Between 11 and 18 years of age, young people undergo rapid changes in body structure and physiological, psychological and social functioning. Growing research on the adolescent brain has provided a better understanding of typical adolescent development. Even though changes in puberty follow a predictable sequence, there is a great deal of variation between adolescents, in both the timing of changes and the quality of the experience. Hormones are the primary influence during these years and enable the transition from childhood to adulthood. However, gender as well as the life experiences of the child will affect their development – what kind of family and community they live in, the attitudes of people around them, whether they are living in poverty or a more affluent family.

Physical changes

  • Children undergo puberty with increases in body hair, breast development and onset of menstruation in girls, and testicular growth and deepening voice in boys.
  • These developments are also associated with an emerging interest in sexual activity.
  • Adolescents also tend to gain significantly in height and weight during this period.

Cognitive development

  • Adolescents acquire a capacity for abstract thought, expand their intellectual interests, and engage in more complex moral thinking and reasoning.
  • They develop the ability to think through the consequences of their actions.
  • They have increasing capacity to make decisions and act with a sense of the subsequent implications.

Social and emotional development

  • Adolescents often struggle with a sense of identity, experience self doubt, worry about themselves and about whether they are normal.
  • The peer group becomes more important to them and can place an increasingly influential role on their lives.
  • They want greater independence and this often gives rise to conflict with parents or guardians.
  • Adolescents are sometimes moody and disengaged and will test out boundaries. It is also a period of a desire for greater privacy.

Middle childhood 6–10 years

2.6 Understanding stages of development