Adolescent Physical & Cognitive Development

The nature of Adolescence

Puberty marks the beginning of adolescence with considerable growth spurts of the body and brain myelinization along with the development of secondary sex characteristics

Brain and the The Endocrine System stimulate increases in sex hormones (Testosterone and estrogen) to facilitate these changes, giving rise to rapid physical changes.

Changes occur in a primary fashion (e.g., growth of the penis, menstruation) as well as secondary (e.g., growth of pubic hair, development of breasts, voice)

While dramatic changes occur in both height and weight, the timing is different for boys versus girls

During early adolescence girls tend to outweigh boys, but by about age 14 boys begin to surpass girls.

HPG axis (hypothalamus–pituitary gland–gonads) is the pathway through which the hypothalamus (Limbic Brain) stimulates the Pituitary (master) glad to release hormones (folical stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinization hormone (LH) to stimulate and controls growth of  gonads (testes) in males and ovaries in females and further release of sex hormones

Menarche occurs for girls providing them with their first menstruation which tends to come later in the pubertal cycle

Low body weight can delay menarche while obesity triggers menarche early.

Stress can also initiate the physical changes associated with puberty where higher income and single-parent families predicts earlier menarche, consistent with evidence that father absence predicts early menarche.

Adolescents become preoccupied with their changing bodies and come to develop.

Self-images of what their bodies are like. Generally becoming more positive with age. Early and late maturing adolescents perceive themselves different from their peers

Early-maturing boys perceive themselves more positively and tend to have more successful peer relations than late-maturing boys.

Late-maturing boys, however, develop a stronger sense of identity than the early-maturing boys  when they reach their 30s.

Early-maturing girls are more prone to start smoking, drinking alcohol, experiencing depression, having eating disorder, earlier independence, and earlier sexual experiences .


The brain

Adolescents’ brains undergo significant structural changes where the corpus callosum thickens allowing for greater flow of information across the hemispheres and better information processing

Their limbic system (emotions) matures before than prefrontal cortex making adolescents more emotional without the executive control that comes with a fully formed PFC .

Adolescent sexuality

Sexual Identity formation occurs during this time where adolescents come to develop sexual feelings and interest.
It involves activities, interests, styles of behaviour, indication of sexual orientation.  
The Gender Bread Person

Many adolescents not emotionally prepared for sexual experiences however the percentage of sexually active young adolescents is higher among low-income areas of inner cities rather than in the suburbs.

A study found that adolescent males who play sports show higher level of sexual risk-taking while adolescent females who play sports show a lower level

Infants born to adolescent mothers more likely have low birth weights, neurological problems and childhood illness.

Education programs that emphasize contraceptive knowledge do not increase the incidence of sexual intercourse and but more likely to reduce the risk of adolescent pregnancy and STIs 

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Adolescent Health

Early obesity is on the rise and has long-term health implications

Regular exercise in adolescence has many positive benefits such as reduced triglyceride levels, lower blood pressure, and a lower incidence of type 2 diabetes .

Adolescents tend to enage in exercise activities as influenced by their parents, peer relationships, screen-based activities.

There is growing evidence that most adolescents get less sleep than they need (for body growth and weight maintenance, memory and other cognitive factors) and that their circadian rhythm differs from that of both children and adults where biological clocks shift in these years bringing a delay in their period of wakefulness by about an hour. 

Substance use

A recent study revealed that the onset of alcohol use before age 11 was linked to a higher risk for alcohol dependence in early adulthood.

Parental monitoring has been linked to lower incidence of problem behaviour by adolescents, including substance abuse and the strongests predictors of substance use is one's peer relations.

Eating Disorders are all to common, most likely to involve:

Anorexia nervosa  - is an eating disorder that involves the relentless pursuit of thinness through starvation and an over concern of body image and obsession with food. This disorder is associated wtih obessive compulsive disoder.

Bulimia nervosa  - is and eating disorder where individual goes through cycles of a binge-and-purge pattern, invovling self-inducing vomiting or using a laxative. This dirorder is associated with additive types of behaviour including alcoholism and depression.  


Adolescent Cognition

Piaget describes the last (4th) stage of genetic epistemology as invovling the development of Formal (abstract) Reasoning.

4) Formal Operational (12 +) thought is where one is able to master abstract logical and intellectual tasks.   youtubeB

Hypothetical-deductive reasoning - emerges at this stage where adolescents can image scenerios or situation that do not exist and work through logical consequences. and, like scientists begin to address probems by systematically testing solutions.

Executive function - umbrella-like concept for a number of higher-level cognitive processes linked to the development of the prefrontal cortex

executive function involves managing one’s thoughts, goal-directed behaviour and to exercise self-control 

cognitive control - effective control attention, reducing interfering thoughts, cognitively flexible 

adolescence is a time of increased decision-making

when adolescents make decisions in stressful or emotional contexts, they often make risky choices relative to adults



Transitions from middle to highschool sometimes give rise to top-dog phenomenon where children move from oldest, biggest, most powerful students in the middle school to youngest, smallest, least powerful in high school

High schools also tend to be larger, more bureaucratic, more impersonal than middle or junior high schools are and adolescents become immersed in complex peer group cultures that demand conformity.

Dropping out of school happens for many reasons where commonly

young men often feel uninvolved or bored in school and have a desire to make money, while

young women may do so for personal or family issues, such as pregnancy or having to take are of a young child or sibling.