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    Adolescence Physical, Cognitive and Emotional Stages of Development 

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    “The science of human development seeks to understand how and why people of all ages and circumstances change or remain the same over time” (Berger, 2016, p. 4). One developmental stage, adolescence, identified as the transitional stage from early childhood into adulthood is marked by many significant changes in physical, cognitive, and emotional development.

    Physical Development

    Puberty marks the onset of many physical changes during adolescence. It’s the “rapid physical and sexual maturation that ends childhood, producing a person of adult size, shape and sexuality” (Berger, 2016, p. 315). The beginning of puberty commences between ages 8 to 14 and culminates 3 to 5 years from onset (Berger, 2016). Initially, puberty begins with hormonal changes before any observable physical changes occur. These changes are triggered by the pituitary gland and hypothalamus. The adrenal glands and sex glands begin to mature by releasing hormones into the bloodstream. During this time testes and ovaries, also referred to as gonads, are activated by a surge in hormones and increase in size and development. The testes primarily release testosterone and the ovaries mainly release estrogen until sexual maturation is met (

    Following these rapid hormonal changes, females begin to develop many observable physical characteristics. Breast maturation and nipple size begins to increase, followed by pubic hair growth and changes in body shape (peak growth spurt and widening of hips). Girls experience menarche, “a girls’ first menstrual period, signaling that she has begun ovulation” (Berger, 2016). “Pregnancy is now biologically possible, but ovulation and menstruation are often irregular for years after menarche” (Berger, 2016, p. 316). Average age of menarche for girls is about 12 years and 4 months (Berger, 2016).

    Comparatively, the observable changes for boys begins with growth of the testes and penis. Followed by spermarche, which is the first ejaculation of sperm, in addition to many other physical changes. Facial hair development begins, proceeded by a peak growth spurt, and the voice deepens as the larynx grows. Finally, pubic hair and beard- pattern begin to activate. Boys experience spermarche slightly later than girls at just under age 13 (Berger, 2016).

    The rapid growth spurt in height and weight is another significant physical change during adolescence. The first place to grow are the extremities, fingers and toes, then hands and feet, followed by arms and legs and finally, the torso. Since the body tends to grow in this non-uniform way, adolescent bodies may seem out of proportion during this transition (Berger, 2016).

    Once the growth spurt begins, appetite increases, adolescents gain weight and fat distribution changes. For instance, girls develop more fatty tissue in the hips, thighs, and buttocks; whereas boys tend to gain their weight in muscle. “By age, 17 the average girl has twice the percentage body fat as her male classmate” (Berger, 2016, p. 322). The height and weight growth phase is followed by a muscle growth phase which follows a similar rapid development path as prior phases. As muscle mass increases, weight gained during the earlier stages of puberty dissipates by late adolescence (Berger, 2016).

    Puberty also marks a shift in the body’s circulatory and respiratory systems as internal organs begin to increase in size and capacity. The lungs triple in weight, allowing inhalation and exhalation to become deeper and slower (Berger, 2016). “The heart doubles in size as the heartbeat slows, decreasing the pulse rate while increasing blood pressure” (Berger, 2016, p. 322). During this stage endurance increases, which allows for many teens to engage in physical activity for longer periods of time. This may also be attributed to the fact that red blood cells increase allowing for more oxygen to be transported during exercise (Berger 2016).

    Cognitive Development

    As middle-age children migrate toward adolescence, their cognitive development improves rapidly. According to Jean Piaget’s cognitive theory of development, adolescents have now moved on from the concrete operational stage and into the formal operational stage of development (Berger, 2016).

    During the formal operational stage, adolescents begin to develop a more complex, abstract way of thinking. They engage in what is known as hypothetical thought. “Reasoning that includes propositions and possibilities that do not reflect reality” (Berger, 2016, p. 332). At this stage, kids can answer “what if” statements without the need of a concrete object being present. In other words, mental operations can be performed under abstract conditions. For example, “if you can imagine something made up of two quantities, and the whole thing remains the same when one quantity is increased, what happens to the second quantity” (Cherry, 2018)? “This type of reasoning can be done without thinking about actual objects” (Cherry, 2018).

    Once adolescents acquire the ability to think abstractly and hypothetically, they can understand deductive reasoning, also known as top-down reasoning. “Deductive-reasoning begins with an abstract idea or premise and then uses logic to draw specific conclusions” (Berger, 2016 p. 332). An example of deductive reasoning would be, “All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore, Socrates is mortal”(”. This demonstrates a general premise led to a specific conclusion.

    Emotional Development

    Adolescence is also a period of personal and social ¬identity formation which becomes extremely important during puberty. Erik Erikson’s psychosocial development theory calls this crisis identity versus role confusion (Berger 2016). Adolescents are constantly trying to figure out “who they are?” and “who they want to be?” According to Erikson, finding your own identity is resolved through identity achievement, “when adolescents have reconsidered the goals and values of their parents and culture, accepting some and discarding others, forgiving their own identity” (Berger, 2016 p. 351).

    James Marcia, a researcher that extended Erikson’s work described four ways to measure how adolescents deal with the identity crisis. They are role confusion, foreclosure, moratorium, and identity achievement (Berger 2016).

    Role confusion, also referred to as identity diffusion ¬represents a low level of exploration and a low level of commitment (Oswalt, 2010). These adolescents have not established an identity nor a commitment to any goals or values. Those stuck in role confusion identity status have no focus or concern for future life plans.

    The second identity status, foreclosure represents a low degree of exploration but a high level of commitment (Oswalt 2010). To avoid confusion, adolescents accept the beliefs and values of their family, community, and culture. For instance, if a young man decided to attend the same college as his dad and grandfather without exploring other options would be an example of foreclosure.

    The third identity status, moratorium, represents a high degree of exploration but a low level of commitment (Oswalt, 2010). A person in this stage may commit to a certain area of interest but only for a specific timeframe. For instance, “a high school student may decide to play in a band but will not make it a lifelong career” (Berger, 2016 p. 352).”

    Lastly, the fourth identity status is identity achievement which represents a high degree of exploration and a high level of commitment. “Adolescents are said to have achieved their identity by a process of active exploration and strong commitment to a particular set of values, beliefs, and life goals” (Oswalt, 2010) Adolescents in this status carefully explore their options by prioritizing what is utmost important to make pertinent life decisions with confidence.

    In conclusion, adolescence represents one of the most influential stages in human development. From the onset of puberty, children undergo many monumental physical, cognitive and emotional changes as they make the transition from middle-childhood to adulthood.

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