Adolescence: Development, Stages and Educational Implications of Adolescence


Adolescence: Development, Stages  and Educational Implications of Adolescence

Adolescence is the period between 12 and 18 years. The unset of puberty marks the beginning of adolescence. Puberty is the culmination of the physical changes that lead to sexual maturity.

Adolescence is the bridge between childhood and adulthood. It is a stage in development marked by amazing spurts in physical, cognitive and social development. Sometimes, the sudden burst in all aspects of development, especially the altered body, overwhelms the adolescent.

Naturally, the adolescent questions these changes, and makes effort to understand them. The answers the adolescent finds help to define their identity. Although physical changes during this stage are universal, psychological and social reactions depend on each individual, the context they find their self and the culture.

In this page, you will learn the developmental landmarks that define adolescence. You will also learn the critical tasks the typical adolescent is expected to master and the educational significance of the changes and problems children encounter at adolescence.

At the end of this unit, you should be able to:

· Outline the physical cognitive, and social changes that typically accompany adolescence

· Highlight the major developmental tasks adolescents are expected to master

· Examine the educational significance of changes during adolescence.

Developmental Landmark

We will discuss the above topic under the following sub-topics:

1. Physical Growth and Motor Development

Genes programme human beings for developmental changes. At puberty, the endocrine system secretes hormones. Hormones are powerful regulating chemicals.

They regulate physical growth and sexual maturation.

1. Hormonal Changes

The pituitary gland is primarily responsible for the adolescent growth spurt. The growth spurt begins when the pituitary secretes increased levels of growth hormone. The pituitary gland, also sometimes called the master gland, secretes hormones that cause other endocrine glands to produce their own hormones. Thyroid gland is controlled by hormones from the pituitary gland. The thyroid secretes hormone that also contribute to normal growth and body functioning.

The pituitary gland also secretes gonadotropin hormone. In males, the sex gland is the testes. In females, the sex gland is the ovaries.

The male testes produce the sex hormone called testosterone. The testosterone level rises significantly at puberty. The female ovaries produce the sex hormones called estrogen and progesterone. The levels of these hormones rise significantly at puberty.

One bothersome problem of adolescence associated with rise in hormone levels is acne. This is a skin disorder in which there are pimples and black heads on the face and neck. Acne is more common in boys than girls. This is because it is caused by the primarily male sex hormone, androgen. This hormone occurs in both males and females.

Boys produce more androgen than girls.

2. Physical Changes

In boys, physical growth spurt peaks at about 14 years of age. Primary and secondary sex characteristics appear. Primary sex characteristics include enlargement of the testes, and production of sperm cells. Secondary sex characteristics include growth of hairs on body surface, especially pubic area, underarm and face; and deepening of voice.

In girls, physical growth spurt peaks around 12 years of age. Primary and secondary sex characteristics appear. Primary sex characteristics include maturation and shedding of ova – the female sex cells.

Secondary sex characteristics include enlargement of the breast and pelvis, feet deposits on the hip, growth of body hairs on the pubic region and underarm and appearance of menarche. Menarche is the first menstrual period and the first sign of female fertility.

3. Motor Development

A major concern of adolescents is weight, appearance and physical fitness. By the age of 17 years, almost 90 percent of muscular-skeletal structure of the adolescent had been built. Limbs and muscles have strengthened. The typical physique of a man or a woman appears.

Physical endurance increases dramatically at adolescence. However, in most adolescents physical activities decline considerably. Adolescents get most of their physical activities through organised sports.


2.  Cognitive Development

The transition into adolescence is marked by dramatic changes in cognitive abilities. It may appear to a detached observer that adolescents suddenly acquire new ways of thinking. We note however that the changes in the ways adolescents’ process information are the result of a steady building of intellectual skills that have root in earlier stages of development.

Adolescents are able to display advanced forms of thinking called formal operations. The major cognitive achievements of adolescent we would consider include:

1. Abstract Thinking

Adolescents are able to think about things that cannot be seen or known directly. Adolescence is a stage in development when children are able to imagine what might exist. Adolescents no longer rely intellectually on what already exists. Abstract thinking involves complex mental juggling of symbols and rules to transcend concrete reality. Thus, adolescents are able to mentally experiment with ideas rather than rely on concrete things done.

2. Reasoning on Hypothesis

Adolescents are able to think hypothetically. That is, they are able to consider many possible ways a particular problem could be solved, and the possible forms each variable in the task situation might assume.

They are also aware when they have exhausted the possibilities.

3. Constructing Propositional Logic

Adolescents are able to use self-consciously deductive reasoning processes. They are able to divide their attention to different aspects of a task situation. They are also able to monitor their own thought processes through meta-cognition. Adolescents’ thought process is relative, not absolute. Adolescents are able to reveal inconsistencies in the thinking

4. Combinatorial Reasoning

Adolescents are able to organize and combine abstract rules to solve a class of problems. They are able to generate, for example, a complex algebraic equation combining the different operations of addition, multiplication, division and subtraction to solve higher order problems.

5. Increased Memory Span

Adolescents are able to retain a greater amount of information in the short-term or working memory. Attention span also increases remarkably. Adolescents are able to consciously remember and think about more items of information at a time.

6. Increased Memory Strategies

Adolescents are able to use more memory strategies to aid learning and remembering. For example, the use of rehearsal, chunking, clustering and elaboration strategies improves remarkably during adolescence.

 3.  Psychosocial Development

The search for identity comes to the forefront of development during adolescence. The social environment changes. Relationships with parents, siblings and peers change. Heightened pressure for autonomy and independence emerges. This stage is Erik Erikson’s fifth stage of psychosocial development – the stage of identify achievement versus role confusion. Young people begin to get a sense of who they are through the roles they adopt, the kinds of relationships they are building with peers, and the beliefs they are having about their own potential. Adolescents gradually incorporate adult roles and responsibilities.

 Some of the major achievements in the psychosocial phase of development are outlined here:

1. Creating an Identity

At this stage, an adolescent strives to define their self in a new way by creating an identity that they could be comfortable with. Identity refers to an individual’s sense of uniqueness and belonging. According to Baumeister and Muraven (1996), identity is built on an integrated, goal directed understanding of self. Males emphasise intrapersonal identity, a sense of self as separate and unique. Females emphasise interpersonal identity, a sense of self as connected to others. Sexuality assumes a particularly important role in identity formation as heightened interest in the opposite sex develops According to Adams and Marshall (1996), achieving identity serves several purposes in the life of the adolescent, namely:

· Identity provides the structure for understanding who one is;

· Identity provides the meaning and direction in life through values and goals clarification;

· Identity provides a sense of personal control and freewill;

· Identity enables the recognition of potential through a sense of future perspectives and possibilities of choices in life.

Inability to achieve a sense of identity results to role diffusion. When this happens, the adolescent doubts their sexual identity, psychological identity and social identity. Behaviour problems such as acting out with sex, and experimenting with drugs and alcohol may manifest. School truancy, other delinquent behaviours and eventually, dropping out of school may follow.

2. Self-Concept and Self-Esteem

Self-concept refers to a person’s belief about their self. Self-esteem refers to feelings of self worth based on beliefs about self. Self-concept and self-esteem are tied to identity while self-concept becomes organised and more accurate at adolescence, self-esteem grows and

differentiates further.

3. Egocentricism

Adolescents develop increased self-consciousness. They harbour the belief that others are concerned with their looks as they themselves are. This increased self-awareness leads adolescents to begin to find faults with their parents and adult authority. They become argumentative and fight valiantly to defend their viewpoint. Popularity issue also becomes acute concern to adolescents.

4. Post-conventional Morality

Adolescents are able to base their moral judgement on an internal set of ethical principles. Moral judgement is determined by a belief in universal codes of respect, justice and equality for all. Self-sanctions, rather than social sanctions, are the controlling force in moral decisions at this stage.


Developmental Tasks

The transition adolescence in marked by new challenges. The spurt in cognitive abilities and social sensitivities is accompanied with new demands, especially as the adolescent moves toward greater independence. We outline below the major developmental tasks of the adolescent stage of development.

According to the University of Florado, Institute of Food and Agricultural Science (UF/IFAS) Fact Sheet FCS 2118 (2007), adolescence developmental tasks may be categorised as follows:

1. Achieving new and more mature relations with others, both boys and girls, in their age group

The goal here is that the adolescent is expected to learn to look upon girls as women and boys as men. They are expected to become adults among adults. They are expected to learn to work with others for a common purpose, disregarding personal feelings and prejudices.

Adolescents are expected to learn to lead without dominating.

2. Achieving a masculine or feminine social role

Adolescents are expected to master and accept a socially approved adult masculine or feminine social role. They are expected to develop their own definition of what it socially means to be a male or a female.

3. Accepting one’s physique and using the body effectively

Whether or not an adolescent’s body achieves the “goodness-of-fit” of the stereotype definition of a perfect body for a young woman or a young man, they are expected to become proud, or at least tolerant, of their body.

They are expected to accept, use and protect their body effectively with personal satisfaction.

4. Achieving emotional independence of parents and other adults

Adolescents are expected to be free from childish dependence on parents. While retaining their affection for parents, adolescents are expected to move toward self-reliance.

5. Selecting and preparing for an occupation

Adolescents are expected to select or enter into an occupational area for which they have necessary ability. To cut an adult status, the adolescent is expected to be able to support their self financially.

6. Preparing for marriage and family life

Adolescents are expected to develop a positive attitude toward family life and having and supporting children. They are expected to gain mastery of knowledge and skills required for home management, child rearing and parenting.

7. Developing intellectual skills and concept necessary for civic competence

Adolescents are expected to develop adequate conceptual framework, language skill and reasoning ability necessary for dealing effectively with the problems of the global community.

8. Acquiring a set of values and an ethical system as a guide to behaviour

Adolescents are expected to develop their own set of values and beliefs, an ideology about life. They are expected to develop reasonable interest and motivation for realizing those values.

Adolescents are expected to define man’s place in the physical world and relation to other human beings. They are expected to keep their worldview and values in harmony with each other.

9. Desiring and achieving socially responsible behaviour

Adolescents are expected to participate as responsible adults in the life of the community. They are expected to take account of the values of society in their personal behaviour.


Educational Implications

Adolescence, being the peak of all aspects of child development – physical, cognitive, psychosocial-- has several implications for the two key educational agencies, namely: the family and the school.

· Owing to the turmoil of the adolescent stage of development, there is need for sensitivity, patience, understanding and open communication on the part of teachers and parents, and indeed, other persons involved in the care of children this age.

· In early adolescence, children need help in adjusting to hormonal changes that tend to overwhelm them. In late adolescence, they need help in resolving problems relating to peer relationships, sexuality, identity and plans for future.

· Often, mood swings characterize adolescence. One strategy for combating mood swings is acquiring skills in an area of human endeavour, especially skills in sports. Adolescents need encouragement to actively participate in sports and physical exercises. Physical exercises help raise feelings of self-worth and general well-being.

· Factors relating to home experience (example, poverty, divorce, alcoholism) and school experiences (model of deviant behaviour) predispose adolescents to high risk behaviour. Poverty and adult delinquency are significant social and educational issues in Nigeria.

· Teenage pregnancy is a serious social, health and educational issues in Nigeria. Adolescents need a good deal of knowledge about their sexuality. There is need for schools to time both maturation and information about sexuality for adolescents.

· Much of thinking and problem-solving as a general habit of behaviour is facilitated or hindered by historical and cultural contexts. They develop in response to cultural demand for them.

There is need for schools to teach logic or thinking as method of approaching issues.

· Formal operational thought is a model of adult thought pattern. It does not represent the actual performance of adolescents at all occasions. Indeed, research evidence indicates that most adolescents and adults do not achieve formal operational thinking and remain concrete operational thinkers for life. The adolescent, therefore, needs special encouragement, stimulating home environment, enriched school experience and opportunities to encounter intellectual challenges to be able to reach formal level thought habit.

· In Nigeria today, the school curriculum is fragmented and regimented. Indeed, most schools base their instruction on examination syllabuses. This type of superficial arrangement of learning experiences does not encourage adolescents to do deep analysis of ideas and intellectual debate to push thinking beyond the concrete. There is need for a continuing debate for a rethink on secondary school curriculum in Nigeria.

· Many adolescents transit from school to work. The school should prepare them sufficiently to be able to make realistic career choice based on interests, attitudes, personality and future work opportunities.

· Adolescence coincides with a time important choices are made concerning schooling, career, worldview, lifestyle, social relationships and sexual activity. The choices adolescents make depend significantly on how they see themselves. Home and school experience should help children develop positive self-image.

· The physical appearance of adolescents sometimes misleads parents and teachers to perceive adolescents as adults. Actually, they are no adults. They still need a lot of room and opportunity to explore themselves and their world. Parents and teachers need to be aware of their needs and provide them with opportunities to grow into adult roles.

· As children move into adolescence, their quest for autonomy can create tensions, disagreements and conflicts with parents. There is need to renegotiate family roles and rules. Parents should show understanding and sensitivity.

· Identity is often discovered in social contexts of clubs, gangs, cliques and other groups. Adolescents should be encouraged to participate in school recognised clubs and associations. Schools are invited to expand the co-curricular activities to accommodate the interests of majority of students.

· The job market today demands increased education and specialised skills. The educational process should encourage the adolescent to stay on in school and attain higher education.

School should impress it on adolescents that better educated adults have a wider range of job opportunities, and ultimately, earn higher income.

The many developmental tasks facing adolescents are challenging.

Adolescents are testing independence. Sometimes, they make wrong decisions. At times, the interaction between parents, teachers and the adolescent may be challenging and uncertain. Sometimes, the pressure from society on the adolescent to become adult may be great.

Unfortunately, adults sometimes play discordant tunes. Adults may present faulty models and obstacles to growth. These problems are not insurmountable. Many adolescents undergo total personality reconstruction and come out fine adults.

What adolescents need is sensitivity, patience and open one-on-one communication on the part of parents, teachers and other agencies involved in the care of children of this age. Parents and adults need to provide a supportive environment for adolescents to search and explore their identity. When adolescents make wrong decisions, it is the duty of parents and teachers to turn such mistakes into opportunities that will enhance adolescents’ mastery of life skills.

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