Teen Mental Health: Exploring Normal Adolescent Development – Part Three

In this series, indicators of normal adolescence are provided for parents and teens. It’s important to have a measure upon which to determine whether a teen is experiencing mental illness or exhibiting behaviors that are of concern. Using the information below, parents and caregivers can determine whether there is need for professional assistance, such as teen mental health treatment.


The first two article of this series began with exploring normal parts of development for early adolescence. This article describes the developmental changes for late adolescence, that is, the time of life when teens are in their sophomore, junior, and senior years of high school.


Movement towards Independence


The first article of this series mentioned the term moratorium, the opportunity teens have to explore various roles, beliefs, and attitudes, according to psychological researcher James Marcia.


Research shows that those teens who have gone through moratorium and who later commit to an identity tend to be more independent, respond to stress better, have more realistic goals, and exhibit a higher self esteem than other teens. When a teen has gone through a crisis and arrives at an adult-like acceptance of his or her social, religious, political, and occupational identities, he or she has arrived at the fourth stage called identity achieved.


It’s important to note that although a teen might commit to an identity, it may not be permanent until years later. During college, for instance, he or she might move in and out of that identity until adulthood settles in. However, establishing an identity is crucial for overall well being. Those who do not commit to an identity typically feel out of place in the world and do not pursue discovering a unique sense of self.


Although adolescence is challenging, going through an identity crisis appears to be a necessary step to finally committing to an identity, and doing so, leads to psychological, emotional, and even physical health.


During late adolescence, as an older teen moves through moratorium, he or she may exhibit:


  • Increased independent functioning
  • Firmer and more cohesive sense of identity
  • Examination of inner experiences
  • Ability to think ideas through
  • Conflict with parents begins to decrease
  • Increased ability for delayed gratification and compromise
  • Increased emotional stability
  • Increased concern for others
  • Increased self-reliance
  • Peer relationships remain important and take an appropriate place among other interests


Cognitive Changes


As a teen’s brain continues to develop, he or she moves closer to possessing the abilities to reason, discern, and discriminate. In early adolescence, a teen will likely exhibit impulsivity, the inability to determine safe behavior. However, as they grow, older teens may exhibit:


  • Work habits become more defined
  • Increased concern for the future
  • More importance is placed on one’s role in life




In early adolescence, as mentioned above, teens will behave impulsively and possess an inability to make mature decisions, especially when it comes to sexuality. However, as the brain continues to develop and as adolescents continue to mature, they will demonstrate the following regarding their sexual life:


  • Feelings of love and passion
  • Development of more serious relationships
  • Firmer sense of sexual identity
  • Increased capacity for tender and sensual love


Morals, Values, and Self-Direction


The ability to distinguish one’s own morals and values from others is part of a teen’s task of forming an identity. As mentioned previously, this will depend a large deal on whether an adolescent has the opportunity to investigate this for him or herself. He or she may not in a very religious culture or a very political family for instance. Yet, if an older teen is moving through a process of forming his or her values, he or she will demonstrate the following:


  • Greater capacity for setting goals
  • Interest in moral reasoning
  • Capacity to use insight
  • Increased emphasis on personal dignity and self-esteem
  • Social and cultural traditions regain some of their previous importance


As mentioned in the first two articles, each teen is different. The above list is provided as a measure to determine what’s generally seen in most adults and what can be considered normal mental health. However, if you are a parent or caregiver and you have a concern, don’t hesitate to seek professional assistance.



Further Reading