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Adolescence is a period marked by dramatic physical and cognitive development. During the time which mostly occurs to the young people in middle school through high school and at times early years of college, people undergo many developments demonstrated by transition from children to young adults. It is characterized by sexual maturity of the mind and bodies of the victims as they gain the ability to engage in relatively complex thinking that includes intense introspection, speculative thought, and meta-cognition. Such remarkable changes present opportunities as well as challenges for adolescents as they develop into young adults.
Physical Development of the Adolescents
According to Berk, it has been noted that girls usually enter the main physical changes marking the adolescence stage earlier than boys. According to studies carried out by the American Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), girls generally experience a period of rapid growth between the ages of 9 and 14, while boys experience the same between the ages of 10-11 and again 16-18. The studies have noted that girls can start developing breasts at an early stage, which may be as early as 8 years of age and subsequently have full development of breasts between the 12 and 18 years of age. In boys, the development of private organs may begin at the age of nine, and generally mature between the ages of 16 and 17. In some instances, the first period of a girl also known as menarche may start as early as the 10th year or even as late as the 15th year. Again in boys, wet dreams that mark the onset of puberty, occurs between 13 and 17 years of age.
Implications of Physical Changes
The physical changes that dominate adolescence normally have a tremendous effect on the psychological and social development of an individual. As noted by the Department of Health and Human Services, adolescents must be prepared to effectively and meaningfully deal with the awkwardness and embarrassment of the disproportionate parts of the body. Furthermore, they should be able to derive a sense out of their sexual changes by fully integrating it their sense of whom they are in the society.
During adolescence, there is a cognitive development, or what is widely known as abstract thinking. Youngsters gradually develop notable ability to engage actively in abstract thinking. A Swiss developmental psychologist, Jean Piaget, hypothesized that it is only in adolescence stage of life that human beings achieve what he termed the fourth and final stage that characterizes cognitive development or the formal operational thought. Psychologists specializing in human development have shown that such new form of intellectual processing is speculative, abstract, and void of the immediate circumstances and environment. It, therefore, involves thinking about general possibilities and comparing reality with other things that may have meaning or not. Such a development explains the reason why most young people are ardent readers of fantasy and fiction as well as having an interest in the occult.
Abstract thinking therefore, has several implications of this major step in cognitive ability. As young people develop the ability to recognize things in relation to what they should be, they more often than not become harsh critics of their guardians and social institutions. They also become very conscious of social injustice and political issues, but at the same time, their ability in analyzing their own thoughts may lead to a highly egocentric view of the world. Adolescents therefore, assume that others are as also fascinated with them just as they are with themselves. They may not then be able to have a clear distinction between the concerns of others and their own.
In the long run, they develop what David Elkind, an American child psychologist calls an "imaginary audience" for they start to imagine that other people are constantly monitoring, watching and as well judging them. This culminates into a high level of self-consciousness. The self-absorption of young people may lead them develop feeling that they are a special group of people who should be exempted from the laws of nature. As pointed out by the Department of Health and Human Services, this manner of thinking may compel adolescents to engage in some risky behaviors, for example, drinking, and driving.
Role of Hereditary and Environment in Influencing Physical Development
It has been found that heredity influences some growth aspects and physical characteristics in childhood development. However, both genetics and environment seem to play a bigger role in the overall physical development. Genes determines heredity, and each person carries genes from both the father and mother. Physical traits such as weight, height, hair color, eye color and skin color are all determined through the gene balancing in the body. Genes are, therefore, responsible for mental, cognitive processes and physical features, which are cascaded down through generations. According to Berk, there is the existence of both dominant and recessive genes for all individual personal characteristic. For example, if one parent is short and the other one is tall, it is only the dominant gene that will effectively determine the height of the born child. Genes are solely responsible for diverse factors that determine the numerous hereditary physical traits.
Although genes are the predominant determinants of the developmental process, the environment also plays a crucial role in the determination of the development and physical characteristics. For instance, when a fetus is exposed to chemicals or pollutants in the womb of the mother at certain stages in the process of development, it can then alter the composition of their deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) thereby causing mutations to the body.
Recent research on the brain has shed light about so many physical, social, cognitive, and emotional difficulties demonstrated by children who have been victims of maltreatment during their early years of growth. Child abuse or maltreatment during infancy as well as early years of childhood has been shown to have negative effects on the early development of the brain, which can latter persist into adolescence and adulthood. Life experiences during infancy and early childhood greatly provide the organizing structure and platform for the expression of emotions, intelligence and personalities in children. When the experiences are fundamentally negative, then victims may develop behavioral, emotional, and even learning challenges that may persist the entire lifetime, more so when there are no adequate programs of interventions.
Psychodynamic perspectives theorize that when children and young adults are faced with social problems they are mainly directed by the impulses characterized by aggression and sexuality as well as being led by the need for social acceptance and contribution. Children are known to use their impulses through various stages of life. This occurs in ways that may be beneficial to the society. As an individual develops and consequently receives feedback on his or her reactions, definitely he or she will master the art of dealing with impulses in a more meaningful way. Many psychologists therefore caution against taking resilience from a personal framework, but should be viewed as a function of experiences of development that are part and parcel of the community.
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