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What is adolescence?

Adolescence is the period of human development immediately after childhood and prior to adulthood , during which the main biological, sexual, social and psychological changes that will result in a mature individual occur. The beginning of adolescence has the entrance of the individual to puberty.

Although the margins of beginning and end of adolescence vary according to the individual, the trends registered by the World Health Organization show an average range of adolescence between 10 and 19 years , which is inserted within the period of youth , which in turn includes the period between 10 and 24 years.

Adolescence, according to other authors, can extend to 21 or even 25 years of age.


Characteristics of adolescence :

  1. Stages

It is estimated that adolescence comprises two distinct stages:

  • Early adolescence Noted by the onset of puberty and the first physical changes that accuse the individual’s sexual and biological maturation, it ranges from 10 or 11 years (in some cases from 9) to 14 or 15.
  • Late adolescence. It extends from 14 or 15 years to 19 or 20, and normally implies a gradual and increasing entry into adulthood, with the gradual appearance of the psychic and emotional characteristics that it entails.
  1. Sexual maturation

In both sexes, the entry into puberty triggers hormonal torrents that directly impact the development of secondary sexual characteristics, identifiers of sexual roles in the species. The appearance of pubic and body hair (and facial in men) usually continues to this first stage of the process.

Other fundamental changes concern the activation of the reproductive system and awakening of the libido . This consists of the generation of sperm and seminal fluids in the male, experimentation of the first nocturnal pollution, as well as growth of the testicles and thickening of the penis.

In women this implies the onset of the menstrual cycle and growth of the mammary glands , as well as important variations in the vaginal bacterial flora and development of the Bartholin glands, responsible for vaginal secretions. Finally, there is a thickening of the labia minora and hymen (in those women born with it).

  1. Other physical changes

The growth is markedly accelerated during the initial years of adolescence, during which childhood stature is abandoned and the skeleton grows at its maximum speed for about 3 or 4 consecutive years . The total growth is estimated to be about 8cm in women and about 10cm in men. Then the growth begins a gradual process of deceleration as the bones acquire their final size.

In terms of weight, there is also a notable increase, a greater trend in women than in men, given the increase in body fat that involves the growth of the breasts and the widening of the hips . Once the growth process is finished, however, men will be heavier than women.

On the other hand, muscle growth is proportional to skeletal stretching , and they are a determining factor in increasing muscle strength. The heart and lungs, especially in men, increase their systolic capacity and blood pressure.

The dentition is also completed , reaching the complete denture with the second molars and wisdom teeth.

Finally, the thickening of the vocal cords in men , as well as the mandibular reinforcement, is as characteristic of this stage as the appearance of the “nut” in the throat, which is nothing more than the widening of the thyroid cartilage in its anterior part .

These physical changes of adolescence, however, must be understood in the context of the social, genetic, nutritional and ethnic conditions of the individual, which are equally decisive.

  1. Identity training

During adolescence, the beginning of the formation of individual identity and personality will also take place , to the extent that the young person discovers and assumes their individual autonomy. This is based on the ability to choose, since during childhood his main affections (paternal and family) have not been chosen by him, but given beforehand.

Thus, social maturation begins to occur during this stage , when the adolescent “tests” different models of belonging and community , often organized in tribes or bands that provide a sense of community. The entrance to adulthood, on the other hand, will mark the abandonment of these groups and the undertaking of a life model much more marked by individual desire.

  1. Emotion

Adolescence is a key stage in the formation of a mature emotionality , but in the meantime it is usually a difficult and tumultuous stage. And while it is difficult to summarize the possible concerns that accompany it, broadly it is expected of a teenager some polarity in the management of their emotions , which leads to irritability, untimely enthusiasm, shyness and insecurity, and a range of fluctuating emotions that They often tend to sadness.

Hence, adolescence is a period that requires family support and attention , along with tolerance and usually huge patience.

  1. Cultural traditions

The entry into adolescence is usually a reason for ritual celebration in different cultures , as a form of initiation into adulthood or the beginning of a new life cycle, called passing rituals .

Examples are the party of the fifteen, traditional in many Hispanic countries , in which young girls are presented in society : a custom inherited from times when once menstruation began, the girls were already worthy of handcuffing. Something similar happens with the Jewish tradition, in which adults of 13 and girls of 12 are considered adults, through a rite called Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah , respectively.

  1. Risk factors

Given the instabilities and the intrinsic pressures, adolescence is an important stage of vulnerability and risk . So much so that, contrary to the infant mortality rate, the adolescent increases as the years progress.

The main risks to which a teenager is exposed vary according to the society in which he is, obviously, but usually involve suicide attempts, drug addictions or early pregnancy , eating disorders, as well as exposure to sexually transmitted diseases ( especially HIV / AIDS) or criminal or highly risky behaviors. To that must be added the possibility of abuse by adults.

Early pregnancy is, of all of them, perhaps the most alarming in underdeveloped societies and in impoverished strata, where sexual education and access to contraceptives is difficult. In 2009 it was estimated, according to WHO, that some 16 million adolescents between 16 and 19 years of age gave birth each year.

  1. Media and social influences

The adolescent’s behavior is strongly influenced by the socialization mechanisms to which he has access, such as family, formal education and social groups , from which he acquires his way of relating to society and with himself.

In that sense, the media play an important role in the modeling of the adolescent psyche, since it usually lacks the experience and maturity to deal with the pressures and expectations of propaganda and television culture.

The margins of adolescent anorexia, for example, are highly linked to the aesthetic canons enacted from mass culture, and their responsibility for many of the riskiest adolescent behaviors has often been debated.

The education , both formal and affective and emotional support and have clear and positive life roles , often the only effective strategies in social and emotional protection of the adolescent. However, it is a topic in constant debate in modern societies.

  1. Teenagers and new technologies

It is estimated that the high availability of the technologies informative XXI Century ( Internet , Smartphones, etc.) in the adolescent audience can become a risk factor if they are not properly channeled.

The cell phone, for example , represents an artifact of very high demand during this stage, with availability margins of almost 100% in most industrialized countries.

Addiction to social networks or video games, isolation, the cyberbullying , exposure to strangers and premature intimate relationships, not to mention networks trafficking are some of the drawbacks presented often in the adolescent stage by indiscriminate use of this type of digital tools. Many of which usually become true physical, psychological or socialization problems.

  1. Adolescence in art

The adolescent has traditionally been the subject of numerous artistic and literary representations . Especially in pictorial art, which has seen in the body of the adolescent a symbol of the incipient beauty and the awakening of sensuality; or in the literature , through the so-called training novels (or bildungsroman ) where the individual development of a teenager is narrated as he discovers his individuality and has his first love experiences.

It could well be said that the adolescent has served, in artistic terms, as a symbol of the human in his learning to live in a world that precedes him.




Homo sapiens

Characteristics of homo sapiens