Sunday, January 27, 2008

Physical and Social Development of Adolescents

By Sudipa Sarkar

From both cultural and sociological perspective, adolescence period is considered as a transitional standardized human developmental phase, which is crucially important to every human identity and society as a whole. According to WHO1, the adolescence period is defined within the time period of 10 years to 19 years (Goodburn & Rose, 1995). During this period of time, an individual is going through dramatic changes concerning his or her physiological as well as psychological health. The adolescents, during their course of development, faces various developmental challenges and conflicts that they need to resolve in order to move forward through their path of development. This paper aims at exploring different issues related to physical and social development of adolescents and the impact of those developmental changes on them.
Physical Development

The adolescence period is featured by dramatic physiological changes that in practice leading them to move forward from a child to an adult. Hence, adolescence period is a transitional period, where an individual reaches to the physical maturity. This period distinguishes among males and females quite evidently by developing sexual characteristics, however, the secondary sexual characteristics become visible during prepubescent period.
In the prepubescent period, a female may begin to develop her breast buds around the age of 8 years, which take the mature shape with full breast development during late adolescent phase. Apart from that, public hair growth – armpit and leg – has been observed during 9 to 10 years, where the distribution pattern becomes prevalent at the age of 13 to 14 years. Another significant physical change occurs in adolescent females with the menarche2. In general, the menarche occurs after 2 years of prepubescent changes. A female may undergo menarche at early at the age of 10 years and as late as 15 years.
However, the puberty is not identified with a sudden onset of pubertal changes in case of males, as it happens with females with menstrual changes. In case of males, the scrotal and testicular changes occur during 9 years of age along with a lengthening of penis size, whereas it reaches to its adult size around 15 - 16 years of age. Public hair growth in the areas of armpit, leg and face is noted at the age of 12 years, whereas it reaches to its adult distribution at the age of 15 to 16 years. The occurrence of nocturnal emissions3 in around every 2 weeks interval consisting of seminal fluid may define the onset of puberty among male adolescents. This typically occurs during the age of 13 years to 17 years.

A contemporaneous brisk of growth in height is noticed between ages of around 10.5 to 11 years and 16 to 18 years, with a peak period characterized around the age of 14 years. Another significant change in males occurs with the changes in voice which is usually parallel to penile development, whereas the occurrence of nocturnal emissions corresponds with the peak period of height spurt.
Social Development
The radical and dynamic changes both at physical and psychological level throughout the adolescent period make it typically distinct from other phases of development. An adolescent, irrespective of gender, experiences an individualized form of self consciousness, sensitivity about the surrounding environment and an increased concern over one’s own body image along with excruciating evaluation between own self and peers.
An important aspect of the psychosocial development contributing to the adolescence period is adolescent egocentrism. According to Elkind (1967), adolescent egocentrism includes a belief system carried by adolescents that makes them to consider as special and unique which is accompanied with the accomplishment of new psychological abilities. Adolescent egocentrism is characterized with an imaginary audience with an increased self consciousness. Adolescents consider that their people in their surrounding areas, especially peers, observe their activities, appearance as well as they possess an increased interest in their thoughts and behavior. Adolescents assume as they are spending a considerable amount of time on thinking about themselves, so they consider that other peoples are doing the same thing. They are unable to realize that despite of their own interest about themselves, other individuals are hardly aligned to that extent. According to Elkind, this phenomenon occurs due to early formal operational thought4. However, there is an existing debate in establishing relationship among early formal operational thought and emergence of adolescent egocentrism. While some researchers agree about the correlation among these two factors (Hudson and Gray, 1986; Riley, Adams, and Nielsen, 1984), the others do not (Jahnke and Blanchard-Fields, 1993; Lapsley, Milsread, Quintana, Flannery, and Buss, 1986).
Inadequate information regarding the physiological changes during puberty leads both the male and female adolescents experiencing anxiousness regarding their changes especially in relation to nocturnal emissions and menarche respectively. The initial societal changes occur with the increased preference of mixing around peer group with a reduced interest of staying closer to parental figures. Typically, at the toddler period a child experiences separation from parents, this eventually materializes during adolescent period with a typical increasing involvement with peer group. As a result of social development the relationship among an adolescent and his or her parents has been changed dynamically, however, shift of the primary mode of interaction governing the adolescent’s world from family to peers does not alleviate the significance of the family in the adolescent’s life. The close interpersonal relationship within family structure has been corroborated as the most significant defensive aspect that contributes against specific high-risk behaviors like smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, and premature commencement of sexual intercourse (Resnick, Bearman & Blum, et. al. 1997).
According to Erickson (1959), the adolescent phase is characterized with the crisis of Identity versus Role Confusion, as described in his psychosocial theory of human development. He described that an adolescent is getting typically concerned about how they appear to others. Despite searching and establishing for own identity at this stage, most of the males and females are centrally associated with a typical level of role confusion such as minor delinquency, rebellion, self-doubt as well, which in turn, actually motivates them to move forward throughout the continuum of development for establishing their own identity and to reach at next level of development.
During their psychosocial developmental phase, as Erickson believes, if an adolescent successfully resolves the conflicts encountered in earlier developmental levels, his or her mature perspective will be developed accordingly with an acquirement of self-certainty as opposed to self consciousness and self doubt. The adolescent typically experiment with different constructive roles preferred over negative identity. A successful adolescence is characterized by with an increase in social network along with anticipation about achievement for own action rather than being paralyzed with feelings of negative identity and inferiority complex. The adolescent is typically looking for leadership5 and an ability to develop a set of ideals in the due course of time, which is socially congruent and desirable for those adolescents who successfully resolve their sets of developmental conflicts. Psychosocial moratorium is a phenomenon that is characterized with the phase at which a typical adolescent is just free to defer on delay taking commitment as an adult in order to play new social roles.

If the discussion of this paper does not entail another ingredient of human development including how an individual encounters with moral dilemmas during their various developmental phases, the paper seems to be incomplete. The moral development is a crucial chapter of a human being’s life that has a significant influence over social development as well. The theory of moral development (Kohlberg, 1981) as proposed by Lawrence Kohlberg illustrates the constitution of moral reasoning with six identifiable developmental stages, which is categorized under three levels with 2 stages under each level of development. Among these stages, stage 3 under level 2 specifically corresponds with the adolescent developmental stage, characterized as ‘Interpersonal accord and conformity’. At this stage, as described by Kohlberg, adolescents typically align with living according to expectations of the family and community and behave in a ‘good’ manner. Good behavior implies possessing good motives characterized with interpersonal feelings such as love, empathy, trust and concern for others. At this phase, an individual typically acts corresponding to their feelings that they find aligned with ‘good’ and opposed to ‘bad’, whatever be the significance or consequences associated at the end of the event. They are after satisfying their own interpersonal feelings on the basis of their love, empathy, trust and concern for others.

An adolescent is a wonderful individual in familial context – he or she is neither a child nor an adult and the opposite is true as well, that is, the adolescent is a complex blend of child and adult. Adolescence is a crucial phase of human development in terms of having a significant influence over the individual concerned as well as family and community. Hence, it is very important for every individual to understand the dynamism associated with this transitional phase of development as happened with physical, social, cognitive, moral and emotional level that profoundly affect the adolescent’s perception. It is also critically imperative to understand how this transition mutually influences the family of the adolescents in relation to the support available throughout the developmental continuum.
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