Understanding of the Process of Adolescence

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Table of Contents

  • Cognitive Development
  • Puberty
  • Growth and Health

Adolescence can be a very trying time for the child and the parent, both of which are experiencing a surplus of unexpected changes. For adolescents, their body is changing in ways that they could not imagine. For the parent, their child is morphing into someone they do not know. This article is purely meant to provide both pre-teen boys and their parents with the information and tools to bridge the gap of understanding between them.

The father of adolescent psychology, G. Stanley Hall, described adolescence as a time of “storm and stress”. Hall believed that because of several biological changes in children, adolescence is filled with constant mood swings and internal conflict. However, this is not necessarily the case. Research shows that the vast majority of adolescents are not nearly as conflicted and troubled as popular stereotypes assume. They actually gain several useful attributes during adolescence such as competence, confidence, connection, character, and compassion towards others. It is true that young adults undergo several changes cognitively and physically, but these changes can be handled well if both the parent and child have a positive outlook on development.

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Cognitive Development

Cognitive changes involve changes in an individual’s thinking and intelligence. They are experiencing the ability to pay attention longer and engage in more effective executive functions such as exercising cognitive control and delaying gratification. These changes make some parents eager to expect more responsible decisions from their children. However, it is in a pre-teen’s nature to make riskier decisions when they attempt to use their newfound cognitive skills. Parents may view these kind of decisions as irresponsible, though there are some benefits of risk taking behavior. For example, it shows that the child is more open to new experiences. Riskier decision making is especially common when the pre-teen is surrounded by his or her peers. Often times, adolescents around the same age actually prefer their friend’s company over their parent’s. This is because they can relate to one another. An important fact to remember is that a teen’s tendency to make dangerous decisions does not reflect on one’s parenting. It does not mean that your child is rebelling because you made a parenting mistake. It is reflective of the teen’s desire for independence.

As part of a theory known as the psychoanalytical theory, Anna Freud formed her own view of adolescence. According to Freud, adolescence is a period of internal conflict due to “psychic disequilibrium”. This is a result of conflict between one’s id, ego, and superego. The id is considered to be the unconscious mind. It highlights the importance of instincts and ignores morality. Conversely, the superego weighs right versus wrong decisions in the conscious mind. Lastly, the ego makes rational decisions. Rather than focusing on the internal conflict a child may experience during adolescence, researcher Jean Piaget directed his attention toward the changes of a child’s cognition over an extended period of time. Piaget viewed development as a discontinuous process. He believed that developmental changes occurred at distinct points in time. Thus, he created what’s known as the cognitive development theory.

Piaget claimed that young children are motivated to organize their experiences and adapt to their environment as they age because doing so is innate. These processes are broken down into four stages that occur at specific age groups: sensorimotor (birth to two years old), preoperational (two to seven years old), concrete operational (seven to eleven years old), and formal operational (eleven years onward). First, the sensorimotor stage involves the construction of an understanding of the world through sensory experiences that are coordinated with physical actions. Then the preoperational stage allows the child to process the world in the form of images. Following that, the concrete operational child, can reason logically about concrete events and classify objects into different sets. Lastly, during the formal operational stage the adolescent’s thinking becomes more abstract, idealistic, and logical.

In fact, one research study shows that the formal operational stage is especially useful in mathematics application. Researchers found that students age 12-16 years old can do classification, intersection, ratio and proportion, and geometry to some extent. The study showed that logical thinking is heightened at this age. Also there are some sociocultural factors affecting how a child thrives in the formal operational stage.


Around the time that young men are entering or exiting the formal operational stage, they begin the process of puberty. Puberty is the neurologically and physiologically induced process of maturation in a child’s body. It occurs anywhere from 9-16 years of age. The time that a child begins this process is hardwired into their genetics.

Puberty initially begins with the activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis within the Endocrine System. The endocrine glands secrete a series of hormones that spread throughout the body ultimately causing gradual physical changes. The first two hormones, LH (Luteinizing hormone) and FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) are secreted by the pituitary glands and travel to the gonads. As a response, the gonads produce either androgens or estrogens. Young men around age 10 to 11 typically experience an influx of the androgen hormone testosterone.

During the early stages of sexual maturation, the gonads begin to physically change as a result of the stimulus, which is known as gonadarche. Following their increased genital size, young men experience, the appearance of straight pubic hair, minor voice changes, first ejaculation (spermarche), appearance of kinky pubic hair, maximum growth, growth of armpit hair, more intense voice changes, and growth of facial hair. Mid-way through sexual maturation, young men experience spermarche which for lack of a better term, is a “wet dream.” This is normal. According to researchers, with adolescence comes an influx of behavioral changes.

Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory may provide clarification as to why sexual changes cause adolescents to become more physically and sexually curious. Freud believed the child’s early experiences with their parents strongly shapes their development. Freud thought that as children age, their “pleasure centers” change. The first stage is the oral stage where the pleasure center is the mouth. This is followed by the anal stage where pleasure is focused on the anus. The phallic stage is the period when a child’s pleasure shifts to their genitals. Following this period is the latency stage in which the child represses their sexual curiosity and invests their mental energy into social and intellectual skills. Lastly, is the genital stage which is a time of sexual reawakening.

Growth and Health

Throughout sexual maturation, most children experience a growth spurt because the endocrine system secretes hormones for skeletal maturation via the thyroid gland. During the early stages of puberty, growth hormones are mostly secreted at night. Over time, boys gain width in their shoulders and their faces become more angular. The peak of these pubertal changes in boys will occur at 13.5 years of age. Around this age boys will gain approximately 50% of their adult body weight. Also, young men’s body image becomes more positive whereas girls develop a more negative view of themselves.

However, in order to improve not only their body image, but their overall health, parents must be aware of the fact that most children exercise less during adolescence. Encouraging a healthy lifestyle will improve their brain function and sleep patterns. In order for a child’s thinking ability to change, their brain chemistry and physiology must develop as well. There are four parts of the brain that engage during development. The corpus callosum, which aids in adolescents’ abilities to process information.

The prefrontal cortex, which is the highest level of the frontal lobes, is involved in reasoning and decision making. The limbic system which includes the amygdala, is involved in emotions and survival instincts. According to Piaget’s theory, which was previously mentioned, adolescents are motivated to understand their world because doing so is biologically adaptive. As the brain processes information, its plasticity increases.

The information-processing view includes how information gets into adolescents’ minds, how it is retained, and how it is retrieved while problem solving. For example, when the children in the so and so study were required to recall previous information about mathematics they were able to because of their formal operational thinking. The information processing view requires attention towards the stimulus, retention, and the engagement of cognitive control such as thinking critically. As these requirements take place, the information travels from the short-term memory, to the working memory, where individuals manipulate information to gain understanding, and lastly transfer it to the long-term memory.

Children grow up fast. Within a blink of an eye they become young men and women. Their cognition changes. Their brain transforms and causes their body to go through several changes. All of which are outlined in several theories. Their physical appearance becomes more refined. The road to get there is filled with twists and turns for the parents several processes that can confusing and new.

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