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What is Adolescence?

Adolescence is a transition period between childhood and adulthood. There are three stages of adolescence through which the developing person transitions from childhood into adulthood.

Adolescence typically begins around 10 years old and ends at around 26 years old when the brain is fully formed.

The adolescent years are characterized by rapid and major changes that can be seen in your child’s physical, cognitive, emotional, social and psychological development.

Although every child is different, certain milestones are normal for typically developing children and correspond with their age.

This article gives an overview of the three stages of adolescence: early adolescence, middle adolescence and late adolescence.

Stages of Adolescence: Physical Growth and Development

Stages of Adolescence: young girl on bed holding a cellphone
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Like in the early childhood formative years, your teenager will undergo rapid and major physical changes as they enter adolescence.  

Early Adolescence: 10 – 13 Years Old

The early adolescence stage is characterized by many physical changes for both boys and girls. During the early adolescent stage some of the physical changes in your teenager will include:

For girls, you will start to notice rapid physical growth and weight gain. Girls tend to grow faster than boys in this early phase.

You will also notice other physical changes for girls during this stage, including hair growth in the underarm and genital areas, breast development and larger hips. Typically, during this stage of their development, many girls will begin their period.

For boys, you will also notice physical growth and weight gain, although their growth spurt will begin later in adolescence.

Boys will also have hair growth in the underarms and genital areas. And similar to girls, their reproductive organs further develop as boys’ testicles and penis begin to enlarge. Also typical of this time, they will begin to have “wet dreams”. Finally, you will notice a change in your son’s voice as it becomes deeper.

Middle Adolescence: 14 – 17 Years Old

Middle Adolescence is characterized by a continuation of the physical changes that started in early adolescence.

Girls will have regular periods by this stage and will have developed sexual drives and begin to masturbate. Other changes you will notice are that their growth will slow down, and they may develop acne during this stage.

While girls’ growth slows down in this stage, boys’ growth spurt continues. During this age group, boys will also begin to develop sexual drives and begin masturbation, and they may also develop acne.

Late Adolescence: 17 – 19 Years Old

Late adolescence sees the completion of physical changes for both boys and girls, with both genders growing to their adult heights.

Stages of Adolescence: Cognitive Development

Stages of Adolescence: boy in yellow crew neck t-shirt sitting on chair
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Cognitive development in adolescence is a result of major structural changes in the brain that will affect the teenager’s thinking, emotions, and problem-solving skills.

Early Adolescence: 10 – 13 Years Old

Early adolescence cognitive development is characterized by strong morals and “black-and-white” or concrete thinking. They tend to focus more on the present and with greater interest in themselves.

Middle Adolescence: 14 – 17 Years Old

During this stage, your teenager will begin to develop their capacity for abstract thinking. She begins to have more complex thoughts and a strong sense of morality. Her thinking turns to the future as she begins to set goals for herself.

Late Adolescence: 17 – 19 Years Old

Youth development in late adolescence is characterized by further brain development, for example in the prefrontal lobe which is responsible for decision making and impulse control.

During this phase, your teen develops a greater capacity for making complex decisions and reducing risky behaviour. Finally, his thinking becomes focused on his role in life as he begins to make plans for the future.

Stages of Adolescence: Emotional and Psycho-social Development


You know you have a teenager in your house when the mood swings are off the charts. The teen adolescent years are characterized by intense emotions and relationships which can explain their mood during this phase.

Early Adolescence: 10 – 13 Years Old

You will notice that as your child enters this stage of her development, she will begin to show and explore more ways of being independent.

She may even begin to test the limits of boundaries and the rules that are already established at home. You can expect acts of rebellion as she tries to assert her independence.

As your teen tries to find her own identity outside of the family, you may notice that she becomes increasingly private and finds more interest and influence among her peers.

Middle Adolescence: 14 – 17 Years Old

During middle adolescence, your teen will become more focused on himself and his body image. He may seem overly critical and obsessed with his body and even begin to compare himself to his peers.

Peer relationships take over during this stage as your teen establishes cliques and embarks on romantic relationships. His focus right now is finding the groups he wants to belong to and fitting in with his peers.

Late Adolescence: 17 – 19 Years Old

As your teen progresses to the late adolescence stage of her development, she will have a good idea of who she is as a person as her identity is developed by this stage. 

Although great value is placed on peer relationships during this phase of her development, your parent-child relationship once re-established will be more characterized by an adult-to-adult dynamic.

You will be glad to learn that your teen’s mood swings will reduce as she becomes more emotionally mature.

How to Support Your Child During their Stages of Adolescence?


Now that you’re aware of the stages of adolescence, how can you support your child and ensure that they have a good transition into adulthood? Here are 6 tips on how to support your teenager during the stages of adolescence.

1. Talk to your children about the changes that will be taking place in their bodies. Hormonal and physical changes can bring a lot of distress to children if they are not prepared for them and cannot understand why they are happening.

Talking to your child about the physical changes in their bodies can help to reduce their anxiety and shame around these natural and normal processes.

2. Have honest and open conversations about sex and romantic relationships with your children. There’s no point in hiding the truth from them hoping that they will abstain from sex.

A study found that comprehensive sex education reduces teenage pregnancy more than abstinence-only sex education and that sex education worked equally for boys and girls in reducing teenage pregnancy.

3. Let your children know that they have a safe space to discuss their issues with you.

4. Set age-appropriate limits for your teenager, for example, a 9 pm bedtime schedule may be appropriate for an early adolescent but might not be so for an 18-year-old in a late adolescent.

When you set age-appropriate rules, ensure that there are appropriate disciplinary measures for violating those rules.

5. Have regular discussions with your teens and ask for their perspectives on various issues. This will show them that you value their input and opinions.

You can also allow them to contribute to decisions within the household and about things that will affect them.

6. Give them responsibilities to encourage their independence and show that you trust them. This could be as simple as house chores, encouraging them to get a part-time job, or taking care of other responsibilities.

Understanding and supporting your child during the adolescent years can have a significant impact on their development, transition into adulthood and your future relationship.


Health Park Pediatrics

Understanding Young People

Act for Youth

Stages of Adolescent Development

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