Maturing Stages in Adolescence
It is a demographically dense time, where most people experience very key life events that will help form who they are. (Ritcher, 2006, p. 1902) Erik Erickson defines the primary task for adolescence as a search for identity and answer to the question of “Who am I?” (Polan & Taylor, 2018, p. 155)
For these reasons, and the fact that adolescents are going through physical, mental, and emotional changes, nurses need to be aware of these changes and how they affect patients. Puberty usually begins between the ages of eleven and fourteen, taking an average of two years to complete, and ends with the onset of menses in women, and the production of sperm in men. Puberty is the second most rapid growth period in a life span, right behind the prenatal period, with children growing twenty to twenty-five percent in height, and gaining fifteen to sixty-five pounds. (Polan & Taylor, 2018, p. 150) The defining event of puberty for girls is menarche, which usually occurs around the age of thirteen. During this time, an important intervention is patient teaching of what to expect of this first menstruation, including what physical and emotional changes that go alongside it.
For boys, the signs of puberty don’t usually occur until fourteen or fifteen years of age. (Christie & Viner, 2005, p. 303) Because of the rapid growth occurring in teens, usually they need more calories, with girls on average needing 2,600 calories a day, and boys needing 3,600 calories a day. This may be problematic, as 42% of teens wish they were thinner, causing there to be fewer cases of dieting, and more cases of eating disorders. (Polan & Taylor, 2018, p. 159,160) An adequate amount of sleep is also needed for proper growth, most teens needing eight or more hours a day to maintain optimal health. (Polan & Taylor, 2018, p. 160)
During this stage of development, the central nervous system should mature, leading to a shift from concrete thinking, to formal operational though processes. Without proper training though, adolescents may not move beyond concrete thinking. (Polan & Taylor, 2018, p. 158) An adolescents’ mental growth is dependent on the environment they are placed in. (Brooks, 1939, p. 41) Formal operation thinking is more logical than concrete thinking, and can be mastered through learning scientific reasoning and problem solving, making individuals able to look at all possibilities. (Polan & Taylor, 2018, p. 158) Young adolescents show increasing intellectual power and sophistication, as their interests begin to lean toward more real and practical world practices. (James, 1980, p. 245)
If a young person can apply homospatial thinking during this time, they will be able to develop a healthy definition of personality, exhibiting virtues, fidelity, and social roles. (James, 1980, p. 249) School is at the center of this development, as social skills, friendships, and peer interactions can help form ones’ thought processes, as well as expand ones’ mental capacity. (Polan & Taylor, 2018, p. 158)
How an adolescent spends their free time can also impact their mental capacity, as exercise in group settings can help build social circles. Adolescents who avoid athletic activity may be more drawn to sedentary activities that challenge the mind. (Polan & Taylor, 2018, p. 161) Many young people also have part time jobs, which on top of school and leisure activities, can teach them time management skills and budgeting. (Polan & Taylor, 2018, p. 161)
According to the Erik Erickson stages of development, this time of person’s life is the “Identity Versus Role Confusion” stage of life. The primary task of this period is master the question “Who am I?”, and have a sense of ego identity. (Poole & Snarey, 2011, p. 601) Polan and Taylor state in their textbook Journey Across the Life Span: Human Development and Health Promotion, that “Identity begins with a separation of the individual from the family.”
Adolescence is when young people begin to develop the ability to use symbols and images to represent reality, to plan a future, and assess consequence for actions. This is how one develops abstract thinking, and it is an important part of adolescence. (Christie & Viner, 2005, p. 302) As ones’ ability to think in the abstract develops, it interacts with an adolescents’ sense of uniqueness to create an awareness of outcomes and consequences. (Christie & Viner, 2005, p. 303) This stage of life causes a lot of ambivalence for an adolescent, as they have conflicting needs in independence, as well as dependence on parental figures. (Polan & Taylor, 2018, p. 155)
Society, Emotions and Health
As young people age, they begin to define themselves in relation to those around them, which means it can be harder to comprehend how ones’ actions impact those around them. Further, it can make a young person feel isolated, as they might feel no one can have a clear understanding of how they feel. (Christie & Viner, 2005, p. 303) This feeling can be increased by the impending societal pressures, such as graduating school, picking a life path, moving towards becoming economically independent, and developing a value system. (Polan & Taylor, 2018, p. 157)
This stress and isolation can cause self-reflection, which can lead to disappointment and despair, leading to depression. Depression is easily unnoticed by family and friends, and suicide is the third most common cause of death in fifteen to twenty-four year olds. (Polan & Taylor, 2018, p. 162) Education of adolescent patients and their parents on the signs, symptoms, and treatments for depression is invaluable during this period.
Between the mental, physical, and emotional changes that an adolescent goes through, it can be hard for them to keep in good health. The state of a young person’s health is reflective of their habits and nutritional patterns, and a yearly checkup is suggested to track growth and monitor for chronic health issues. (Polan & Taylor, 2018, p. 161) One criticism of the models describing adolescence is that they fail to recognize that young people are in a system, that their place in is determined by their relationships with the system, as well as external and internal demands. (Christie & Viner, 2005, p. 302)
- Brooks, F. (1939). Mental Development in Adolescence. Review of Educational Research, 9(1), 38-46.
- Christie, D., & Viner, R. (2005). ABC of Adolescence: Adolescent Development. BMJ: British Medical Journal, 330(7486), 301-304.
- James, M. (1980). Early Adolescent Ego Development. The High School Journal, 63(6), 244-249.
- Polan, E., & Taylor, D. (2018). Journey Across the Life Span: Human Development and Health Promotion (5th ed.). Philadelphia: F.A. Davis Company.
- Poole & Snarey, John. (2011). Erikson’s Stages of the Life Cycle. Encyclopedia of Child Behavior and Development. 2. 599-603. 10.1007/978-0-387-79061-9_1024.
- Richter, L. (2006). Studying Adolescence. Science, 312(5782), 1902-1905.