Adolescent development does not necessarily follow a similar pattern for every individual as the multidimensional phase spans through in a quite complex way. At a time of transition from childhood to adulthood traditionally, a period of rapid physical growth is flung upon the individual amidst brief periods of remission.
In the last century however, the onset of physical change has occurred at increasingly younger ages, increasing the likelihood that the psychosocial and cognitive changes will lag behind (Neinstein, 2002). Physical changes thereby vary among adolescents as children of the same age critically vary in the growth and sexual development.
For some, the rates of change occur and happen at different times as adolescents experience puberty in his/her own way and time. While it is interesting to observe pubertal changes in adolescents, the tremendous cycle brings about a cacophony of questions among the concerned age group. Some teens develop earlier than others and deal with changes earlier than others.
For others, maturity may occur later than others and more pronounced is the variation of pubertal changes between males and females (Lerner and Galambos, 1998: 414). Adolescents of the same age do not necessarily follow a similar pattern of change and the comparison is quite pronounced between both genders.
In females, the Luteinizing Hormone stimulates the ovarian cells to produce androgens and progesterone and stimulates ovulation and FSH increases estrogen production earlier compared to males whose LH stimulates testosterone production and FSH stimulates gametogenesis at a later stage (Neinstein, 2002).
The onset of puberty varies, as female pubertal development begins on average at 11.2 years of age (range 9.0 – 13.4) and lasts about 4 years while male puberty development begins on average at 11.6 years of age (range 9.5 – 13.5) (Rosen and Foster, 2001:310.Up to and during puberty, girls develop physically and mature much faster than the male counterpart (Brayer, 1986:247).
To say that adolescents encounter a lot of changes and challenges during this period of human development is an understatement. When each gender is marauded with varying levels of change, one goes through a critical stage in a short period of transition from childhood to adulthood. We shall identify the changes for males and females across this developmental stage in order to arrive at a comparison between both sexes.
The earliest signs of puberty for females include the emergence of physical changes that occur at different rates and intensity. On the average, breast budding along with pubic hair growth signals the initial phase of a female’s growth spurt that reaches its peak about one year and one month after breast development begins.
Menarche, or the onset of menstruation starts typically one year after at an average age of 12 years old (Brayer, 1986: 247). The male equivalent of menarche is spermarche which is characterized by the first ejaculation of sperm (Beckett, 2002:113).
Testicular enlargement is the common physical sign along with pubic hair development which definitely varies among the male age group but interestingly, the onset is spermarche signals the initial phase of adolescent growth in males which is a stark comparison to the female gender.
Females marked the initial stage of puberty with physical changes while males mark the onset of change through the development of secondary sexual and reproductive characteristics (Brayer, 1986:248). The appearance of spermatozoa in males appears at a mean chronologic age of 13.4 as sperm begins to appear present in urine samples among teenage males (Greenspan and Gardner, 2004:610).
As adolescents increase in height and weight during this stage, growth is rapid where females tend to typically experience this growth spurt one-and-one-half to two years earlier than males and on average grow 23-28cm. Males experience a 2-year delay in bone closure as compared to females, and this accounts in part for their greater growth in height.
Females increase in body fat while males increase in lean body mass that can often lead to tripping and clumsiness. The variability of changes can be anxiety provoking for adolescents who tend to remain shorter than their friends as some experienced delayed puberty (Beckett, 2002: 114).
During adolescence are often unable to deal with remote, future or hypothetical problems and often encounter difficulty in predicting and anticipating future experiences. Such is consistent with Jean Piaget’s conception pf cognitive development as a rational process with rational outcomes (Moshman, 2005:1).
Often, the adolescent have problems effectively dealing with abstract ideas and resort to daydreaming and increased self-interest. Adolescents likewise assume that others are as interested in them as many have an unrealistic view of themselves that can commonly lead them to believe they are invincible and immune to the dangers that befall others (Beckett, 2002:114).
Young adolescents, at the beginning of this cognitive shift, have unrealistic career plans and for those who are exposed to disadvantaged situations, would lead to the beginning of feelings of hopelessness (Moshman, 2005:2).
Moral and Psychosocial Challenges
Adolescence marks the movement from the conventional level of moral judgment to post-conventional (Neinstein, 2002). Early adolescents are typically in the conventional level of moral development as they are commonly motivated by the need to meet expectations of external factors such as opinion of friends (Strasburger, 2000: 802).
They have a particular simple idea and concept and thought as they are heavily motivated on pleasing others. As a continuous process of experience boys and girls may follow a different thought pattern in moral development as most adolescents experience a moral crisis and breakdown (Adams and Berzonsky 2003:247).
In the 80’s and 90’s, many in the society had maintained that the society was in a moral crisis brought about by juvenile delinquency, adolescent drug and alcohol abuse and teenage pregnancy (Berzonsky, 2003:248). Society has however neglected the fact that transformations in moral judgment take on focus during adolescence.
The central developmental task during adolescence is developing a sense of identity with significant turning points of shaping and reshaping different roles, beliefs and commitments (Lerner and Galambos, 1998:441). In a distinctly technological society, adolescents are faced with confronting the tasks and decisions amidst changing roles.
At the early age of 11-13, females tend to start a separate identity from the family and build close relationships with peers primarily of the same sex (Scales, et al, 2000:29). For males, such challenges are encountered at the age of 12-14 year old as they become preoccupied with questions of normalcy yet begin concerning themselves with separation from members of the family. At a peak age of 14-16, most experiment with sexual experimentation, omnipotence leading to risky behaviors (Strasburger, 2000:789).