Adolescence begins with the biological changes accompanying puberty. More broadly speaking, however, puberty is used as a collective term to refer to all the physical changes that occur in the growing girl or boy as the individual passes from childhood into adulthood.
Biological changes usher in a phase of emotional transition during adolescence, particularly, changes in the way individuals view themselves and in their capacity to function independently. Following are the emotional changes adolescents experience through puberty:
- Mood Swings– Teenagers going through puberty often experience a shift in levels of hormones in their body resulting in mood swings between feeling confident and happy to feeling irritated and depressed in a short span of time. Thoughts, feelings, and actions vary between humility and conceit, goodness and temptation, and happiness and sadness. One moment, the adolescent may be nice and sweet with a friend, yet in the next moment can be extremely rude and hurtful.
- Identity Crisis– The identity crisis typically occurs during early to middle adolescence, and is twofold; the crisis of identity and identity confusion. On one hand, the individual struggles to find a balance between developing a unique, individual identity while on the other hand, still want to be accepted as part of a group and strives to “fit in.” This is also a time when one distances themselves from their parents and tries to associate more with their friends. Psychologically, because their friends are perceived to be in the similar phase. This creates an identity confusion of which group to belong.
- Change in Relationships and Peer Pressure– With the onset of puberty, there is a change in the relationship dynamics. Teenagers may start spending more time with peers than with parents. It may seem that friends appear to be more important than family. As a matter of fact, for an adolescent, both friends and family are important. They want the acceptance of their peers, along with the guidance and support of parents.
- Sexual Desire– The increase in sex hormones during puberty causes many changes in adolescents including having new sexual feelings. The three aspects of sexual desire during adolescence are: first when an individual becomes aware of why, when, where, and with who to have sexual intercourse, second, the perception of being desired by others, third, feelings, crushes and fantasies for others.
Compared to children, adolescents think in ways that are more advanced, more efficient, and generally more complex. Jean Piaget (Cognitive Theorist) describes this stage of cognitive development in adolescents when an individual can solve problems using trial and error method in a logical and methodical way. This can be seen in five aspects:
- Hypothetical Thinking– As children our thinking is oriented to the here and now—i.e., to the things and events that we observe directly. The transition to adolescence brings in the development of thought with regards to what is possible. The adolescents are able to hypothesize what can be, as against what is.
- Abstract Thinking – Adolescents find it easier than children to comprehend the higher-order, abstract logic inherent in puns, proverbs, metaphors, and analogies. This improved function of abstract thinking also enables the application of advanced reasoning and logical processes to social and ideological matters. This is evident in the adolescent’s increased interest in thinking about interpersonal relationships, politics, philosophy, religion, and morality, fairness, and honesty.
- Metacognition- Increased introspection and self-consciousness are one of the hallmarks of adolescent behavior. This also highlights the increase in process of metacognition, causing not only intellectual advancements but also at times a perception of continuously being watched or monitored by peers/others.
- Multidimensional cognition of self/others- The adolescent’s vocabulary describing events or people contain complex terms and multiple perspectives. They begin to understand that situations can have more than one interpretations and point of views. This is in contrast to a child’s thinking where each aspect is processed separately and one at a time. This is a building block for creation of sophisticated and complex relationships with other individuals.
- Relative vs absolute terms- Children always see things in absolute terms—in either black or white. Adolescents start to perceive things as relative. They start questioning the basis of things told to them. Refusal to accept things which were previously ‘absolute truths’ can at times lead to stressful moments in the household, and is one of the causes of argumentative behaviours in the teenagers.
Growth spurts at the time of puberty imply that all of a sudden there is an altered body for the child to manage. This causes a problem of self-consciousness and initiates the adolescents onto a path of sex role definition. This is the time of continuous self-appraisal and comparison of their self -image with their peer group. Eventually, the purpose of this change along with the emotional and cognitive transitions taking place in the psyche is to enable a young adult to not only become socially and emotionally independent, but also to establish her own beliefs, values and her place in life.
– Fariha Farooqui
Holds a PhD in Psychology. and currently is a counsellor-in-training at Parivarthan