Characteristics of Adolescent and Their Implications for the Teacher

Characteristics of Adolescent and Their Implications for the Teacher
Characteristics of Adolescent and Their Implications for the Teacher

Characteristics of Adolescent and Their Implications for the Teacher


Adolescence (10-19 years) is a phase of life which has recently gained recognition as a distinct phase of life with its own special needs. This phase is characterized by acceleration of physical growth and, psychological and behavioural changes thus bringing about transformation from childhood to adulthood.

Adolescence has been described as the transition period in life when an individual is no longer a child, but not yet an adult. It is a period in which an individual undergoes enormous physical and psychological changes. In addition, the adolescent experiences changes in social expectations and perceptions. Physical growth and development are accompanied by sexual maturation, often leading to intimate relationships. The individual’s capacity for abstract and critical thought also develops, along with a sense of self-awareness when social expectations require emotional maturity.


Research suggests distinctive characteristics of young adolescents with regard to their physical, cognitive, moral, psychological, and social-emotional development, as well as spiritual development (Scales, 2010).

Physical development

Rapid and dramatic physical development and growth mark adolescence, including development of sexual characteristics. Marked morphological changes in almost all organs and systems of the body are responsible for the accelerated growth and the changes in contours and sexual organs. In case of boys, active acceleration in growth of coarse pubic hair and facial hair usually precede other signs of puberty such as voice changes. In girls, development of breasts, broadening of hips and rapid growth in height usually begins about two and a half years before menarche.

Implications of physical development characteristics for the teacher

The teacher and the schools can support physical development by offering responsive educational opportunities for young adolescents. Among these opportunities are health and science curricula that describe and explain physical changes. The teacher and schools also need to provide (a) programs that encourage adequate exercise and healthy lifestyles, (b) access to plenty of water and nutritious food during the school day, (c) appropriate instruction concerning the risks of alcohol and drug use, teenage pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases.

Adolescents must be afforded opportunities for physical movement and periods of rest. When young adolescents avoid physical activity due to concerns about body image (Milgram, 1992), teachers can incorporate movement in classroom activities, minimize peer competition, and interrupt comparisons between early and late maturing youth.

Intellectual Developmental characteristics

Intellectual development refers to the increased ability of people to understand and reason. In young adolescents, intellectual development is not as visible as physical development, but it is just as intense. During early adolescence, youth exhibit a wide range of individual intellectual development, including metacognition and independent thought. They tend to be curious and display wide-ranging interests. Typically, young adolescents are eager to learn about topics they find interesting and useful—ones that are personally relevant. They also favor active over passive learning experiences and prefer interactions with peers during educational activities (Kellough & Kellough, 2008).

During early adolescence, youth develop the capacity for abstract thought processes though the transition to higher levels of cognitive function varies considerably across individuals. Young adolescents typically progress from concrete logical operations to acquiring the ability to develop and test hypotheses, analyze and synthesize data, grapple with complex concepts, and think reflectively. As they mature, young adolescents start to understand the nuances of metaphors, derive meaning from traditional wisdom, and experience metacognition.

Similarly, they are increasingly able to think through ideological topics, argue a position, and challenge adult directives. They form impressions of themselves through introspection and “possess keen powers of perception”. Additionally, they appreciate more sophisticated levels of humor.


Implications of Intellectual Development characteristics for the teacher

Teachers need to consider the intellectual developmental differences of young adolescents when planning learning experiences. To address this diversity, teachers need to provide an assortment of educational approaches and materials that are appropriate for their students’ wide-ranging cognitive abilities. For example, the concrete thinkers require more structured learning experiences, while the abstract thinkers need more challenging activities. In addition, young adolescents need teachers who understand and know how they think.

Teachers need to plan curricula around real life concepts and supply authentic educative activities (e.g., experimentation, analysis and synthesis of data) that are meaningful for young adolescents. Because young adolescents’ interests are evolving, they require opportunities for exploration throughout their educational program.

To foster intellectual development, these youth need to interact directly with their world—through discourse and hands-on experience with peers and adults. Similarly, young adolescents need to learn and engage in democratic principles. Teachers can also provide forums for them to examine the reasons for school, home, and societal rules. As adult role models, teachers can guide young adolescents to connect intellectual thought and moral reasoning.

Moral Development

Moral development is defined as an individuals’ ability to make principled choices and how to treat one another. During early adolescence, many of the attitudes, beliefs, and values that young adolescents develop remain with them for life. They move away from blanket acceptance of adult moral judgment to the development of their own personal values; however, they usually embrace the values of parents or key adults. As noted, the increased capacity of young adolescents for analytical thought, reflection, and introspection characterizes the connection between their intellectual and moral development. Young adolescents also tend to be idealistic and possess a strong sense of fairness.

As they progress into the interpersonal conformity stage of moral development, young adolescents begin to reconcile their understanding of people who care about them with their own egocentricity. They transition from a self-centered perspective to considering the rights and feelings of others (Scales, 2010). Gender affects how adolescents approach moral dilemmas—males view moral issues through a justice lens and females use an interpersonal care lens

Young adolescents often pose broad, unanswerable questions about life and refuse to accept trivial responses from adults. They also begin to view moral issues in shades of gray rather than only in black and white. While young adolescents start to consider complex moral and ethical questions, they tend to be unprepared to cope with them. Consequently, young adolescents struggle with making sound moral and ethical choices (Kellough & Kellough, 2008).

Implications of Moral Development characteristics for the teacher
Teachers need to be aware of the relationship between young adolescents’ intellectual development and their moral reasoning (Scales, 2010). They can organize instructional experiences that foster critical thinking skills and higher levels of moral reasoning. For example, teachers plan assignments that help students to incorporate their thoughts and feelings in writing (Scales, 2010). Teachers can engage young adolescents with activities that require consensus building and application of democratic principles; teacher advisory programs and service learning can foster teamwork and build community (Brighton, 2007).

In addition, teachers can design experiences for students to examine moral dilemmas and contemplate responses (Scales, 2010). Such experiences can help young adolescents to develop values, resolve problems, and set their own behavior standards (Kellough & Kellough, 2008). Young adolescents can also be afforded opportunities to examine their own choices and the consequences of these choices (Kellough & Kellough, 2008). Further, teachers can develop scenarios that prompt young adolescents to examine concepts of fairness, justice, and equity. School programs or curricula can include a focus on societal issues such as the environment, poverty, or racial discrimination.

Psychological Development

During early adolescence, psychological development is characterized by identity formation and the quest for independence. Young adolescents experience two stages of identity formation: (a) industry versus inferiority when 10- to 11-year-olds identify themselves by the tasks and skills they perform well, and (b) identity versus identity when 12- to 15-year-olds explore and experiment with various roles and experience). Identity development depends on the degree of exploration and commitment to an identity. During these years, young adolescents seek their own sense of individuality and uniqueness (Brown & Knowles, 2007). They may experience an increased awareness of their ethnic identity as well (Scales, 2010).

As young adolescents search for an adult identity and adult acceptance, they strive to maintain peer approval. As young adolescents expand their affiliations to include family and peers, feelings of conflict may arise due to competing allegiance). The search for identity and self-discovery may intensify feelings of vulnerability, as they become attuned to the differences between self and others (Scales, 2010).

Typically, early adolescence is intense and unpredictable (Scales, 2010). Young adolescents have a tendency to be moody, restless, and may exhibit erratic and inconsistent behavior including anxiety, bravado, and fluctuations between superiority and inferiority. They are often self-conscious and highly sensitive to criticism of their perceived personal shortcomings.

Young adolescents’ self-esteem levels are generally adequate and improve over time, while self-competence in academic subjects, sports, and creative activities decline (Scales, 2010). Emotionally-charged situations may trigger young adolescents to resort to childish behaviors, exaggerate simple events, and vocalize naive opinions or one-sided arguments. Their emotional variability makes young adolescents at risk of making decisions with negative consequence and believing that their experiences, feelings, and problems are unique.

Implications of Psychological Development characteristics for the teacher
Teachers need to support young adolescents’ quest for identity formation through curricular experiences, instructional approaches, and opportunities for exploration. Young adolescents need frequent opportunities to explore and experiment with various roles and experiences within the classroom context. Teachers can provide educative experiences such as role-playing, drama, and reading that foster identity formation. These experiences can help young adolescents realize that their challenges are not unique (Kellough & Kellough, 2008).

In addition, teachers can incorporate opportunities for student choice and self-assessment. Teachers can also describe how self-esteem affects many aspects of their development and design experiences that build young adolescents’ self-esteem. Likewise, teachers can acknowledge the importance of friendships and explain that shifting peer allegiances are normal (Scales, 2010).

To foster successful experiences for every young adolescent, schools need to provide organizational structures such as teaming and advisory programs. These structures help to ensure that every young adolescent is known well by at least one adult and has regular occasions to experience positive relationships with peers.

Young adolescents need opportunities to form relationships with adults who understand them and who are willing to support their development. Educational programs and practices can be used to promote an atmosphere of friendliness, concern, and group cohesiveness (Kellough & Kellough, 2008). Young adolescents deserve school environments that are free from harsh criticism, humiliation, and sarcasm.

Social-Emotional Development characteristics

Social-emotional development concerns a person’s capacity for mature interactions with individuals and groups. In early adolescence, social-emotional maturity often lags behind physical and intellectual development. Young adolescents have a strong need to belong to a group—with peer approval becoming more important and adult approval decreasing in importance (Scales, 2010). As young adolescents mature socially and emotionally, they may experience conflicting loyalties to peer group and family (Wiles et al., 2006). Because young adolescents are fiercely loyal to their peer group (Kellough & Kellough, 2008), they search for social stature within the peer group.

Young adolescents often experiment with new behaviors as they seek social position and personal identity (Scales, 2010). They are also torn between their desire to conform to the peer group norms and their aspiration to be distinctive and independent (Brighton, 2007). Young adolescents experience a variety of peer associations—positive and negative. During early adolescence, youth typically widen their circle of friends (Brighton, 2007) and may experience feelings of romantic or sexual attraction (Scales, 2010). Issues of sexual orientation and identity can also arise at this time (Brighton, 2007).

Negative peer associations, particularly bullying, also become more prevalent in the middle school years. Young adolescents are also socially and emotionally vulnerable due to influences of media (Kellough & Kellough, 2008; Scales, 2010).

Young adolescents tend to emulate their esteemed peers and non-parent adults. While they prefer to make their own choices, the family remains a critical factor in final decision-making. Young adolescents may be rebellious toward their parents and adults, yet tend to depend on them. Young adolescents also frequently test the limits of acceptable behavior and challenge adult authority. They may overreact to social situations, ridicule others, and feel embarrassment (Scales, 2010). When experiencing adult rejection, young adolescents may seek the seemingly secure social environment of their peer group. Importantly, teachers report that addressing young adolescents’ social and emotional needs may improve their learning and academic achievement.


Implications of Social-Emotional Development characteristics for the teacher
Because of young adolescents’ need for affiliation and belonging, they must have opportunities to form affirming and healthy relationships with peers. Teachers must recognize the importance of peer relationships and friendship (Scales, 2010) and provide occasions for positive peer interactions . Teachers can design cooperative learning activities and collaborative experiences for young adolescents to interact productively with peers (Scales, 2010).Teachers can also plan activities that engage students in argumentation or debate in academic settings as well as those that simulate social situations through role-plays or simulations.

Schools play a key role in providing young adolescents with educative programs that promote freedom and independence within a safe space. Organizational structures such as teaming and service learning advance positive places for young adolescent’s growth. School districts need to support programs that interrupt negative peer interactions, particularly bullying, that impedes the healthy development of youth. Schools can also ensure young adolescents’ access to student government, service clubs, or other leadership groups that allow them to develop their own projects and guidelines for behavior.


Adolescence, the transition between childhood and adulthood, is a stressful period of life characterised by discernible physical, mental, emotional, social and behavioural changes.


Arnett, J. J. (2010). Adolescence and emerging adulthood: A cultural approach (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. (1975). The middle school we need. Washington, DC: Author.

Blakemore, S., & Choudhury, S. (2006). Development of the adolescent brain: Implications for executive function and social cognition. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47(3/4), 296-312.

Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.). (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school (Expanded ed.). Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

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