What are the Three Stages of Adolescence?


What Are the Three Stages of Adolescence?

There are three stages of adolescence, which include early adolescence (10 to 13 years), middle adolescence (14 to 17 years), and late adolescence/young adulthood (18 to 21 years and beyond).

Adolescence is the time in a young person’s life when they transition from childhood into young adulthood and experience physical, behavioral, cognitive, emotional, and social developmental changes. 

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.

There are three primary developmental stages of adolescence:

1. Early adolescence (10 to 13 years)

2. Middle adolescence (14 to 17 years)

3. Late adolescence/young adulthood (18 to 21 years and beyond)


1. Early adolescence (10 to 13 years)

a. Puberty begins in this stage

b. Children experience considerable physical growth and increased sexual interest

c. Body changes such as hair growth under the arms and near the genitals, breast development in females and enlargement of the testicles in males, starts to occur

d. These changes can start as early as age 8 for females and age nine for males

e. Girls may start their period around age 12

f. Body changes can cause both curiosity and anxiety

g. Children may question their gender identity during this stage, and it can be a challenging time for transgender children

Cognitive development at this stage

a. Adolescents at this stage tend to have concrete, black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking and a limited capacity for abstract thought

b. Thinking may be egocentric, and children this age may be self-conscious about their appearance and apprehensive about being judged by their peers

c. Intellectual interests expand, and early adolescents develop deeper moral thinking 

Pre-teens also feel an increased need for privacy

a. They explore how to be independent from their family and may push boundaries and react strongly when limits are enforced.


2. Middle adolescence (14 to 17 years)

a. Puberty changes for both males and females continue.

b. Males may have a growth spurt and some voice cracking as their voices lower.

c. Physical growth for females slows and most have regular menstrual periods by this time.

d. Interest in romantic and sexual relationships may start and teens may question and explore their sexual identity; masturbation may be a part of this sexual exploration and getting to know their body.

e. Arguments with parents may increase as teens strive for more independence.

f. Less time is spent with family and more time is spent with friends.

g. Teens become more self-involved, appearances are important, and peer pressure can peak at this stage.

h. The brain continues to mature and there is a growing capacity for abstract thought, though emotions often drive decision-making and they may act on impulse without thinking things through.

i.  During this stage, children may start to set long-term goals and become interested in the meaning of life and moral reasoning.


3. Late adolescence/young adulthood (18 to 21 years and beyond)

a. This phase usually encompasses less physical development and more cognitive developments.

b. Most have grown to their full adult height.

c. In this stage, young people become able to think about ideas rationally, have impulse control and can delay gratification, and plan for the future.

d. They have a stronger sense of identity and individuality and can identify their own values.

e. They also experience increased independence, emotional stability, stability in friendships and romantic relationships, and may also establish an “adult relationship” with parents, looking to them less as authority figures and more as peers.


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.

Adolescence developmental tasks may be categorized 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 behavior

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 behavior.



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