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Adolescence Developmental Psychology

Learn about Adolescent Development and careers in this area

adolescence developmental psychology

Developmental psychology professionals acknowledge that the consequences of bad health habits and extreme behaviors during adolescence have adverse effects on a person's entire life, but they also know that through research and education, they can help teens and their families avoid the most extreme consequences. (see Teenage Depression).

Developmental psychologists research and study normal teen development and social adjustment in addition to the more intense and often risky behaviors that can negatively impact future lives (see Developmental Psychologist Career). Understanding "adolescent-specific" issues helps direct public policy issues related to teens, creates appropriate educational programs and curricula, and helps health care professionals treat adolescents. As in other life stages, adolescent developmentalists focus on the physical, cognitive and emotional aspects of human growth for adolescent individuals ages 12 through 19.

Specific adolescent developments

Between the ages of 8 and 14 hormonal changes initiate puberty, which results in sexual maturation, and dramatic internal and external physical changes. Within a year of puberty, a growth spurt causes children to get taller, heavier and increase their muscle mass. All of these physical changes require an increase in calcium, iron and zinc, and a significant increase in calories. However, teens, like adults, often eat poorly - but the consequences for teens can be even more severe.

Bones, for example, grow the fastest during the teen years; by age 17, teens have acquired 90 percent of their adult bone mass. Yet, according to a 2006 report by the National Institutes of Health, fewer than one in ten girls, and only one in four boys, ages 9 to 13, are at or above their adequate intake of calcium. Unfortunately, calcium deficiencies can't be made up for later in life.

Adolescence - Sex and Drug Use

Teen sexual maturation means that like every human alive, normal sexual urges become a natural part of life. Yet again, the implications of impulsive behavior can dramatically alter a young woman or man's life. Pregnancy for girls under the age of 16 increases the risk of severe complications, such as high blood pressure, stillbirth, and a low-birth weight baby (see Teenage Pregnancy). And all adolescent teens raising babies have a higher risk of dropping out of school and living in poverty. Additionally, compared to the general population, teenagers have higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases, and are more likely to catch HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS.

Child Developmental Psychology

Gateway drugs - alcohol, tobacco and marijuana - are yet another area of concern in the teen population (see Teenage Drug Use). Researchers specifically have studied the effect of gateway drugs because these drugs typically start individuals on a path toward addiction and abuse. Many studies have shown that drug use started in the teen years leads to violence, early sexual activity, and higher school dropout rates. Studies have also found that drug-abuse problems started in the teen-age years lead to serious abuse problems in early adulthood, although abuse tends to decrease in the late 20s. So developmentalists recommend postponing the first experimentation or taste of these drugs for as long as possible, recognizing that research also shows that by high school graduation, the majority of students has tried one of these drugs.

While maturing physically, teens also continue to change cognitively. The Swiss researcher Jean Piaget (1896-1980) defined the adolescent cognitive stage as "formal operational thought." It is during this stage, he determined, that individuals move from thinking concretely about reality, to imagining the probable and impossible. In other words, they are able to think logically about abstract concepts.

In addition, researchers after Piaget have shown that it is during adolescence that teens develop intuitive thought, which means they also use memories and feelings to reason. Current research points strongly to the idea that two paths of reasoning - logical and intuitive - are independently developed, and that thoughts on one path can conflict or coexist with thoughts on the other path.

Finally, the reason that teens' emotions always seem to be in a state of flux stems from their simultaneous search for identity, dependence on a peer group, and the high priority they place on social approval. All of these are normal adolescent experiences, and, most developmentalists argue, are necessary for emotional health in adulthood. Problems can occur, however, when a teen adopts a persona or "false self" because they do not feel accepted by friends or even their family, or if the teen gravitates toward a peer group that encourages deviant behavior (see Teenage Depression).

Despite the "tormented and troublesome" adolescent stereotypes, most teens stay out of trouble, enjoy their advanced thinking skills and abilities, and their emotions remain relatively stable. And most go on to become healthy and well functioning adults.

Nevertheless, adolescence is a critical time for individuals as it provides the pathway from childhood to adulthood, and the many developmental issues and topics related to adolescence fascinate and challenge professionals working in this field.

If you are interested in developmental psychology, especially as it relates to adolescents, you should consider getting a degree in psychology or a related field. Most positions require at least a master's or PhD.

Also, learn more about the psychology career licensing processes and what the requirements for licensure are: Psychology Career Licensure.

Developmental Psychology Schools & Colleges
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The Chicago School of Professional Psychology , Online (campus option available)
  • Designated a 2015 Military Friendly School by Victory Media for the 4th consecutive year.
  • Listed on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll in 2013, for the sixth consecutive year.
  • Links students to hundreds of training opportunities ( beyond their traditional internships and practicum) at their many “partner agencies” in each of their local communities. 
  • Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).
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  • 95% alumni satisfaction rate.
  • Currently holds more than 500 professional alliances, including 19 of the top Fortune 100 companies.
  • Courses are taught by expert faculty, with 86% of professors possessing a doctoral degree.
  • Offers credit for prior experience and learning, as well as scholarships, accelerated programs, and several other ways to help reduce tuition costs.
  • Regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) of the North Central Association (NCA).
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  • Ranked among the Best Online Bachelor’s Programs in 2015 by U.S. News and World Report.
  • Lets undergrad students try classes before paying any tuition.
  • Has an average class sizes of 18 for undergraduate and 13 for graduate-level courses.
  • Offers numerous scholarship opportunities that can help students save up to $750 per term on their tuition.
  • Tends to educate degree-seeking online and campus-based students who are adult learners with families and students who work while pursuing higher education.
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  • Ranked 25th among the Best National Universities in 2015 by U.S. News & World Report.
  • One of the world’s leading private research universities.
  • Its student-faculty ratio is 9:1, and 56.8% of its classes have fewer than 20 students.
  • Has an average freshman retention rate, an indicator of student satisfaction, of 96.8 percent.
  • Dedicated to a strong tradition of integrating liberal and professional education since 1880.
  • Its faculty includes National Academy members, Nobel Laureates, MacArthur Fellows, and more.
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South University , Montgomery
  • Began in 1899 as Draughon’s Practical Business College.
  • Features campuses that are heavily engaged in their respective communities, providing professional service from students and faculty.
  • Offers financial aid, scholarships, and counseling for both active and post-duty military students.
  • Has 15 campuses across the United States, as well as 4 art institutes in North Carolina and Texas.
  • Accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
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Argosy University , Online (campus option available)
  • Designated as a 2015 Military Friendly® School by Victory Media, publishers of G.I. Jobs®.
  • Each program is designed to instill the knowledge, ethical values, and interpersonal skills of professional practice and to foster values of social responsibility.
  • Offers several flexible learning options, including a blended format that combines campus and online learning.
  • Several scholarship opportunities are available for students who qualify.
  • Features a competency-based MBA program that allows students to test out of subjects based on prior professional experience.
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Brandman University , Kettleman City
  • Ranked #8 in the 2013 Best Online Undergrad Programs by U.S. News & World Report.
  • 70% graduation rate– significantly higher than the national average of 59%. 
  • Ranked #2 by U.S. News & World Report for Best Online Bachelor's Programs for Veterans. 
  • Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), one of six regional accrediting associations that accredit public and private colleges and universities in the United States.  
  • Has a network of 26 campuses.

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  •  Ranked one of the Best Online Bachelor’s Programs in 2014 by U.S. News & World Report.
  •  Offers a no-obligation, 3-week trial period where students may determine if the university is right for them before they commit to it.
  •  Strives to be a student’s partner in lifelong learning; committed to helping them achieve their goals.
  •  Serves students of all ages, from first-graders learning to read to professionals seeking postgraduate training.
  •  Provides career-oriented diploma through master’s programs in fields such as healthcare, business, legal and paralegal services, information technology, criminal justice and design.
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Regent University prepares students with the knowledge to excel and the faith to live with purpose. Our 20,000 alumni, from more than 110 countries, are changing the world as accomplished professionals. Named a top-15 school nationally for online bachelor's programs (U.S. News & World Report, 2015), Regent is among the most affordable undergraduate Christian colleges (CCCU 2015). Fully accredited, challenging programs are available online and on campus. New classes begin every eight weeks.

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•        Ranked #4 among the 2015 Best Regional Universities in the Midwest by U.S. News & World Report.

•        Designated as 2015 Military Friendly School by U.S. News & World Report.

•        Student to faculty ratio of 12:1, with an average class size of 21.

•        85% of faculty holds a doctorate or terminal degree in their field.

•        Regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) of the North Central Association (NCA).

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