All About Teens: The Five Characteristics of Adolescence

Teen Patrick Buck/Unsplash

Adolescence is a stage in everyone's life that bridges the gap between childhood and becoming an adult. There are three main phases: According to HealthyChildren.org, early adolescence from age 10 to 13, middle adolescence from age 14 to 17 and late adolescence from age 18 to 21 and older. In each of these phases, your brain and body undergo many changes, many of which impact the way you relate to the world. Throughout the stages of adolescence, there are five key characteristics that emerge.

Biological Growth and Development 

Starting anywhere from age 10 to 13, children start growing quickly. Growth spurts and hormonal changes continue throughout the phases of adolescence. Girls develop breasts and boys may develop enlarged testicles. The growth of body hair begins and other changes like cracking voices, acne and menstruation drive an increasing need for privacy for many pre-teens and teens. 

At the same time, there are many changes taking place in the brain. Early adolescents tend to have black-and-white thinking while the ability to make complex decisions, consider options and consequences, and control impulses continues developing throughout adolescence as the front lobe continues to develop, a stage that continues until around age 25 according to the University of Rochester Medical Center

Having an Undefined Status

Adolescents typically aren’t clear on their social expectations. Some people treat them more like adults. Others treat them more like children. Different people treat them differently and have different expectations. Moreover, puberty and development occurs at a different rate in individuals, which can add to insecurities and embarrassment.

Some adults are critical of teen culture, others praise it. The murkiness continues as they gain privileges like being able to drive (and even marry in some states) at 16, vote at 18 and consume alcohol at 21. 

Making More Decisions

As adolescents mature, they’re faced with making their own decisions more and more without the influence of their parents. Socially they may have to decide whether to engage in risky behavior or involve themselves in fights. They're increasingly required to interpret social cues and control their impulses. It can be challenging as the adolescent brain is still maturing, as noted by the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

Facing More Pressure

Unlike the more carefree days of childhood, adults have increasing expectations for how adolescents should behave. During this decade-long phase during which individuals are struggling to become their own people, they also experience more expectations, especially in the fast-paced world we live in. They're expected to do well in school and start figuring out what they want to do with their lives. 

Adolescents also often work to earn extra spending money, which requires a delicate balance to still have enough time to spend time with friends and family and have fun. Additionally, many teens experience an increase in peer pressure. As they're growing their social connections, they also have to keep up with what their friends are doing and may be faced with tough choices about whether to drink, try drugs or engage in sexual behavior.

The Search for Self

The exploration of identity can extend for a lifetime. During adolescence, many teens start establishing their priorities, creating norms and trying to figure out who they are. Adolescents commonly work through their search for identity by rebelling from authority, identifying with idols they want to be more like, joining cliques, engaging in taboo behaviors that make them feel more adult and using status symbols to express their identity.

How Parents Can Support Adolescents

Helping a teen navigate through the sometimes choppy waters of adolescents isn’t always easy. Providing support through the transition can strengthen the parent-child bond and help minimize battles. The Cleveland Clinic recommends giving adolescents undivided attention when they want to speak. Remain calm and try to understand his or her point of view. Understanding the feelings underneath the behavior and trying to avoid making judgements can go a long way in establishing an open relationship.