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 of 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. 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. 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.
Gateway drugs – alcohol, tobacco and marijuana – are yet another area of concern in the teen population. 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.
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.