Early Adolescence

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Early adolescence is the age when kids begin to transform into a different personality and start to experience newer things related to health, psychology, surroundings etc.

Changing bodies and minds

From twelve to about fourteen, the main psychological challenge is to come to terms with rapidly changing bodies—one’s own and one’s peers’. These years also see the widest variations in physical development.

The average girl is nearly two years ahead of the average boy in development—towering over him in height and more sophisticated in her interests. She, in her early adolescence, may be interested in going to dances and being treated as if she were glamorous while he is still an uncivilized little boy who thinks it shameful to pay attention to her. During this whole period it may better for social functions to include different age groups for a better fit.

Children in their early adolescence are acutely self-conscious about their bodies. They may exaggerate and worry about defects and they often believe that everyone else is focused on their bodies, too. If a girl has freckles, she may think they make her look horrible. A slight peculiarity in the body or how it functions can easily convince an adolescent that he is abnormal.

Those who are in their early adolescence may not be able to manage their new bodies with as much coordination as previously, and the same is true of their new feelings. They are apt to be touchy and easily hurt when criticized. At one moment, they feel like grown-ups and want to be treated as such. The next moment, they feel like children again and expect to be cared for.


Individuals in their early adolescence often feel ashamed of their parents for a few years, particularly when their friends are present. This is partly related to their anxious search for their own identities, and it partly reflects the extreme self-consciousness of the age period. They have an intense need to be just like their friends and to be totally accepted by them. They fear that they might face ridicule and rejection by their friends if their parents deviate in any way from the neighborhood pattern.

In trying to establish their identity, individuals in their early adolescence often turn away from their parents, a move that threatens to leave them feeling alone. To counter this they often make intimate ties with friends of the same age, more often at first ties to those of the same sex. Close friendships support the one in early adolescence during a period when she gives up her identity as her parents’ child and before she finds her own.

Sometimes a teen finds himself through finding something similar in his friend. He mentions that he loves a certain song, hates a certain teacher, or craves a certain article of clothing. His friend exclaims with amazement that he has always felt the very same way. Both are delighted and reassured. Each has lost a degree of his feeling of aloneness and peculiarity and gained a pleasurable sense of belonging.

As another example, two girls may talk constantly all the way home from school, talk for another half hour in front of the home of one of them, then finally reluctantly separate. As soon as the other reaches her home, she telephones her friend, and they resume the mutual confidences.

The importance of appearance

Many who are in their early adolescence help to overcome their feelings of aloneness by slavishly conforming to the styles of their classmates—in clothes, hairdos, language, reading matter, songs, entertainers. These styles have to be different from those of their parents’ generation. And if they irritate or shock their parents, so much the better.

It is revealing, though, that even those youths who adopt an extreme style to differentiate themselves from their parents will still conform to the style of at least a few of their friends or perhaps of some idolized figure, such as a rock star.

Parents can be most helpful to their children who are in early adolescence by trying to understand their behavior then helping them to understand themselves. If you explain why you object to certain styles, you may be able to persuade your children to change without your having to issue an “or else” order. Or, the teenager who feels free to discuss and argue with her parents may end up persuading them to accept her point of view.

Adults tend to be slower than youths in accepting new styles. What may horrify or disgust us one day may later become as acceptable to us as to our children. This was true with the long-hair styles and dungarees introduced by youths in the 1960s, the pants for girls that so upset school authorities at one time, and even fluorescent hair colors.

Early teen sexuality

Most early teens fantasize about sex, and many experiment with kissing and petting. A minority of those in their early adolescence experience actual intercourse. Masturbation is nearly universal, and depending on family religious teachings, it may bring with it varying degrees of guilt or shame.

Erections, either spontaneous or in response to sexual fantasies, make many boys who are already quite self-conscious even more uncomfortable. Most boys also experience ejaculation of semen during sleep (wet dreams). One boy takes these in stride; another worries there might be something wrong with him.

Sexual feelings and experimentation are not always directed towards the opposite sex. The issue of homosexuality is often confusing and frightening to both teens and parents. Individual who are in early adolescence tend to be intolerant of anything that suggests homosexuality.

The intensity of this homophobia probably has to do with secret fears in some teens that they might themselves be homosexual. It’s not unusual for teens in their early adolescence to engage in same-sex genital touching, then worry that they are gay. Some will indeed go on to develop a primarily homosexual orientation; others will not.

Given the strong antigay bias in mainstream American culture, it’s difficult for teens to show affection for same-sex friends, let alone talk about sexual feelings that might hint at homosexuality. A sensitive doctor or nurse practitioner can sometimes provide information and reassurance.

One reason why every early adolescence teen should have a chance to talk confidentiality with their doctor without a parent present is so much sensitive conversations can take place. Homosexual adolescents face special stresses and need special support.



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