Post No.: 0216
Adolescence is an important stage of development – it’s the transition from childhood to adulthood and many changes occur. Physical changes include changes to sleep timing, accelerated bone growth, the voice deepening, and most of all puberty-related changes to appearance, such as spots/pimples and pubic hair growth, which tend to have the biggest impact on the life satisfaction of children going through adolescence (some people hypothesise the reason why vampires and werewolves appeal as characters of horror for adolescents is because of scary changes to their own bodies, such as sudden menstruation and hair growth in new places).
In Post No.: 0142, we investigated the changes that are occurring to a child’s brain during puberty. We’ll explore further now how this affects their lives, thoughts and behaviours…
It all mainly manifests via their interpersonal relationships, which includes challenging conformity with their parents and current institutions on the one hand, yet finding their own clique(s) and what groups they want to conform with and fit into on the other (e.g. conforming with others in their own peer group who have tattoos or piercings). So adolescents don’t challenge the notion of conformity per se but which specific sources or groups they wish to conform to – ultimately to find their personal identity and belonging in society. This non-conformity with their parents but conformity within their own peer group contributes to the partial shifts in culture we tend to see from generation to generation (e.g. which music genres or fashions become popular). Adolescents can seem indifferent to things at times yet start to become passionate about certain causes – this again just depends on which groups and ideals they’ve decided to conform with. There is also a heightened level of creativity, experimentation (including sexual), conflict, independence, autonomy and freedom – the specifics of which will also depend on the existing culture and laws that influence them.
The behaviour of one-upmanship arises as, mainly male, adolescents take greater and greater risks in order to stand out from the crowd, to ultimately try to attract female mates – indeed, although males will take risks in the presence of other males, adolescent male risk-taking behaviours predictably increase further in the presence of females. Risks and dares are a way to signal one’s place in the social hierarchy – at least in a primitive ‘caveperson’ kind of way, for the most intellectually intelligent male or female isn’t typically as valued as the most physically attractive, but really should be for they’re more likely to change the modern world! Cultural factors may again play a role too though.
…If you’re beginning to overall think that the science of human behaviour and development makes humans seem in many ways predictable then that’s, I guess, a predictable consequence for all who study it(!)
Who they are or will become is mostly tied up with the quality of their relationships with their peers – they’ll spend more time with and be more influenced by (and in turn influence) their peers (which will include their siblings) than with and by their parents or other adults. Friends tend to share similar interests, tastes and values, thus like-minded people who hang around with like-minded people will reinforce their similarities and grow even more similar with each other. But if people in this relationship change and diverge then the bond can diminish and a friendship can end. Friendships therefore tend to experience great flux during this time while adolescents try to figure out who they are (this is also due to adolescence coinciding with changing schools, college and university). They’ll also start to exhibit more distinctly different identities when interacting in different contexts or with different groups of people (e.g. how they behave towards their parents, friends or teachers).
Children going through adolescence can even align themselves into group identities or cliques based on quite trivial things (like whether their school trouser legs have turn-ups or not!) and, to them, it’s considered important not to be the odd-one-out. Most adults looking back at their own childhood or looking at children today will think such arbitrariness is absurd – but to adolescents, fitting in with one’s peers as much as possible matters almost like (social) life or death!
Most importantly to them are how well-liked or popular they are and their status amongst others, or more accurately their perceptions of these. They are guided by the perception of what they think their peers are doing (e.g. drug taking, sexual behaviours). Due to one-upmanship and chasing status, particularly amongst males, claims are frequently exaggerated by adolescents (e.g. how much alcohol one actually drank, how many sexual encounters one actually had), and if someone believes in all these fuzzy claims then they might do silly things themselves to try to match these behaviours! Adolescents tend to desire to be ‘normal’, to fit in within their peer group, thus bullying, social exclusion/isolation and/or bad romantic experiences can have a profound impact on a young person’s mental well-being. Trying to fit in, yet trying to boost one’s own status and stand out within one’s group, can also lead to tensions, conflicts and escalated risky behaviours.
Overall, the beliefs of our parents are generally strong predictors of our own beliefs. But by the time people reach adolescence, people who are raised by religious parents can turn out atheistic or agnostic, and people who are raised by parents with certain political views can end up having different views, because people’s peers become far more influential. The friends people have at ~16 years old will particularly have a big impact on the rest of their lives (e.g. shaping their career choices, how much alcohol they drink and attitudes to recreational drugs). It can often be hard to predict how a child will turn out in their social life until they reach about 16 (e.g. some shy children can turn out to be quite outgoing if they find the right circles and receive the right freedoms from their parents to allow them to express and socialise at this age). Of course our upbringing, life events and environment when even younger would’ve also shaped us too (e.g. family conflicts, parents divorcing), with stressors or risk factors hopefully counteracted by sufficient protective factors (e.g. having good friends, divorced parents who still get along). Our parents are most influential when we’re very young but then our peers become increasingly more influential.
Adolescence is a time children will be trying to figure out their own ambitions and future too – some adolescents will have a clear view of their own future whilst others will still be unsure, hence the premature pinning of expectations by parents can be detrimental for some.
Adolescence is also a time when many psychological disorders (e.g. depression, social anxiety, eating disorders, schizophrenia) start to emerge – most people who do develop a mental disorder will tend to have symptoms emerge by the age of 24, and once someone experiences one episode then more episodes are likely too. A problem though is that many people with psychological issues take several years before seeking help (maybe due to the perception of stigma or simply not knowing any differently, for example) thus it’s crucial to get educated, be understanding and to look out for the symptoms, and to treat people who behave ‘awkwardly’ or ‘oddly’ with compassion rather than judgement, bullying or ostracism, especially young persons at this tender age of adolescence. Woof.
As a parent, encourage and/or allow adolescents to socially connect with their peers, whilst they remain physically active, eat well and have a healthy life balance (i.e. this doesn’t mean them being on social media all of the time). Encourage them to keep learning, to be kind, and to pay attention/be mindful to their own feelings, bodies, other people and their environment. And be socially supportive, in order to help protect their well-being no matter their biological vulnerabilities during this time.
Woof. If you’re currently an adolescent person then how understanding do you think adults generally are towards you? Does it seem like they’ve forgotten what it was like or do you think modern pressures are different to those in the past? Or if you’re a parent of an adolescent person then do you try to curb some of their behaviours precisely because you’re wiser now and you know what it was like? Or do you take the attitude of letting them learn from their own mistakes? Please share your thoughts by using the Twitter comment button below.