Image of a laughing cheery smiling young teenage girl outside in park listening music with headphones holding mobile phone showing tongue; blog: stages of adolescence

While entering the teenage years may be intimidating for both you and your child, understanding the ups and downs of each stage can better prepare you to deal with any challenges. Each child is different, but you can generally expect the following changes during the three stages of adolescence as outlined by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Each stage is separated into lists of both physical and mental/emotional changes.

Ages 10 to 13: Early Adolescence

Physical Growth & Development

  • Puberty for many children and pre-teens begins during this stage of adolescence.
  • Pre-teens experience both physical growth and sexual development, which can be uncomfortable for pre-teens and teens.
  • Body changes during early adolescence may include developing hair under the arms and in the pubic area, testicular enlargement in males, and breast development in females.
  • Changes usually start happening earlier for females than for males. Females may start developing a year or two ahead of boys in most cases.
  • Changes can start as early as age 8 in females and age 9 for males but can become more noticeable at the onset of adolescence.

Mental & Emotional Development

  • Pre-teens and teens begin to assert more independence as they move through the stages of adolescence. This means they may rebel, especially when parents reinforce rules and set limits.
  • Children of this age group often have an increased need for privacy, another sign of wanting more independence and less supervision.
  • They may also require more privacy to deal with the curiosity and anxiety that come with body changes and new feelings.
  • In this phase, children may notice or start to question their gender identity. This is something that may continue throughout or even beyond the stages of adolescence.
  • It’s common for pre-teens to become more focused on themselves, or a bit egocentric. Their thoughts and feelings are centered on themselves, making them self-conscious. 
  • At this point, kids start feeling like they are always being judged by people, especially their peers.
  • At this point in adolescence, children have a very “black-and-white” thought process. Something is either right or wrong, with no room for other interpretation. They see things as either amazing or awful, rarely ever just “okay.”

Ages 14 to 17: Middle Adolescence

Physical Development

Changes from puberty are still happening in teens during middle adolescence.

  • Physical changes in females may have slowed down or finished, but by this age most will start having regular menstrual periods.
  • Most males will have started their pubescent growth spurt
  • Male’s voices begin to lower and there may be a period where the voice cracks.
  • Acne develops in both males and females.

Mental & Emotional Development

  • As the brain continues to develop, thought processes mature during this time, however, they still do not process things like adults yet.
    • The frontal lobes are the last parts of the brain to develop and are not fully mature by this stage. The frontal lobes are responsible for complex decision making, judgment, impulse control, and considering the consequences of actions.
  • Teens at this age may be able to start thinking in the abstract and start seeing the bigger picture rather than the specifics of one situation. They can use logic, but are still primarily driven by emotion.
  • Teens of this age start feeling interested in romantic and sexual relationships.
  • Exploration of their sense of identity as well as beliefs and values is common. Some teens want to fit in with their peers while others want to assert their individuality.

Ages 18 to 21: Late Adolescence

Physical Development

During late adolescence, physical development has been completed for most young people. Most people have grown to their full adult heights.

Mental & Emotional Development

The brain is completing its development during late adolescence. However, the frontal lobe will not fully develop until around age 25. That’s why some people consider late adolescence to be ages 18 to 24.

  • Young people in this age range usually have better impulse control and decision-making skills than in middle adolescence. Risks and rewards are more accurately evaluated.
  • There is a stronger sense of identity in older adolescents.
  • Values and beliefs are often solidified during this stage.
  • Independence increases as many young adults separate from their parents to live outside their childhood homes.
  • Established relationships with parents, siblings, and other family members may change in nature now that adulthood has nearly been reached.
  • Thoughts may turn to the future and decisions may be based on their beliefs, desires, and hopes.

HealthPark Pediatrics is committed to providing our patients with a medical home from birth to age 21, and all the stages of adolescence in between. If you have questions about your child’s health or development call our Raleigh, NC office at (919) 896-7076 to make an appointment.