The Physical, Sexual and Social Changes of Adolescence

There is an uncomfortable gap for teens between the process of physical maturity and social maturity.

Often, the biological changes begin to take place without the equivalent social, emotional, and psychological development. Adults who meet grown teens for the first time might expect more from them because of their physical size and treat them differently than if their biological changes were not evident. Furthermore, those teens who have gone through the sexual maturing process of puberty and who might be biologically ready for procreation and romantic partnership may not yet have the emotional or psychological to take on such responsibilities.

Changes of Adolescence

Puberty is different for males and females and its onset varies in age. For boys it is when they develop the ability to ejaculate semen, and for girls, it is their first menstrual period. Typically, puberty begins much earlier for girls than boys and is often followed by a growth spurt in both genders. Because of the wide variations in age in relationship to puberty, it is hard to firmly define the beginning and end of adolescence. However, age 12 is often used as the start of the teenage years and age 20 often marks its end.

In the United States, puberty is reached at around age 12.8 for girls and age 14 for boys. Of course, this age fluctuates with each teen. It can be as early as age 9 and as late as age 16 for girls, whereas puberty can begin in boys as early as age 11.

Girls v. Boys

Studies indicate that boys who mature earlier tend to have advantages. For instance, they are typically more popular, confident, better socially confident, and more successful in romantic relationships. They also tend to begin dating earlier and become sexually active at a younger age. However, they also tend to engage in risky behavior such as drug use. Girls who mature early also tend to use drugs and participate in other forms of risky behavior. Fortunately, research indicates that these disadvantages of early maturation disappear by young adulthood.

Changes of adolescence include psychological and emotional ones. Teens tend to believe that they are the center of attention, even when they are not. For instance, an adolescent might be grossly concerned about how he or she looks because “everybody’s noticing”. There seems to be a large imaginary audience for teens that makes them particularly egocentric. However, this is not necessarily a negative trait of adolescence. In fact, it leads to a sense of being invincible, invulnerable, and the heroes of their own personal fantasy.

Feeling Invincible 

As teens mature psychologically, and a part of this is forming a more firm sense of self, these feelings of invincibility will begin to disappear. However, in the meantime, they can contribute to their tendency to participate in risky behavior. For instance, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, teens age 16-19 are four times more likely to have a motor vehicle accident than older drivers.


Certainly, the changes of adolescence is an awkward time. There are biological changes that are occurring at a different pace than psychological and emotional ones. Knowing about these various stages of development can help a teen make sense of the challenges he or she might be experiencing. And if you’re a caregiver, you can facilitate a teen’s move through these transitions with caring and compassionate conversations using the above information. Your support and love will also ease the changes of adolescence and make possible a successful step into adulthood.