there is a series of developmental tasks that everyone faces during the adolescent years.

A teenager’s development can be divided into three stages - early, middle and late adolescence. The normal feelings and behaviors of adolescents for each stage are described below:

 EARLY (12-14 years)                                                     


Struggle with sense of identity


Improved abilities to use speech to express oneself

More likely to express feelings by action than by words

Close friendships gain importance

Less affection shown to parents, with occasional rudeness

Realization that parents are not perfect; identification of their faults

Search for new people to love in addition to parents

Tendency to return to childish behavior, fought off by excessive activity

Peer group influences interests and clothing styles



Mostly interested in present and near future

Greater ability to work



Girls ahead of boys

Same-sex friends and group activities

Shyness, blushing and modesty

Show-off qualities

Greater interest in privacy

Experimentation with body (masturbation)

Worries about being normal



Rule and limit testing

Occasional experimentation with cigarettes, drugs and alcohol

Capacity for abstract thought


MIDDLE (14-17 years)


Self-involvement, alternating between unrealistically high expectations and poor self-concept

Complaints that parents interfere with independence

Extremely concerned with appearance and with one’s body

Feelings of strangeness about one’s self and body

Lowered opinion of parents, withdrawal of emotions from them

Effort to make new friends

Strong emphasis on the peer group with the group identity of selectivity, superiority and competitiveness

Periods of sadness as the psychological loss of parents takes place

Examination of inner experiences, which may include writing a diary



Intellectual interests gain importance

Some sexual and aggressive energies directed into creative and career interests



Concerns about sexual attractiveness

Frequently changing relationships

Movement towards heterosexuality with fears of homosexuality

Tenderness and fears shown towards opposite sex

Feelings of love and passion



Development of ideals and selection of role models

More consistent evidence of conscience

Greater capacity for setting goals

Interest in moral reasoning


LATE (17-19 years)


Firmer identity

Ability to delay gratification

Ability to think ideas through

Ability to express feelings in words

More developed sense of humor

Stable interests

Greater emotional stability

Ability to make independent decisions

Ability to compromise

Pride in one’s work


Greater concern for others



Higher level of concern for the future

Thoughts about one’s role in life



Concerned with serious relationships

Clear sexual identity

Capacities for tender and sensual love



Capable of useful insight

Stress on personal dignity and self-esteem

Ability to set goals and follow through

Acceptance of social institutions and cultural traditions

Self-regulation of self-esteem

Teenagers will naturally vary slightly from the descriptions above, but the feelings and behaviors listed for each area are, in general, considered normal for each of the three stages. The mental and emotional problems that can interfere with these normal developmental stages are treatable.

If a teenager seems very different from the descriptions presented here, it may be appropriate to consult with a mental health professional.


Source: Information taken from American Academy of Child Psychiatry materials.

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