Characteristics of Adolescents

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Intellectual, moral, physical, emotional, and psychological development of Middle School students.

Middle Schoolers undergo profound changes during their adolescent years, and unlike infancy, they are witnesses to these changes. Complicating things further is the fact that these changes do not occur at the same rate in each individual. While all adolescents do not share these characteristics, it is safe to say that many do. Understanding that these characteristics are developmentally “normal” is helpful. At the same time, while these changes are necessary and natural, they present challenges to parents, teachers, and Middle Schoolers themselves.

Intellectual Development

  • Display a wide range of intellectual development.
  • Are in transition from concrete to abstract thinking.
  • Are intensely curious and dabble in a wide range of pursuits, few of which are sustained.
  • Prefer active over passive learning activities.
  • Prefer interaction with peers during learning activities.
  • Respond positively to opportunities to participate in real life situations. 

  • Are often preoccupied with self.
  • Have a strong need for approval and may be easily discouraged.
  • Develop an increased understanding of personal abilities.
  • Are inquisitive about adults, often challenging their authority, and always observing them.
  • May show disinterest in conventional academic subjects but are intellectually curious about the world and themselves.
  • Are developing a capacity to understand high level or sophisticated humor.

Moral Development

  • Often show compassion for those who are downtrodden or suffering and have a special concern for animals and environmental problems.
  • Are moving from acceptance of adult moral judgments to development of their own personal values. (Nevertheless, they tend to embrace values consistent with those of their parents.)
  • Are capable of and value direct experience in participatory democracy.
  • Greatly need and are influenced by adult role models who will listen to them and affirm their moral consciousness and actions as being trustworthy role models.
  • Are increasingly aware of and concerned about inconsistencies between values exhibited by adults and the conditions they see in society.

Physical Development

  • Experience rapid, irregular growth.
  • Undergo body changes that might cause awkward, uncoordinated movements.
  • Have varying maturity rates, with girls tending to mature one-and-a-half to two years earlier than boys.
  • May be at a disadvantage because of the varied rates of maturity that require the understanding of caring adults.
  • Experience restlessness and fatigue due to hormonal changes.
  • Need daily physical activity because of increased energy.
  • Develop sexual awareness that increases as secondary sex characteristics appear.
  • Are concerned with body changes that accompany sexual maturation and changes resulting in an increase in nose size, protruding ears, long arms, and awkward posture.
  • Prefer junk food but need good nutrition.
  • Often lack physical fitness, with poor levels of endurance, strength, and flexibility.
  • Are physically vulnerable because they may adopt poor health habits or engage in risky experimentation with drugs and sex.

Emotional and Psychological Development

  • Experience mood swings often with peaks of intensity and unpredictability. 

  • Need to release energy, often in sudden, apparently meaningless outbursts of activity.
  • Seek to become increasingly independent, searching for adult identity and acceptance.
  • Are increasingly concerned about peer acceptance.
  • Tend to be self-conscious, lacking in self-esteem, and highly sensitive to criticism.
  • Exhibit intense concern about physical growth and maturity as profound physical changes occur.
  • Increasingly behave in ways associated with their gender as gender role identification strengthens.
  • Are concerned with many major societal issues as personal value systems develop.
  • Believe that their personal problems, feelings, and experiences are unique to them.