An Introduction to Adolescent Development
What is Adolescence?Adolescence is a transitional period, from childhood to adulthood which spans the ages of 12-24 years old. During adolescence the desire for independence and autonomy increases, and parents usually find themselves much less thrilled with the developmental indicators of this increasing maturity.
Parenting during Adolescence
A teen's normal developmental process can certainly confound and frustrate even the most patient and understanding parents.
Parents gasp and clap in excitement as they witness their toddlers' first steps or hear them babble their first words. Children's first day of school, their first piano recital, and their first soccer game can cause parents to beam with pride. However, similar developmental milestones during their children's transition into adulthood are much less welcome. Instead of beaming with pride when their teens question the rules or challenge authority, parents often find themselves wanting to scream in frustration.While this developmental period certainly presents parents with many challenges, it also includes many bittersweet moments that mark their child's increasing maturity. Some of these developmental milestones may include:
- Graduation from high school or trade school.
- A teen's first romantic relationship.
- A first job.
- The first home-away-from-home.
History of Adolescence as a Developmental Milestone
It may be surprising to learn that the concept of adolescence as a separate and distinct period of development is a relatively recent phenomenon.
- Prior to the mid-twentieth century, children became adults by transitioning directly from school into the workforce, often beginning their own families at the same time.
- However, as the industrial revolution's new wave of digital, electronic, information technology surged, the transition from child-to-adult became more lengthy and complex.
- In today's technological world, it simply takes longer for youth to become adequately trained, employed, and financially independent.
Similarly, the post-World War II era marked the beginnings of radical social changes in American culture.
- The advent of the counter-culture movement during the 60's, the development of reliable birth control, and the mass entry of women into the workforce, all exerted a powerful influence on the fundamental structure of the American family.
- These forces changed the traditional American values about marriage and family and altered the way in which children transitioned into adulthood.
- When youth get married today, they are generally older than previous generations and usually wait longer to before having children of their own.
Definition of Adolescence
As a result of these changes to the American economy and American culture, the duration of adolescent development extends beyond "teenage" years to include development from ages 12 to 24.
- Because the adolescent developmental period is so lengthy (10-12 years), it is usually broken down and discussed in terms of early, middle, and late adolescence.
- In fact, some developmental theorists even refer to yet another, separate developmental period between childhood and early teens calling these youth, "tweens" or "tweeners" (be-tween childhood and adolescence).
In addition to these simple observations of a changing culture and economy, the validity of a separate and distinct period of adolescent development has been supported by scientific research. This research provides additional evidence that adolescents are uniquely different from children and adults in a number of significant ways.
This article will explore these differences, and will discuss the many facets of adolescent development. We will specifically discuss six dimensions of development: