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Physical Development And Brain Functioning

Physical Development And Brain Functioning

Physical Development And Brain Functioning

Discuss why it is important to understand physical development and brain functioning when working as an adolescent mental health therapist?

Unit 3: Articles, Websites, and Videos:



The brain of an adolescent is not done developing. In fact, some research says our brains continue to develop until we are 25 years of age. This video helps us understand more about how adolescents respond to and get used to risks presented to them in their environment and how these processes change their ever-developing brains.


Adolescent suicide is real and present in almost all of our communities. Sadie Penn is a suicide survivor and now an advocate of suicide prevention. In this video, she provides us in her personal story and pointed views on the prevalence of suicide with a focus on how all of us must get involved and assist those around us.


Children need strong and consistent attachments in order to thrive and reach their full potential. Yet, they are exposed to many different types, both positive and negative, throughout their lives. In this video, various types of attachments in children are explored with the connection being made as to how each will impact their ability to establish relationships later in life.



Biological Development in Adolescence: Chapter: 6


Chapter Introduction

Biological Development in Adolescence

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Learning Objectives

This chapter will help prepare students to


EP 6a

EP 7b

EP 8b

· LO 1 Define adolescence

· LO 2 Describe major physical changes during adolescence (including puberty, the growth spurt, the secular trend, and primary and secondary sex characteristics)

· LO 3 Explain psychological reactions to physical changes

· LO 4 Describe sexual activity in adolescence

· LO 5 Assess sex education and empowerment

· LO 6 Identify sexually transmitted diseases

· LO 7 Explain major methods of contraception

Roger sat in study hall gazing out the window. He had an intense, pained expression on his face. Roger was 15 years old, and not one thing was going right for him. His arms were too long for the rest of his body. He felt like he couldn’t walk from the desk to the door without tripping at least once. Homecoming was coming up soon, and his face suddenly looked like a pepperoni pizza. Amanda, the light of his life, wouldn’t even acknowledge his existence. To top it all off, even if he managed to get Amanda to go to homecoming with him, he’d still either have to scrounge up another older couple to drive or else have his father drive them to the dance. How humiliating. Roger continued to gaze out the study hall window. The primary theme in his thoughts was, Life is hard.

Change and adjustment characterize adolescence. Roger is not unique. Like other people his age, he is trying to cope with drastic physical changes, increasing sexual awareness, desires to fit in with the peer group, and the desperate need to develop a personal identity.

We have established that the attainment of developmental milestones is directly related to human behavior. We have also established that within any individual, the biological, psychological, and social aspects of development mutually affect each other. Together, they interact and significantly impact growth, change, and ultimately, well-being.

Biological development and maturation affect both how adolescents perceive themselves and how they behave. Rapid and uneven physical growth may cause awkwardness, which may result in feeling self-conscious and consequently uncomfortable in social interactions. For example, some psychological and behavioral differences exist between males who develop earlier or later and those who develop at an average rate.

Biological development often affects the transactions between individuals and their immediate social environments. For instance, when adolescents begin to attain physical and sexual maturity, sexual relationships may begin to develop. Likewise, new and different alternatives become available to adolescents and young adults as they mature. For example, alternatives concerning sexuality may range from no sexual activity to avid and frequent sexual relations. These new alternatives merit evaluation in terms of their positive and negative consequences. Decisions need to be made about such critical issues as whether to have sexual relations and which, if any, methods of contraception to use.

A Perspective

Chapters 6,  7, and  8 address, respectively, the biological, psychological, and social-environmental aspects of adolescence. The goal is to provide a framework for a better understanding of this difficult yet exciting time of life.

6-1Define Adolescence

LO 1

Adolescence is the transitional period between childhood and adulthood during which young people mature physically and sexually. The word is derived from the Latin verb adolescere, which means “to grow into maturity.”

There is no precise time when adolescence begins or ends, although it usually extends from about age 11 or 12 to the late teens or early 20s. Adolescence should be differentiated from puberty, which is more specific. Adolescence might be considered a cultural concept that refers to a general time during life.  Puberty, on the other hand, is a physical concept that refers to the specific time during which people mature sexually and become capable of reproduction. The word  puberty is derived from a Latin word meaning “to grow hairy” (Nairne, 2014, p. 97).

Some societies have specific rites of passage or events to mark the transition from childhood into adulthood. For example, among the Mangaia of the South Pacific (Hyde & DeLamater, 2017 Marshall, 1980), when a boy reached the age of 12 or 13 years, he participated in a ceremony where a superincision was made on his penis. The cut was made along the entire length of the top of the penis. After the completion of this extremely painful ceremony, the boy ran out into the ocean or a stream to ease the pain. He then typically exclaimed, “Now I am really a man.”

Our society has no such distinct entry point into adulthood. Although we might breathe a sigh of relief at not having such a painful custom, we’re still left with the problem of the vague transitional period we call adolescence. There are no clear-cut guidelines for how adolescents are supposed to behave. On the one hand, they are children, but on the other hand, they are adults.

Some occurrences tend to contribute to becoming an adult. These include getting a driver’s license, graduating from high school, graduating from college, and perhaps getting married. However, not all individuals do these things. Some young people drop out of high school, and many high school graduates don’t go on to college. Substantial numbers of young people choose not to marry or to marry much later in life. Even people who do go through these rites do so with varying levels of maturity and ability to handle responsibility. At any rate, becoming an adult still remains a confusing concept.

The gradual, but major, physical changes do not help to clarify the issue. Adolescents must strive to cope with drastic changes in size and form, in addition to waves of new hormones sweeping through their bodies. Resulting emotions are often unexpected and difficult to control. This time can be very difficult for an adolescent struggling with their gender identity. Within this perspective of change and adjustment, we will look more closely at specific physical changes and at the effects of these changes on the developing personality.

6-2Describe Major Physical Changes during Adolescence

LO 2

A range of physical changes occur during adolescence. These include puberty, a growth spurt, results of the secular trend, and the development of primary and secondary sex characteristics.


Puberty is marked by the sudden enlargement of the reproductive organs and sexual genitalia, and the development of secondary sex characteristics (features that distinguish the genders but are not directly involved in reproduction). Most girls begin puberty around 8 to 12 years of age, while boys are 2 years later (Hyde & DeLamater, 2017). Girls tend to attain their full height by about age 16, whereas boys may continue to grow until age 18 to 20 (Sigelman & Rider, 2012).

The two-year age difference in beginning puberty causes more than its share of problems for adolescents. Girls tend to become interested in boys before boys begin noticing girls. One dating option for girls involves older boys of the middle or late teens. This can serve to substantially raise parental anxiety. An option for boys is to date girls who tower over them.

There is a wide age span for both boys and girls when puberty begins. Although in general, there is a two-year difference, substantial individual differences also must be taken into account. In other words, one boy may begin puberty four years earlier than another.

What causes the abrupt and extraordinary changes brought on by puberty? Acting as a catalyst for all of these changes is an increase in the production of hormones.  Hormones are chemical substances secreted by the endocrine glands. Among other things, they stimulate growth of sexual organs and characteristics. Each hormone targets specific areas and stimulates growth. For example, testosterone directly affects growth of the penis, facial hair, areas in the brain, and even cartilage in the shoulder joints. In women, the uterus and vagina respond to the female hormones of estrogen and progesterone. For transgender adolescents, puberty may be the time they start to consider reassignment surgery. This is a difficult decision for both transgender adolescents and their families. They must weigh the pros and cons of any operation (which in the case of fully transitioning may involve multiple operations) and attempt to determine the best time for surgery (before or after puberty). Social workers need to work closely with the adolescents, their parents, and medical professionals to determine the best course of action.

6-2bThe Growth Spurt

The initial entrance into puberty is typically characterized by a sharp increase in height. During this spurt, boys and girls may grow between 2 and 5 inches. Before the growth spurt, boys tend to be 2 percent taller than girls. However, because girls start the spurt earlier, they tend to be taller, to weigh more, and to be stronger than boys during ages 11 to 13. By the time both sexes have completed the spurt, boys once again are usually larger than girls.

The adolescent growth spurt affects virtually the entire body, including most aspects of the skeletal and muscular structure. However, boys and girls grow differently during this period. Boys’ shoulders get relatively wider, and their legs and forearms relatively longer, than those of girls. Girls, on the other hand, grow wider in the pelvic area and hips. This is to enhance childbearing capability. Girls also tend to develop a layer of fat over the abdomen, hips, and buttocks during puberty. This eventually will give a young woman a more shapely, rounded physique. However, the initial chubby appearance can cause the adolescent a substantial amount of emotional stress. Crash and starvation diets can create a physical health hazard during this period.

Adolescents tend to have unequal and disproportionate growth. Most adolescents have some features that look disproportionate. The head, hands, and feet reach adult size and form first, followed by the legs and arms. Finally, the body’s trunk reaches its full size. A typical result of this unequal growth is motor awkwardness and clumsiness. Until the growth of bones and muscles stabilizes, and the brain adjusts to an essentially new body, awkward bursts of motion and misjudgments of muscular control will result.

6-2cThe Secular Trend

People generally grow taller and bigger than they did a century ago. They also reach sexual maturity and their adult height faster than in the past. This tendency toward increasing size and earlier achievement of sexual maturity is referred to as the  secular trend.

The trend apparently has occurred on a worldwide basis, especially in industrialized nations such as those of Western Europe and Japan. This suggests that an increased standard of living, along with better health care and nutrition, is related to the trend.

This secular trend seems to have reached its peak and stopped. A 14-year-old boy of today is approximately 5 inches taller than a boy of the same age in 1880.

6-2dPrimary and Secondary Sex Characteristics

A major manifestation of puberty is the development of primary and secondary sex characteristics.

Primary sex characteristics are those directly related to the sex organs and reproduction. The key is that they have a direct role in reproduction. For females, these include development of the uterus, vagina, and ovaries. The ovaries are the major sex glands in a female, which both manufacture sex hormones and produce eggs that are ready for fertilization.

For males, primary sex characteristics include growth of the penis and development of the prostate gland and the testes. The prostate gland, which is located below the bladder, is responsible for a significant portion of the ejaculate or whitish alkaline substance that makes up semen, which carries the sperm. The testes are the male sex glands that both manufacture sex hormones and produce sperm.

We have already defined  secondary sex characteristics to include those traits that distinguish the genders from each other but play no direct role in reproduction. These include menstruation, hair growth, development of breasts, growth of reproductive organs, voice changes, skin changes, and nocturnal emissions.

Proof of Puberty

One of the most notable indications that a female has achieved the climax of puberty is her first menstruation, also called  menarche.  Menstruation is the monthly discharge of blood and tissue debris from the uterus when fertilization has not taken place.

Girls today are experiencing first menstruation at earlier ages than girls growing up three or four decades ago. The average age for first menstruation, menarche (pronounced “men-ar-key”) in the United States is now  years. That means that many girls have their first period before the end of seventh grade, and many begin as early as fourth or fifth grade. It also means that many girls will at least be in the eighth grade before their first period, and some may be seniors in high school before they get a period. All of these situations are normal. (Greenberg, Bruess, & Oswalt, 2014, p. 417)

Note that frequently young females begin to menstruate before they begin to ovulate, so they might not be capable of becoming pregnant for two or more years after menarche (Hyde & DeLamater, 2017) During puberty, females also experience an increased blood supply to the  clitoris (a small structure at the entrance to the vagina that’s highly sensitive to stimulation and gives sexual pleasure), a thickening of the vaginal walls, and significant growth of the uterus, which doubles in size from the beginning of puberty to age 18 (Hyde & DeLamater, 2017)

A wide variation in the age for first menstruation is found from one female to another. A Peruvian girl of age 5 is the youngest mother ever recorded to have a healthy baby. This occurred in 1939. The baby was born by cesarean section. At the time, physicians found that the mother was mature sexually, and that she apparently had begun menstruation at the age of 1 month. The youngest parents known are an 8-year-old mother and 9-year-old father. This Chinese couple had a son in 1910 (Hyde, 1982).  Spotlight 6.1 reviews some recent research on the differences in the age of menarche for various ethnic groups in the United States.

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