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 Adolescent Development


During adolescence, young people experience many changes as they transition from childhood into young adulthood. These changes include physical, behavioral, cognitive, and emotional-social development. Public health professionals who work with adolescents need substantive information about the trajectory of young people's lives during all phases of adolescent development. Researchers suggest adolescence undergo three primary developmental stages of adolescence and young adulthood --early adolescence, middle adolescence, and late adolescence/young adulthood.

Stages of Adolescent Development

Early Adolescence (Ages 10-14)

Early Adolescence occurs between ages 10-14. During this developmental period, adolescents experience the beginning stages of puberty. Both sexes experience significant physical growth and increased sexual interest. Cognitively, adolescents in this stage have a limited capacity for abstract thought but intellectual interests expand and become more important. Although adolescents in this stage have limited interest in the future, they develop deeper moral thinking during the early adolescence stage.

Middle Adolescence (Ages 15-17)

During the middle adolescence stage, puberty is completed for males and females. Physical growth slows for females but continues for males. Adolescents in this stage continue to experience a growing capacity for abstract thought. During this stage, adolescents begin to set long-term goals and become interested in the meaning of life and moral reasoning. Adolescents in this stage of development experience numerous social and emotional changes including increased self-involvement and an increased drive for independece.

Late Adolescence/Young Adulthood (Ages 18-24)

Adolescents in the late adolescence/young adulthood phase typically experience fewer physical developments and more cognitive developments. Adolescents gain the ability to think about ideas rationally, delay gratification, plan for the future, and gain a firm sense of identity. During this last phase of adolescent development, young people also experience increased emotional stability and independence. 

Key Resources

Want to learn more about adolescent development? Check out this free Adolescent Development E-Learning course from the Office of Adolescent Health.

Adolescent Development Resources for Parents. State Adolescent Health Resource Center (SAHRC). March 2013.

Understanding Adolescence: Early Adolescence. State Adolescent Health Resource Center (SAHRC). June 2013.

Understanding Adolescence: Middle Adolescence. State Adolescent Health Resource Center (SAHRC). June 2013.

Understanding Adolescence: Late Adolescence. State Adolescent Health Resource Center (SAHRC). June 2013.