What Is Early Adolescence?

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  • Written By: Geisha A. Legazpi
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 22 February 2020
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Early adolescence is the stage in human growth and development that occurs at age 12 or 13, and usually associated with the onset of puberty. It is also a period in child development characterized by physical, emotional, and personality changes. A time of rapid development, this stage is considered the beginning of the period of maturation. Growth depends specifically on increased secretions of hormones by the adrenal and pituitary glands, as well as by the sex organs. These natural body secretions cause the sex organs in early adolescence to start to grow to their mature size.


At the start of adolescence, or early adolescence, almost all young people experience the adolescence growth spurt, a rapid series of physical changes. These changes include an increase in the growth rate of the body accompanied by the development of pubic and armpit hair, structural and functional changes of the reproductive organs including the development of mammary glands in females, and sweat gland development that usually causes the occurrence of acne. In males and females, these changes happen at different times, with females experiencing the growth spurt a little earlier than the males. Usually, the initial sign of early adolescence in females is the enlargement of the breasts, but actual start of adolescence is marked by the onset of menstruation known as menarche. In males, the increase in the size of reproductive organs, prostate gland development, and the enlargement of the voice box are often the initial signs of early adolescence.

During early adolescence, rapid brain development usually takes place as the thinking ability of young people usually becomes superior to that of children. Most psychologists believe that early adolescence marks the beginning of young people to have the ability to reason logically, manage abstract ideas, connect between cause and effect, and make generalizations. Some psychologists, however, argue that increased intellectual capacity is a result of the accumulation of knowledge and sensitivity to the environment, not as a function of age.

Emotional development and personality changes also take place as early as during early adolescence. Many psychologists, however, believe that emotional development comes with emotional strain caused by the sexual awakening of adolescents. This belief is not accepted by other psychologists, as they consider sexual awakening as just one of the many adaptations that could lead to a search for an established identity. Nevertheless, the overall effects of physical transformations, intellectual development, and emotional and personality changes all contribute to the formation of a new self-definition.

Adolescence is often considered a stage of stressful transition, with all the changes that young people undergo to achieve full maturity. Therefore, it is necessary for parents and other adults to provide a set of values that young people can learn to emulate as part of the adjustment that they have to make. The peer group also provides a criterion by which young people acquire a perspective on their own values. It also helps adolescents to make a transition to achieve self-reliance and independence.


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