We explain what adolescence is and the physical changes that occur at this stage. Also, its general characteristics, risks and more.

What is adolescence?

Adolescence is the period of human development immediately after childhood and prior to adulthood , during which the major biological, sexual, social, and psychological changes occur that will result in a mature individual. The beginning of adolescence is the entry of the individual to puberty.

Although the margins of beginning and end of adolescence vary according to the individual, the trends registered by the World Health Organization show an average range of adolescence between 10 and 19 years , which is inserted within the period of youth , which in turn includes the period between 10 and 24 years.

Adolescence, according to other authors, can extend until 21 or even 25 years of age.

Characteristics of adolescence :

  1. Stages

Adolescence is estimated to comprise two distinct stages:

  • Early adolescence Signed by the onset of puberty and the first physical changes that affect the sexual and biological maturation of the individual, it ranges from 10 or 11 years (in some cases from 9) to 14 or 15.
  • Late adolescence. It extends from 14 or 15 years to 19 or 20, and usually implies a gradual and increasing entry into adulthood, with the gradual appearance of the psychic and emotional characteristics that it entails.

  1. Sexual maturation

Sexual maturation

In both sexes, the entry into puberty triggers hormonal torrents that have a direct impact on the development of secondary sexual characteristics, identifiers of sexual roles in the species. The appearance of pubic and body hair (and facial in men) usually continues at this first stage of the process.

Other fundamental changes concern the activation of the reproductive system and the awakening of libido . This consists of the generation of sperm and seminal fluids in the male, experimentation of the first nocturnal pollutions, as well as growth of the testicles and thickening of the penis.

In women, this implies the beginning of the menstrual cycle and growth of the mammary glands , as well as important variations in the vaginal bacterial flora and development of the Bartholin's glands, which are responsible for vaginal secretions. Finally, a thickening of the labia minora and hymen is experienced (in those women who are born endowed with it).

  1. Other physical changes

Other physical changes

Growth is notoriously accelerated during the early adolescent years, during which childhood stature is dropped and the skeleton grows at its maximum rate for 3 to 4 consecutive years . Total growth is estimated to be about 8cm in women and about 10cm in men. Then growth begins a gradual process of deceleration as the bones acquire their final size.

In terms of weight, there is also a notable increase, a greater trend in women than in men, given the increase in body fat that implies the growth of the breasts and the widening of the hips . After the growth process is complete, however, males will be heavier than females.

On the other hand, muscle growth is proportional to the stretching of the skeleton , and they are a determining factor in increasing muscle strength. The heart and lungs, especially in men, increase their systolic capacity and blood pressure.

Teething is also completed , reaching the full denture with the second molars and wisdom teeth.

Finally, the thickening of the vocal cords in men , as well as the mandibular reinforcement, is as characteristic of this stage as the appearance of the "nut" in the throat, which is nothing more than the widening of the thyroid cartilage in its anterior part. .

These physical changes of adolescence, however, must be understood in the context of the individual's social, genetic, nutritional and ethnic conditions, which are equally decisive.

  1. Identity formation

Identity formation

During adolescence, the beginning of the formation of individual identity and personality will also take place , to the extent that the young person discovers and assumes their individual autonomy. This is based on the ability to choose, since during childhood his main affections (paternal and family) have not been chosen by him, but given in advance.

Thus, social maturation begins to occur during this stage , in which the adolescent "tries" different models of belonging and community , often organized into tribes or bands that provide a sense of community. The entry into adulthood, on the other hand, will mark the abandonment of these groups and the undertaking of a life model much more marked by individual desire.

  1. Emotionality

Adolescence is a key stage in the formation of a mature emotionality , but in the meantime it is often a difficult and tumultuous stage. And while it is difficult to summarize the possible concerns that accompany it, broadly speaking, a certain polarity is expected of an adolescent in the management of their emotions , which leads to irritability, untimely enthusiasm, shyness and insecurity, and a fluctuating range of emotions that they often tend to be sad.

Hence, adolescence is a period that requires support and family care , as well as tolerance and, in general, enormous amounts of patience.

  1. Cultural traditions

Cultural traditions

The entry into adolescence is usually a reason for ritual celebration in different cultures , as a form of initiation to adulthood or the beginning of a new life cycle, called passage rituals .

Examples of this are the fiesta de los quince, traditional in many Hispanic countries , in which young women are introduced to society : a custom inherited from times when once menstruation started, the girls were already worthy of being married. Something similar occurs with the Jewish tradition, in which young men of 13 and girls of 12 are considered adults, through a rite called Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah , respectively.

  1. Risk factor's

Risk factor's

Given the instabilities and pressures that are intrinsic to it, adolescence is an important stage of vulnerability and risk . So much so that, contrary to the infant mortality rate, the adolescent increases as the years progress.

The main risks to which an adolescent is exposed vary according to the society in which he is, obviously, but they usually involve suicide attempts, drug addictions or early pregnancy , eating disorders, as well as exposure to sexually transmitted diseases ( especially HIV / AIDS) or criminal or highly risky behavior. To this must be added the possibility of abuse by adults.

Precocious pregnancy is, of all of them, perhaps the most alarming in underdeveloped societies and in impoverished strata, where sex education and access to contraceptives are difficult. In 2009 it was estimated, according to the WHO, that some 16 million adolescents between 16 and 19 years of age gave birth each year.

  1. Media and social influences

The adolescent's behavior is strongly influenced by the socialization mechanisms to which they have access, such as the family, formal education and social groups , from which they acquire their way of relating to society and with themselves.

In this sense, the media play an important role in shaping the adolescent psyche, since it usually lacks the experience and maturity to deal with the pressures and expectations of propaganda and television culture.

The margins of adolescent anorexia, for example, are highly linked to aesthetic canons promulgated from mass culture, and their responsibility for many of the riskier adolescent behaviors has often been debated.

The education , both formal and affective and emotional support and have clear roles and positive life , are often the only effective strategies in social and emotional protection of the adolescent. However, it is a topic in constant debate in modern societies.

  1. Adolescents and new technologies

Adolescents and new technologies

It is estimated that the high availability of the technologies informative of the XXI Century ( Internet , Smartphones, etc.) in the adolescent audience can become a risk factor if they are not properly channeled.

The cell phone, for example , represents a device in high demand during this stage, with availability margins of almost 100% in most industrialized countries.

Addiction to social networks or video games, isolation, the cyberbullying , exposure to strangers and intimate relationships premature, not to mention networks trafficking are some of the drawbacks presented often in the adolescent stage by indiscriminate use of this type of digital tools. Many of which tend to become real physical, psychological or socialization problems.

  1. Adolescence in art

The adolescent has traditionally been the subject of numerous artistic and literary representations . Especially in pictorial art, which has seen in the adolescent's body a symbol of incipient beauty and the awakening of sensuality; or in literature , through the so-called training novels (or bildungsroman ) where the individual development of an adolescent is narrated as he discovers his individuality and has his first love experiences.

It could well be said that the adolescent has served, in artistic terms, as a symbol of the human in his learning to live in a world that precedes him.

The above content published at Collaborative Research Group is for informational and educational purposes only and has been developed by referring reliable sources and recommendations from experts. We do not have any contact with official entities nor do we intend to replace the information that they emit.


Luke is passionate about fostering student involvement and connection. He studied psychology for his major and likes learning about the past. Luke aims to specialize in artificial intelligence and cybersecurity. .

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