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Adolescent Growth and Development. Angela Huebner, Ph.D. Associate Professor Department of Human Development Virginia Tech [email protected] 703.538-8491 February 7, 2008. Period of Adolescence. Rapid growth Interaction of physical, psychological, and environmental factors

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Adolescent growth and development

Adolescent Growth and Development

Angela Huebner, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

Department of Human Development

Virginia Tech

[email protected]


February 7, 2008

Period of adolescence
Period of Adolescence

  • Rapid growth

  • Interaction of physical, psychological, and environmental factors

  • Off timing of systems (Dahl, 2004)

    • Puberty

    • Physical growth

    • Emotion and behavior regulation

  • Importance of understanding interaction of all the systems;

  • Transitions all occur sequentially but not necessarily at the same time

Source: Cooperative Extension System

Extension "CARES" for America's Children and Youth Initiative

March, 2001

What s the big deal
What’s the Big Deal?

  • Adolescent morbidity

    • Health Paradox (Dahl, 2004):

      • Developmental period of strength and resilience both physically and cognitively

      • Yet, morbidity & mortality rates increase 200%



I. Physical Development

II. Cognitive Development

III. Psycho-Social Development

I physical development
I. Physical Development

  • Height & Weight Changes

  • Secondary Sex Characteristics

  • Continued Brain Development

Rapid gains in height weight
Rapid Gains in Height & Weight

  • 4.1 to 3.5 inches per year

  • Girls mature about 2 years earlier than boys

  • Weight gain = muscles for boys; fat for girls

Secondary sex characteristics
Secondary Sex Characteristics:

  • Pubic hair

  • Menarche or penis growth

  • Voice changes for boys

  • Underarm hair

  • Facial hair growth for boys

  • Increased production of oil, sweat glands, acne

Continued brain development
Continued Brain Development

  • Not completely developed until late adolescence

  • Emotional, physical and mental abilities incomplete

  • May explain why some seem inconsistent in controlling emotions, impulses, and judgements

Understanding the adolescent brain
Understanding the Adolescent Brain

  • Advances in brain imaging allow for better understanding of what occurs

  • Evidence for frontal lobe delays Inability to delay gratification; impulse control

  • Suggestion that puberty represents a period of synaptic reorganization and as a consequence the brain might be more sensitive to experiential input at this period of time in the realm of executive function and social cognition

  • Prefrontal cortex of interest

  • (Blakemore & Choudhury, 2006)

Brain developmental changes
Brain: Developmental Changes

  • Synaptogenesis: proliferation of synapses

  • Myelinazation: insulation around synapses

  • Synaptic pruning: frequently used connections are strengthened, infrequently used connections are eliminated

(Blakemore & Choudhury, 2006)

How do these change affect teens
How do these change affect teens?

  • Usually studied as decision making (Steinberg, 2004)

    • In lab: similarities in adolescent & adult decision making processes

  • Adolescents are uniquely vulnerable to risk taking

    • Novelty & sensation seeking increase dramatically at puberty

    • Development of self-regulation lags behind

  • Risk taking as group behavior (Steinberg, 2004)

How do these changes affect teens
How Do These Changes Affect Teens?

  • Frequently sleep longer - 9 1/2 hours

  • May be more clumsy because of growth spurts-body parts grow at different rates

  • Girls may become sensitive about weight - 60% trying to lose weight

  • 1-3% have eating disorder

How do these changes affect teens1
How Do These Changes Affect Teens?

  • Concern if not physically developing at same rate as peers - need to “fit” in (early vs. late maturation)

  • Feel awkward about showing affection to opposite sex parent

  • Ask more direct questions about sex - trying to figure out values around sex

What can adults do
What Can Adults Do?

  • Expect inconsistency in responsibility taking and in decision making

  • Provide opportunities for “safe” risk taking

  • Avoid criticizing/comparing to others

  • Encourage enough sleep

  • Encourage/model healthy eating

  • Encourage/model activity

  • Provide honest answers about sex

Ii cognitive development
II. Cognitive Development

  • Advanced Reasoning Skills

  • Abstract Thinking Skills

  • Meta-Cognition

Beginning to gain advanced reasoning skills
Beginning to Gain Advanced Reasoning Skills

  • Options

  • Possibilities

  • Logical

  • Hypothetically

  • What if?

Think abstractly
Think Abstractly

  • Can take others’ perspective

  • Can think about non-concrete things like faith, trust, beliefs, and spirituality

Ability to think about thinking
Ability to Think About Thinking

  • Meta-cognition

  • Think about how they feel and what they are thinking

  • Think about how they think they are perceived by others

  • Can develop strategies for improving their learning

How do these changes affect teens2
How Do These Changes Affect Teens?

  • Heightened self-consciousness

  • Believes no one else has experienced feelings/emotions

  • Tend to become cause-oriented

  • Tend to exhibit a “justice orientation”

  • “It can’t happen to me” syndrome

What can adults do1

Don’t take it personally when teens discount experience

Discuss their behavior rules/consequences

Provide opportunities for community service

Ask teens their view and share own

What Can Adults Do?

Iii psycho social development
III. Psycho-Social Development

  • Establishing identity

  • Establishing autonomy

  • Establishing intimacy

  • Become comfortable with one’s sexuality

  • Achievement

Establishing identity
Establishing Identity

  • Erikson (1959): identity vs. identity diffusion

  • Integrates opinions of other into own likes/dislikes—needs interactions with diverse others for this to occur

  • Outcome is clear sense of values, beliefs, occupational goals, and relationship expectations

  • Secure identities-knows where they fit

Identity exploration process








Identity Exploration Process:







Marcia (1966)

Establishing autonomy
Establishing Autonomy

  • Becoming independent and self-governing within relationships

  • Make and follow through with decisions

  • Live with own set of principles of right/wrong

  • Less emotionally dependent on parents

Establishing intimacy
Establishing Intimacy

  • Learns intimacy and sex not same thing

  • Learned within context of same-sex friendships; then in romantic relationships

  • Develops close, open, honest, caring, and trusting relationships

  • Learn to begin, maintain, and terminate relationships; practice social skills, and become intimate from friends

Becoming comfortable with one s sexuality
Becoming Comfortable with One’s Sexuality

  • How educated/exposed to sexuality largely determines if healthy sexual identity develops

  • More than half high school students are sexually active

  • Mixed messages contribute to teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases

Predictors of sexual activity
Predictors of Sexual Activity

  • Having a steady boy/girlfriend

  • Using alcohol regularly

  • Having parents with permissive values about sex

  • Being worried about one’s future occupational success

  • Implication: focus on more than one risk factor


  • Society fosters and values attitudes of competition and success

  • Can see relationship between abilities, plans, aspirations

  • Need to determine achievement preferences, what good at, and areas willing to strive for success

How do these changes affect teens3
How Do These Changes Affect Teens?

  • More time with friends

  • May keep a journal

  • More questions about sexuality

  • Begin to lock bedroom door

  • Involved in multiple hobbies/clubs

  • More argumentative

  • Interact with parents as people

What can adults do2
What Can Adults Do?

  • Encourage involvement in groups

  • Praise for efforts and abilities

  • Help explore career goals and options

  • Help set guidelines/consequences

  • Establish rituals for significant passages

  • Know friends and what they are doing

  • Provide structured environment/clear expectations