Developmental Psychology

Risky Behaviors Encountered by Adolescents



According to the readings for this week, the three leading causes of death for adolescents include:

  • Unintentional injuries
  • Homicide
  • Suicide

You’ve been asked by the PTA to speak with a group of parents on risky behaviors encountered by adolescents (e.g., substance abuse, eating disorders, and tobacco use) and strategies to minimize the impact of these factors. In your response, compare and contrast your perceptions with your classmates.

Discussion posts should be at least 300 words and include minimally (2) citations from this week’s reading.

section six


In no order of things is adolescence the simple time of life.

—Jean Erskine Stewart

American Writer, 20th Century


Adolescents try on one face after another, seeking to find a face of their own. Their generation of young people is the fragile cable by which the best and the worst of their parents’ generation is transmitted to the present. In the end, there are only two lasting bequests parents can leave youth—one is roots, the other wings. This section contains two chapters: “Physical and Cognitive Development in Adolescence” and “Socioemotional Development in Adolescence.”

Page 337

chapter 11
chapter outline

1 The Nature of Adolescence

Learning Goal 1  Discuss the nature of adolescence.

2 Physical Changes

Learning Goal 2  Describe the changes involved in puberty, as well as changes in the brain and sexuality during adolescence.


The Brain

Adolescent Sexuality

3 Issues in Adolescent Health

Learning Goal 3  Identify adolescent problems related to health, substance use and abuse, and eating disorders.

Adolescent Health

Substance Use and Abuse

Eating Disorders

4 Adolescent Cognition

Learning Goal 4  Explain cognitive changes in adolescence.

Piaget’s Theory

Adolescent Egocentrism

Information Processing

5 Schools

Learning Goal 5  Summarize some key aspects of how schools influence adolescent development.

The Transition to Middle or Junior High School

Effective Schools for Young Adolescents

High School

Extracurricular Activities

Service Learning

image1 ©Image Source/Getty Images

Fifteen-year-old Latisha developed Page 338a drinking problem, and she was kicked off the cheerleading squad for missing too many practice sessions—but that didn’t make her stop drinking. She and her friends began skipping school regularly so they could drink.

Fourteen-year-old Arnie is a juvenile delinquent. Last week he stole a TV set, struck his mother and bloodied her face, broke some streetlights in the neighborhood, and threatened a boy with a wrench and hammer.

Twelve-year-old Katie, more than just about anything else, wanted a playground in her town. She knew that the other kids also wanted one, so she put together a group that generated funding ideas for the playground. They presented their ideas to the town council. Her group attracted more youth, and they raised money by selling candy and sandwiches door-to-door. The playground became a reality, a place where, as Katie says, “People have picnics and make friends.” Katie’s advice: “You won’t get anywhere if you don’t try.”

Adolescents like Latisha and Arnie are the ones we hear about the most. But there are many adolescents like Katie who contribute in positive ways to their communities and competently make the transition through adolescence. Indeed, for most young people, adolescence is not a time of rebellion, crisis, pathology, and deviance. A far more accurate vision of adolescence is that it is a time of evaluation, decision making, commitment, and carving out a place in the world. Most of the problems of today’s youth are not with the youth themselves, but with needs that go unmet. To reach their full potential, adolescents need a range of legitimate opportunities as well as long-term support from adults who care deeply about them (Miller & Cho, 2018; Ogden & Haden, 2019).

image2 Katie Bell (front) and some of her volunteers.  ©Ronald Cortes

topical connections looking back

In middle and late childhood, physical growth continues but at a slower pace than in infancy and early childhood. Gross motor skills become much smoother and more coordinated, and fine motor skills also improve. Significant advances in the development of the prefrontal cortex occur. Cognitive and language skills also improve considerably. In terms of cognitive development, most children become concrete operational thinkers, long-term memory increases, and metacognitive skills improve, especially if children learn a rich repertoire of strategies. In terms of language development, children’s understanding of grammar and syntax increases, and learning to read becomes an important achievement.


Adolescence is a transitional period in the human life span, linking childhood and adulthood Page 339. We begin the chapter by examining some general characteristics of adolescence and then explore the major physical changes and health issues of adolescence. Next, we consider the significant cognitive changes that characterize adolescence and conclude the chapter by describing various aspects of schools for adolescents.

1 The Nature of Adolescence

LG1 Discuss the nature of adolescence.

As in development during childhood, genetic/biological and environmental/social factors influence adolescent development. During their childhood years, adolescents experienced thousands of hours of interactions with parents, peers, and teachers, but now they face dramatic biological changes, new experiences, and new developmental tasks. Relationships with parents take a different form, moments with peers become more intimate, and dating occurs for the first time, as do sexual exploration and possibly intercourse. The adolescent’s thoughts become more abstract and idealistic. Biological changes trigger a heightened interest in body image. Adolescence has both continuity and discontinuity with childhood.

There is a long history of worrying about how adolescents will “turn out.” In 1904, G. Stanley Hall proposed the “storm-and-stress” view that adolescence is a turbulent time charged with conflict and mood swings. However, when Daniel Offer and his colleagues (1988) studied the self-images of adolescents in the United States, Australia, Bangladesh, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Japan, Taiwan, Turkey, and West Germany, at least 73 percent of the adolescents displayed a healthy self-image. Although there were differences among them, the adolescents were happy most of the time, they enjoyed life, they perceived themselves as able to exercise self-control, they valued work and school, they felt confident about their sexual selves, they expressed positive feelings toward their families, and they felt they had the capability to cope with life’s stresses—not exactly a storm-and-stress portrayal of adolescence.

Public attitudes about adolescence emerge from a combination of personal experience and media portrayals, neither of which produces an objective picture of how normal adolescents develop (Feldman & Elliott, 1990). Some of the readiness to assume the worst about adolescents likely involves the short memories of adults. Many adults measure their current perceptions of adolescents by their memories of their own adolescence. Adults may portray today’s adolescents as more troubled, less respectful, more self-centered, more assertive, and more adventurous than they were.

image3Growing up has never been easy. However, adolescence is not best viewed as a time of rebellion, crisis, pathology, and deviance. A far more accurate vision of adolescence describes it as a time of evaluation, of decision making, of commitment, and of carving out a place in the world. Most of the problems of today’s youth are not with the youth themselves. What adolescents need is access to a range of legitimate opportunities and to long-term support from adults who care deeply about them. What might be some examples of such support and caring?  ©Regine Mahaux/The Image Bank/Getty Images

However, in matters of taste and manners, the young people Page 340of every generation have seemed unnervingly radical and different from adults—different in how they look, in how they behave, in the music they enjoy, in their hairstyles, and in the clothing they choose. It would be an enormous error, though, to confuse adolescents’ enthusiasm for trying on new identities and enjoying moderate amounts of outrageous behavior with hostility toward parental and societal standards. Acting out and boundary testing are time-honored ways in which adolescents move toward accepting, rather than rejecting, parental values.

Negative stereotyping of adolescence has been extensive (Jiang & others, 2018; Petersen & others, 2017). However, much of the negative stereotyping has been fueled by media reports of a visible minority of adolescents. In the last decade there has been a call for adults to have a more positive attitude toward youth and emphasize their positive development. Indeed, researchers have found that a majority of adolescents are making the transition from childhood through adolescence to adulthood in a positive way (Seider, Jayawickreme, & Lerner, 2017). For example, a recent study of non-Latino White and African American 12- to 20-year-olds in the United States found that they were characterized much more by positive than problematic development, even in their most vulnerable times (Gutman & others, 2017). Their engagement in healthy behaviors, supportive relationships with parents and friends, and positive self-perceptions were much stronger than their angry and depressed feelings.

image4 ©RubberBall Productions/Getty Images

Although most adolescents negotiate the lengthy path to adult maturity successfully, too large a group does not. Ethnic, cultural, gender, socioeconomic, age, and lifestyle differences influence the actual life trajectory of each adolescent (Green & others, 2018; Hadley, 2018; Kimmel & Aronson, 2018; McQueen, 2017; Ruck, Peterson-Badali, & Freeman, 2017). Different portrayals of adolescence emerge, depending on the particular group of adolescents being described. Today’s adolescents are exposed to a complex menu of lifestyle options through the media, and many face the temptations of drug use and sexual activity at increasingly young ages (Johnston & others, 2018). Too many adolescents are not provided with adequate opportunities and support to become competent adults (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 2018; Edalati & Nicholls, 2018; Lo & others, 2017; Loria & Caughy, 2018; Miller & Cho, 2018; Umana-Taylor & Douglass, 2017).

Recall that social policy is the course of action designed by the national government to influence the welfare of its citizens. Currently, many researchers in adolescent development are designing studies that they hope will lead to wise and effective social policy decision making (Duncan, Magnuson, & Votruba-Drzal, 2017; Galinsky & others, 2017; Hall, 2017).

Research indicates that youth benefit enormously when they have caring adults in their lives in addition to parents or guardians (Frydenberg, 2019; Masten, 2017; Masten & Kalstabakken, 2018; Ogden & Hagen, 2019; Pomerantz & Grolnick, 2017). Caring adults—such as coaches, neighbors, teachers, mentors, and after-school leaders—can serve as role models, confidants, advocates, and resources. Relationships with caring adults are powerful when youth know they are respected, that they matter to the adult, and that the adult wants to be a resource in their lives. However, in a survey, only 20 percent of U.S. 15-year-olds reported having meaningful relationships with adults outside their family who were helping them to succeed in life (Search Institute, 2010).

Review Connect Reflect

LG1 Discuss the nature of adolescence.


· What characterizes adolescent development? What especially needs to be done to improve the lives of adolescents?


· In this section you read about how important it is for adolescents to have caring adults in their lives. In previous chapters, what did you learn about the role parents play in their children’s lives leading up to adolescence that might influence adolescents’ development?

Reflect Your Own Personal Journey of Life

· Was your adolescence better described as a stormy and stressful time or as one of trying out new identities as you sought to find an identity of your own? Explain.

Page 341

2 Physical Changes

LG2 Describe the changes involved in puberty, as well as changes in the brain and sexuality during adolescence.


The Brain

Adolescent Sexuality

One father remarked that the problem with his teenage son was not that he grew, but that he did not know when to stop growing. As we will see, there is considerable variation in the timing of the adolescent growth spurt. In addition to pubertal changes, other physical changes we will explore involve sexuality and the brain.


Puberty is not the same as adolescence. For most of us, puberty ends long before adolescence does, although puberty is the most important marker of the beginning of adolescence.

Puberty  is a brain-neuroendocrine process occurring primarily in early adolescence that provides stimulation for the rapid physical changes that take place during this period of development (Berenbaum, Beltz, & Corley, 2015; Shalitin & Kiess, 2017; Susman & Dorn, 2013). Puberty is not a single, sudden event. We know whether a young boy or girl is going through puberty, but pinpointing puberty’s beginning and end is difficult. Among the most noticeable changes are signs of sexual maturation and increases in height and weight.

Sexual Maturation, Height, and Weight Think back to the onset of your puberty. Of the striking changes that were taking place in your body, what was the first to occur? Researchers have found that male pubertal characteristics typically develop in this order: increase in penis and testicle size, appearance of straight pubic hair, minor voice change, first ejaculation (which usually occurs through masturbation or a wet dream), appearance of kinky pubic hair, onset of maximum growth in height and weight, growth of hair in armpits, more detectable voice changes, and, finally, growth of facial hair.

What is the order of appearance of physical changes in females? First, either the breasts enlarge or pubic hair appears. Later, hair appears in the armpits. As these changes occur, the female grows in height and her hips become wider than her shoulders.  Menarche —a girl’s first menstruation—comes rather late in the pubertal cycle. Initially, her menstrual cycles may be highly irregular. For the first several years, she may not ovulate every menstrual cycle; some girls do not ovulate at all until a year or two after menstruation begins. No voice changes comparable to those in pubertal males occur in pubertal females. By the end of puberty, the female’s breasts have become more fully rounded.

Marked weight gains coincide with the onset of puberty. During early adolescence, girls tend to outweigh boys, but by about age 14 boys begin to surpass girls. Similarly, at the beginning of the adolescent period, girls tend to be as tall as or taller than boys of their age, but by the end of the middle school years most boys have caught up or, in many cases, surpassed girls in height.

As indicated in  Figure 1 , the growth spurt occurs approximately two years earlier for girls than for boys. The mean age at the beginning of the growth spurt in girls is 9; for boys, it is 11. The peak rate of pubertal change occurs at 11½ years for girls and 13½ years for boys. During their growth spurt, girls increase in height about 3½ inches per year, boys about 4 inches. Boys and girls who are shorter or taller than their peers before adolescence are likely to remain so during adolescence; however, as much as 30 percent of an individual’s height in late adolescence is unexplained by his or her height in the elementary school years.

image5 FIGURE 1 PUBERTAL GROWTH SPURT. On average, the peak of the growth spurt during puberty occurs two years earlier for girls (11½) than for boys (13½). How are hormones related to the growth spurt and to the difference between the average height of adolescent boys and that of girls?

Is age of pubertal onset linked to how tall boys and girls will be toward the end of adolescence? One study found that for girls, earlier onset of menarche, breast development, and growth spurt were linked to shorter height at 18 years of age; however, for boys, earlier age of growth spurt and slower progression through puberty were associated with being taller at 18 years of age (Yousefi & others, 2013).

Hormonal Changes Behind the first whisker in boys and the widening of hips in girls is a flood of  hormones , powerful chemical substances secreted by the endocrine glands and carried through the body by the bloodstream.

The concentrations of certain hormones Page 342increase dramatically during adolescence (Berenbaum, Beltz, & Corley, 2015; Herting & Sowell, 2017; Nguyen, 2018; Piekarski & others, 2017). Testosterone is a hormone associated in boys with genital development, increased height, and deepening of the voice. Estradiol is a type of estrogen that in girls is associated with breast, uterine, and skeletal development. In one study, testosterone levels increased eighteenfold in boys but only twofold in girls during puberty; estradiol increased eightfold in girls but only twofold in boys (Nottelmann & others, 1987). Thus, both testosterone and estradiol are present in the hormonal makeup of both boys and girls, but testosterone dominates in male pubertal development, estradiol in female pubertal development (Benyi & Savendahl, 2017). A study of 9- to 17-year-old boys found that testosterone levels peaked at 17 years of age (Khairullah & others, 2014).

The same influx of hormones that grows hair on a male’s chest and increases the fatty tissue in a female’s breasts may also contribute to psychological development in adolescence (Berenbaum, Beltz, & Corley, 2015; Wang & others, 2017). In one study of boys and girls ranging in age from 9 to 14, a higher concentration of testosterone was present in boys who rated themselves as more socially competent (Nottelmann & others, 1987). However, a research review concluded that there is insufficient quality research to confirm that changing testosterone levels during puberty are linked to mood and behavior in adolescent males (Duke, Balzer, & Steinbeck, 2014). And hormonal effects by themselves do not account for adolescent development (Susman & Dorn, 2013). For example, in one study, social factors were much better predictors of young adolescent girls’ depression and anger than hormonal factors (Brooks-Gunn & Warren, 1989). Behavior and moods also can affect hormones (DeRose & Brooks-Gunn, 2008). Stress, eating patterns, exercise, sexual activity, tension, and depression can activate or suppress various aspects of the hormonal system (Marceau, Dorn, & Susman, 2012). In sum, the hormone-behavior link is complex (Susman & Dorn, 2013).

Timing and Variations in Puberty In the United States—where children mature up to a year earlier than children in European countries—the average age of menarche has declined significantly since the mid-nineteenth century (see  Figure 2 ). Also, recent studies in Korea and Japan (Cole & Mori, 2018), China (Song & others, 2017), and Saudi Arabia (Al Alwan & others, 2017) found that pubertal onset has been occurring earlier in recent years. Fortunately, however, we are unlikely to see pubescent toddlers, since what has happened in the past century is likely the result of improved nutrition and health.

image6 FIGURE 2 AGE AT MENARCHE IN NORTHERN EUROPEAN COUNTRIES AND THE UNITED STATES IN THE NINETEENTH AND TWENTIETH CENTURIES. Notice the steep decline in the age at which girls experienced menarche in four northern European countries and the United States from 1845 to 1969. Recently the age at which girls experience menarche has been leveling off.