While physical development is easily measured with simple tools such as a scale or a tape measure, other developmental dimensions are more difficult to quantify. In order to identify, describe, and measure the cognitive, moral, emotional and social aspects of adolescent growth, a number of developmental theories have proven to be useful for this purpose. This article will focus its discussion on the most widely-accepted theories of child development, but the discussion is necessarily limited to the portions of these theories that are specific to adolescent development. The reader may find it helpful to review a more detailed and thorough discussion of each of these theories which can be found in the Introduction to Child Development article.
These more abstract developmental dimensions (cognitive, moral, emotional, and social dimensions) are not only more subtle and difficult to measure, but these developmental areas are also difficult to tease apart from one another due to the inter-relationships among them. For instance, our cognitive maturity will influence the way we understand a particular event or circumstance, which will in turn influence our moral judgments about it, and our emotional responses to it. Similarly, our moral code and emotional maturity influence the quality of our social relationships with others. But perhaps the most complex and inter-related area of development is sexual development which is actually a complete merger of the physical, cognitive, emotional, social, and moral aspects of development. Therefore, adolescent development is a multi-faceted, complex, systemic process. While it is necessary to discuss these developmental areas separately, the reader is encouraged to recognize the inter-relationships among the various dimensions of development.