ap psych study guides

🤔  Unit 5: Cognitive Psychology

👶  Unit 6: Developmental Psychology

🤪  Unit 7: Motivation, Emotion, & Personality

🛋  Unit 8: Clinical Psychology

6.4 Adolescent Development






⏱️  4 min read

written by

Ashley Rossi

ashley rossi

Dalia Savy

dalia savy


November 11, 2020

Adolescence refers to the transitory period from childhood to adulthood, generally beginning with puberty and extending into independent adulthood. G Stanley Hall was one of the first to identify the phase of adolescence. He saw this, rightfully so, as a turbulent period filled with stress and challenge. 

While adolescence is absolutely a trying time, it is also a time of great exploration and growth🌱. It is an interesting period in which an individual comes to know themself and their personal likes👍, dislikes👎, desires❤️, and goals🙌. 

Physical Development in Adolescence

Physically speaking, adolescence begins with puberty, which refers to the sexual maturation of an individual. While the timing at which puberty sets in varies amongst individuals (typically beginning at around 11 years for females and 13 years for boys), the sequence of events tends to be fixed.

For more information on the physical changes associated with puberty, see Key Concept 6.7

Cognitive Development in Adolescence 

Prior to puberty, brain development is characterized by the rapid development of neural networks as the child integrates new stimuli and experiences🧠. While these connections continue to form in adolescence, there is also the aspect of pruning that begins to advance as well. The skills and mechanisms that teens do not frequently use will eventually be lost. See Key Concept 6.1 for more information on this process.

The process of pruning fine-tunes the brain as neural networks that are frequently used are strengthened, while those that are unused tend to shut down over time. 

The brain tissue itself also continues to develop in this stage. While the centers of emotion in the limbic system are mostly solidified, the development of the frontal lobe lags behind. The growth of the fatty tissue known as myelin speeds neurotransmission and advances the development of the more complex brain areas. 

If you recall from the unit on Biological Basis of Behavior, the limbic system is associated with more primitive and basic emotions and motivation. It is the frontal lobe that is involved in rational thinking🤔, planning, and the abstract thought required to fully understand potential consequences. 


Image Courtesy of Teen Brain Talk

This explains why teenagers can sometimes be explosive, moody, or reckless in their choices. Teens may engage in risky behaviors like unprotected sex, drinking and driving, or smoking without fully considering the detrimental consequences such decisions may bring. Astoundingly, the frontal lobe does not fully develop until around the age of 25.

With the development of abstract and hypothetical thinking🎨, comes the ability to ponder the world around us. As we mature into adults (and even throughout adulthood), individuals develop the ability to understand, question, and attempt to change the world around them. 

Young people may begin to analyze society, morality, politics, or religion⛪. They may become motivated to advocate for causes they feel most strongly about and attempt to instill the changes they wish to see in the world. 


Image Courtesy of Connect4Climate

Development of morality also comes with higher reasoning abilities. Concepts like right, wrong, good, evil, justice, and equality all rely on the ability to think abstractly.

See Key Concept 6.6 for more information on moral development

Social Development in Adolescence

What does not occur as the result of biology occurs as the result of social interaction. Relationships with parents, teachers, and peers play a crucial role in adolescent development, especially in teenage years.

With adolescence comes the formation of identity, or our sense of self. Individuals in more individualistic cultures (typically Western cultures) tend to place a greater focus on identity. In collectivist cultures, the focus is less on individual identity and more on functioning as part of a family and community. 

Regardless of culture, social influence plays a huge role throughout adolescence. Interactions with parents and peers helps to shape and guide individuals as they transition from child to adult. 

A key feature of adolescent development is the transition from dependency to independence. Teenagers begin to pull away from their parents in various ways. They may express embarrassment in things they once found comfort in or may begin to question the ideas and beliefs of the parents. Teenage rebellion is a natural step in adolescent development. 

Nonetheless, positive relationships with parents in teen years is crucial. Teens with healthy parental relationships tend to form positive relationships with peers. They also tend to do better in school and experience less behavioral issues. 

Peers also greatly influence social development. Humans, especially teenagers, are social creatures and have a tendency towards conformity. Social isolation and exclusion can be fairly excruciating for those who experience it. As a result, teens may succumb to peer pressure in order to fit in with others.

Attempting to fit in, teenagers adopt peer culture like accents, styles, slang, and attitudes. The selection effect is where teenagers seek out peers with similar attitudes and interests and the eventually form groups.

🎥Watch: AP Psychology - Development: Maturation, Gender, etc

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