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Adolescence brings change for boys, girls

8/4/2014

This is the first in a series about parenting adolescents.

This is the first in a series about parenting adolescents.

11A: The University of Alabama's Parenting Assistance Line published an online article titled Development Milestones-Adolescents. The development processes were organized according to physical, mental, emotional and social categories, and were differentiated between girls and boys.

In girls, physical changes in gross motor skills develop slowly but continuously and level off at age 14. Girls reach adult height by 15 to 16 years, breast growth is reached by age 16, and fat deposits increase in arms, legs, lips and breasts. Girls have much less muscle development than boys. Sleep time declines, not because girls need less sleep but because they stay up longer. Therefore, girls sleep later on weekends or school breaks to catch up. Boys experience dramatic spurts in speed, strength and endurance. Their heart and lungs enlarge, and they develop large skeletal muscles. Their red blood cells increase and carry more oxygen from the lungs to the muscles. Red blood cells do not increase in girls. Mid-puberty, boys experience voice changes. By 17 to 18 years of age, physical changes in boys are complete.

The timing of adolescent physical changes greatly affects how adolescents see themselves. Boys who mature before their peers tend towards positive self-image. These boys often fulfill leadership roles and might excel in athletics. Family, friends and teachers generally perceive these boys as more mature and stronger. Later-maturing boys do not fare as well within their peer groups and are seen as less capable and less confident.

Regarding girls and body-image, those who mature early often are self-conscious about their bodies. Examples would be breast growth and the beginning of menses. These girls tend to engage earlier in adult behaviors such as drinking alcohol and engaging in sexual activity. Girls who develop late physically usually do better academically and socially. They generally are perceived as physically attractive by peers.

Both boys and girls are most comfortable with friends who have the same level of biological maturity. Early maturing girls feel out of place, and so do late maturing boys. Both groups are out of step with their peers.

In regard to mental acuity, both genders show an increase in abstract thinking. This change produces adolescents who are argumentative, idealistic and critical. They think about ideas and values and reach their own conclusions about what they think and how they believe. Girls are not more intelligent than boys, and vice-versa. However, girls generally have better verbal skills, and boys have better mathematical reasoning.

In terms of emotional and social development, the main developmental task in adolescents is the achievement of individual identity. They experiment with ideas, value, morals, and political and religious beliefs. However, adolescents change their thinking frequently. They daydream a lot about the future.

Those teens who feel bonded with their parents but allowed to explore their own thoughts and feelings generally demonstrate more emotional stability and better self-esteem. Peer relationships become important to adolescents, and they report their best moods occur when with their friends.

Most teens are influenced in day-to-day matters. Peer influences include clothing styles, music, choice of friends and activity choices such as athletics or music. Parents have more influence than peers on life values and educational goals. Those teens who have parents who are either lax and indifferent or controlling and punitive are most susceptible to the influence of anti-social and drug-abusing friends.

Adolescents are very self-conscious. They think they are the center of everyone's attention. Thus, they embarrass easily, are over-concerned about what others think and are sensitive to criticism.

Because they believe attention is centered on them, they develop inflated opinions of themselves. They think they are special and no one possibly could understand their difficulties. Along with their inflated egos, adolescents also have false senses of invulnerability. That false belief leads to risk-taking behaviors. Intellectually, they know some activities are dangerous, but they believe they are invulnerable to the consequences.

In terms of decision making, teens sometimes become overwhelmed and have problems making decisions because there are so many more decisions to make than they had in childhood. However, through time, adolescents mature, become more confident and gain experience in decision making.

In a Teen Help Alliance Article from 2014 Parenting Adolescents, additional differences in boys and girls during adolescence are reiterated. Boys struggle more with anger fueled by testosterone. Boys generally are less open about themselves than girls. They are no less intelligent, but process oral communications more slowly than girls. Boys tune out lecturing. They also listen better if parents can engage more than one sense, such as physical touch and eye contact.

Girls have more issues with body images, problems with friends and self-harm. Cutting occurs more often with girls. Cutting focuses their attention on external, physical pain rather than emotional pain. Cutting releases endorphins and a feeling of relief that is short-lived and leads to guilt and even more emotional pain. Another risk for both girls and boys is drug abuse. Girls tend more toward depression, and boys toward aggression and acting out behaviors.

* Next week's article will explore different parenting styles and their effects on adolescents.

Judy Caprez is associate professor of social work at Fort Hays State University. Send your questions in care of the department of sociology and social work.