This article throws light upon the eleven major characteristics of adolescence. The characteristics are: 1.A period of Rapid Physical/Biological Changes, has Psychological Repercussions Too 2. Appearance-Consciousness 3. Attraction Towards the Opposite Sex 4. Cognitive Development 5. Career-Consciousness 6. Emotional Conditions 7. Flight on Imagination 8. Hero Worship 9. Hobbies and Other Details.
Characteristic # 1.
A period of Rapid Physical/Biological Changes, has Psychological Repercussions Too:
The growth of the pelvis bone, the filling out of breast, growing in size and sensitivity of genitalia, growing of pubic and axillary hair, deepening of voice, acne, and the menarche are the main physical and biological developments in girls which make them confused and apprehensive.
Both in boys and girls, the secretion of hormones from adrenal and gonads, and supported by what is secreted from the glandular anterior and the posterior neural portions of the pituitary gland, bring about rapid changes in size and strength of bones, muscles, nervous systems and especially in the reproductive organs which become fully matured for the sexual function.
The growing of pubic and axillary hair, deepening of voice, change in the nature of body skin with the sweat glands becoming more active, and because of the sudden growth of testes and penis, and functionally their growing stronger and the ejaculation that the boy experiences, all make him muddled.
All these physical and biological changes in the adolescent make his or her adaptation to the changed situation very difficult. The adolescent sometimes feels shy of the company of others, may blush when looked at by others, or may grow escapist. The girl because of her menstruation and the boy because of his ejaculation, especially, grow apprehensive. The adolescents may at times suffer guilty consciousness.
They grow appearance conscious, and become obsessed with the concern “what others (the imaginary audience) may be thinking of my appearance and behaviour”, David Elkind has called it a new sort of “egocentrism”.
Again, according to Elkind, the adolescents construct a personal fable of their own taking themselves as very important in the eyes of others. They confuse their own feelings about themselves with what they think the others are feeling about them.
It is also the period when the closeness of the young person with his parents, decreases, and, he either remains more absorbed in his own feelings and thoughts or feels a strong attraction towards his peers. Steinberg writes that it is also a period when his conflict with parents, increases.
A number of studies have been conducted to know the psychological impact of menarche on girls. Retrospective studies reveal the event to be something unpleasant—more so because of the lack of social support. After menarche, the girls report of more negative emotions or experiences.
According to Ruble and Brooks-Gunn, though the experiences do not happen to be traumatic, they happen to be of inconvenience and ambivalence. In case of early matures, the negative feelings were greater. There may be positive impact of the menarche too; the girl would move closer towards her mother, and the changes associated with it, may make the girl behave with more maturity.
In traditional families or cultures, both girls and boys, are initiated to adolescence with ceremonies. The period of menarche, in case of girls, is better handled. Greif and Ulman have reviewed such studies. The rituals signal a transition from childhood to adulthood.
Now, coming back to physical growth, a mention should be made of the pituitary gland; the anterior lobe of which produces many growth promoting hormones during adolescence. And, the excessive secretion of the same, may produce a giant, whereas deficit of it may leave one a dwarf.
Over-growth or under-growth—both are the conditions which make one seriously concerned about one’s physique and appearance. Physiological and psychological processes are mutually dependent variables.
Endocrines play an important role in the process of physical growth, and adolescence is the apex period for growth; these very endocrines through physiological processes, affect the behaviour of the person concerned, and the whole of his personality is also affected.
The adjustability of a person much depends upon the kind of physical growth that one has, especially during the period of adolescence when the endocrines happen to be the most active.
Characteristic # 2.
During adolescence, both the girl and the boy, grow very much conscious about their appearance. As physical changes are very rapidly taking place, affecting the appearance of the adolescent, “how do I appear?” becomes his or her haunting concern. An adolescent would do all that he or she can to develop and maintain an attractive look. One grows very particular regarding one’s dress, hair-style and so on.
One may have to come before a mirror many times a day, just to know how she or he may be looking now. It is the period when the narcissism of the psychoanalysts becomes relevant; narcissism stands for self-love, when one becomes enamored of one’s own appearance.
But this state of feeling is not to last long; the adolescent feels a strong pull towards the opposite sex. Now, his or her main concern becomes how he or she must be looking in the eyes of the opposite sex.
The obsession of appearance would, naturally, make the adolescent very uneasy at times. Its side-effect may be jealousy against someone that he or she cannot compete with. This persistent concern for one’s appearance may distort one’s behaviour.
One may grow shy or withdrawn in case of physical defect or lack of attraction, imagined or real, is there. If the defect is innate or developed postnatally but to the level of incurability, in general, the development of personality would be adversely affected. Such a one cannot behave in a normal way.
The body dysmorphic disorder may prove very devastating when it becomes an obsession with someone.
The author would like to refer again to a report recently published in a famous daily, which is to the effect that a severe preoccupation with an imagined or slight defect in appearance may lead one to drop out of school, shun social contacts, and may even try suicide—especially an adolescent happens to be very sentimental and rash, and is likely to take any reckless step.
Characteristic # 3.
Attraction Towards the Opposite Sex:
The pubic changes in the girl, and in the boy, make one feel a strong attraction towards the other. The physical growth during the period of adolescence, makes one attractive for the opposite sex. Nevertheless, it entails the problem of adaptability to peers of the same sex, and to those of the opposite sex.
The adolescents who fail to adjust themselves to those of the opposite sex in a proper way, would prove awkward in their behaviour. Such a maladjusted person would ever be having a feeling of strain.
The curiosity regarding sex matters, and regarding that of the opposite sex, increases with age, and if the elders only go on suppressing such feelings of an adolescent, it will not help in having a wholesome understanding of the sexual matters and the repressed feelings may either explode more devastatingly or may lead to other abnormalities.
The adolescent undergoes a great strain as to how to handle these newly awakened sex impulses, and what do these strong impulses mean. A great part of the adolescent’s energy and attention is occupied by these impulses. Not only the adolescent but sometimes the elders of the family also get worried as sex behaviour happens to be the greatest concern regarding the development of the moral character.
The inextricably interwoven two aspects of sex behaviour—physical and psychological, may be illustrated in the sex behaviour of the adolescent.
Until adolescence, the child is considered to be innocent of sex or sexual urges—though psychoanalysts have effected a change in such a consideration, and the roots of sexual urges may be traced even into infancy, yet anatomy and physiology make it understand why adolescence is a period when sexuality happens to be the strongest.
And, if no proper sensitivity on the part of the adults is there in handling the situation, and the only mechanism of repression is resorted to, the consequence may be neurosis, or some other abnormality. With the onset of puberty, the child starts feeling interested in manipulation of his genital organs.
On the part of the adult members of the family, a frank and an honest dealing with the situation of masturbation and ejaculation/menstruation needs to be done. Horracks advises the guardians to treat their adolescent wards reasonably so far their sexual behaviour is concerned, lest the latter develop a feeling of guilt for life, and they become seriously maladjusted psychologically.
Characteristic # 4.
Adolescence is the stage when a person attains maturity in physical development, in respect of sexual behaviour, and also cognitively. From year eleven onward, Jean Piaget considers it to be the stage of formal operations when the growing adolescent starts thinking logically and persistently.
It is the adult stage of cognitive development, and is characterised by the following features:
(i) Now, one can follow logical relationships that exist among those which/who belong to the same class, and among the ones belonging to different classes. Until now the child could follow the existing relationships that were there among different events, but now the adolescent has developed the abilities to visualize the future possible relationships, and, by dint of that the adolescent can design situations.
He can think of all the possible kinds of relationships that can exist among events that are likely to occur in future. Though the future may confirm some of his hypotheses and reject the others, his thinking always happens to be based on logic, and, is carried on persistently.
(ii) Now, he has the ability of combinatorial thinking—he can review all the choices systematically, he can go through them sequentially if it is so needed, and can exhaust all of them. The adolescent can use the entire system of formal logic in an intuitive way also, to obtain the kind of information he wants.
Adolescence is also the period when one attains an advanced stage of the development of imagination—it helps a lot in intuitive thinking.
(iii) It is during this period of life when one acquires some additional concrete constructs. For example, he can understand the problem of equilibrium in which there are two different inverses and which lead to the development of 4-groups. It is during the period of formal operations that the child acquires the concept of the volume construction.
Now, he can follow the rule of equilibrium that operates in the kind of balance that exists between density and quantity. Now, because of so much development in the cognitive field, the adolescent becomes career-conscious.
Musing upon his future, he is in a better position to make a proper choice of subjects of studies for a brighter career—of course, variety and complexity in the field of vocations, may require an expert guidance, nevertheless, his career- consciousness is a big step, and is indicative of his cognitive development.
However, an adolescent is more likely to make a hasty decision as one, generally happens to be rash during this period.
Characteristic # 5.
A mention, by the way, has already been made that an adolescent starts thinking about his career at this stage. Now, one happens to be mature enough to think of the importance of a good job in life. Looking to his own parents and to others, he can very well realise the importance of a good job for a respectable and comfortable life.
He also knows that a good job is must for attracting a good life- partner for marriage—adolescence is also a period when mating starts. In many countries, the problem of unemployment is very acute this fact makes our adolescents feel more concerned about their career even when their studies are still not over.
Banks and Ullah have reviewed the situation, and the fact emerges that youth unemployment is a factor for distress or anxiety to a majority of early school leavers in the developed countries. Gurney, employing Erikson’s developmental model, studied the psychology of both—those who were to leave their schools shortly, and who had left theirs four months back.
The findings are to the effect that obtaining a job was an important factor for the perception of identity, especially for the females, a short period of unemployment does not cause a much distressing experience. Other studies reveal that a long period of unemployment causes not only a distressing feeling, but it brings a sort of stigma, and lowers one’s self- esteem.
Characteristic # 6.
Wilkins writes that hyperthyroidism is more common in adolescence. Hyperthyroidism is caused because of excessive secretion of thyroid gland. Hyperthyroidism is characterised by emotional instability and excessive movements. Because of emotional instability, an adolescent has no patience to think over the pros and cons of a step that he is going to take—though cognitively he or she is developed enough to do it.
An adolescent boy or girl may take any rash or reckless step out of anger or frustration. An adolescent lacks in emotional maturity.
Failure in education, in love affairs, in pursuing an act of his or her interest—may it be playing or loitering with his or her peers, or seeing a picture or watching a television serial and so on, soon upsets an adolescent; cool or objective thinking, generally, should be taken to be too much to expect of an adolescent.
Sometimes, an adolescent may even take an extreme step of committing suicide when persistently insensitive surroundings leave him or her with no other alternative.
For the needful physical changes, the hormones released by the pituitary gland further stimulate the function of adrenal cortex and of gonads.
The overall impact of these physical and biological changes is the development of an emotional state which generally makes the adolescent short-tempered and rash; sometimes his repressed emotions may result in an explosive outburst or a temper-tantrum. The adolescent is rich in emotional energy but for want of proper channelization, it may prove disastrous.
Characteristic # 7.
Flight on Imagination:
The adolescent often rises high and above the limitations of realities into the unbridled sky of imagination, seeking the fulfillment of a lot many of his desires which stand no chances of being fulfilled otherwise. Adolescence is also a period when imagination can help him in visualizing likely consequences, and enable him think persistently.
Thus, imagination may either make the adolescent a day-dreamer, or an escapist losing himself in the phantasmagoria, or in a world which is the creation of his own fancy, or may turn him into a creative artist. To imagine of good things, of high ideals or targets, is essential for the upliftment of a person, provided a touch with the hard realities of the world, is not lost.
Imagination is an asset with the personality of an adolescent, provided, a judicious scope is provided for its development and creativity. An environment of fine arts, rich with the performances of good artistes, can further stir and enrich the imagination of the adolescent, and his overflowing energies can find a field for sublimation and creative rise of his feelings and emotions.
An appeal to the imagination of an adolescent is easy to make through poetry or through any form of art. He may, with the help of such a work, be turned into a great patriot or a true cosmopolitan, a great social worker or so on.
Hence, great is the importance of environment for an adolescent. The more possessed of imagination he is, the more will be his interest in poetry and other fine arts, of course, a congenial environment will have to be provided.
Characteristic # 8.
Some living character, maybe, some hero of the screen, a member of his peer-group, or someone among the acquaintances, or of the family, may have caught the imagination of the adolescent, and he starts emulating him keenly.
What attracts him, may be the physique—good height and well body-build plus good appearance; may be the skill in games or sports; adventurous nature; outspokenness and so on are also the qualities for which the adolescent may choose his hero. The adolescent may choose his hero from history or from some piece of literature; or an imaginary character may also occupy the place of a hero in his mind.
Sometimes, because of the influence of a bad company, some gang leader or someone who is boisterous and belligerent, may become an ideal for him to emulate. Psychologists also say that the hidden motivation in such an emulation, happens to be self security—for the sake of security, a member of the gang tries to emulate one who is very aggressive and assertive.
Elderly members of the family and teachers in school may be instrumental in the development of the desired type of personalities by way of presenting great characters before the students. The character may be someone living, or may be from the recent or past history or myth. In some instances, even the teachers are emulated by their students. Presenting ideal characters for emulation is a holy duty of the teachers.
In most of the cases, heroes are changed with age. The hero of the middle childhood may be replaced be someone else with characteristics more appealing to an adolescent’s imagination. One with some inclination towards arts is likely to emulate some artists of excellence. The family background also affects the choice of a hero.
Characteristic # 9.
Adolescence is also a period when one is inclined to a number of hobbies, or at least to one or the other of the hobbies. He may join some gym, or a club of table-tennis or lawn-tennis. Some may like to compose poems or write stories. Music or dance may attract a few.
Others may opt to be cricketers or hockey-players. Girls, especially, may choose knitting, sewing, embroidery work and so on, as their hobbies. Sex-identity, hero-worship and others, are also the factors influencing the choice of a hobby.
Adolescence is a period where the growth and development are very rapid in all the fields—physical, intellectual and emotional. Energies are brimming out, so hobbies can provide very desirable channels to the adolescents to make use of their excessive energies—though, some of their energies are made use of in the process of growth which is so rapid during this period.
The elders in the family, and teachers, and others who work voluntarily for the welfare of the youth, should see to it that the adolescents choose some or the other hobby—channelize their energies there, pursuing some creative work. If during this period, the growing youth are having no work to indulge into, nothing that they can entertain themselves with, the situation may prove very harmful.
They are likely to go astray, fall into a bad company, and spoil their career, turning themselves into delinquents, and later into hardcore criminals. Contrary to this, hobbies of this time may turn many into men of letters, artists of name, good athletes, or may enable them to shine in one or the other creativity.
Schools, colleges and voluntary organisations should run hobby classes. They may be related to photography, may be for computer-training, or be related to the latest devices of information technology.
Characteristic # 10.
Girls have their identity in the choice of play, in the choice of their companions; and also in the way they behave. A distinct identity of the sex may be marked in the selection of dresses and other items to wear.
Some hobbies are there for which girls have preference; for example, fine needle or embroidery work is, generally, liked by girls only; and, hard gymnastic exercises or some rigorous games are liked by male youth only.
Sex awareness comes about much earlier than this; even the nursery school children may be seen playing with peers of their own sex. During adolescence, both boys and girls try to acquire a set of behaviour patterns, acceptable, and liked by the society for a particular gender only.
For example, an aggressive and boisterous boy may be liked at times but a girl is expected to be quiet, and even bashful. Sex-role identity has always reference to the culture or to the sub-culture to which the adolescent boy or girl belongs.
Especially, during the last three or four decades of the twentieth century, we have been witnessing significant changes in the “sex-role identity” of adolescent females. Douvan has called this development, in the modern urban societies, to be the most difficult.
Adolescent girls prefer to put on the garb of the boys more amusingly. Because of sex- egalitarianism, girls prepare themselves to compete with boys for any job whatsoever—many of the jobs which were previously considered fit for males only, are no more so considered, females have significantly registered their entries therein.
It is so, because modern education encourages the girls for independence, competition and higher achievements. But the general trend even in our urban traditional societies, does not favour this development, and still, the guardians would not allow their girls to go in for a number of jobs which have traditionally been considered as male-specific.
When the girls are thus debarred from what they may have set their heart on, they feel frustrated. This situation adds to the strain of female adolescents in many cases. After marriage, when girls have to assume a motherly or domestic role, independence, competitiveness and assertiveness are not the qualities that would be approved at the in-laws’.
But since the time Douvan and Adelson conducted their survey, a significant change in the thinking, especially, of the urban society has occurred, and independence, assertiveness and job-orientation in young females, is more acceptable now.
Nevertheless, strain related to sex-role identity, in case of boys is not common anywhere in any society, but the adolescent females are more subject to it. Conger remarks that for young men there are no options of so different characters open, as career-orientation and motherly- role are for the young women.
It is also a conclusion of research that cross-sex interests or behaviour, are more tolerable in case of girls than in that of boys.
Coming to the conventional sex-role, girls are expected to assist their mothers in performing domestic chores and child care. Cleanliness and decoration of the house is mainly considered to be a concern of girls. Sewing, stitching clothes and so on, are expected to be done by girls of the family. If car is to be repaired, it would be a concern of the men-folk.
The question of self-esteem, is very much related to sex- role identity, but, some researches are to the effect that among the ultramodern society, especially of the USA, “androgyny” is now considered to be boosting self-esteem. A man who performs baby- minding and car-repairing with equal dexterity, will be called “androgynous”.
Margaret Mead has reported that amongst the Tchambuli tribe, the women were more dominant, and men were more emotional and concerned about their appearance; amongst the mundugamor, females were equally ruthless as the males were found—the females are masculine in their tastes and behaviour. But some later writers criticised her for being selective in presenting results.
Mead was found to have exaggerated the cultural factor, while, as in sex-role development, it is the biological factor which is dominant. Archer and Lloyd have also shown the importance of biological factors in the development of sex-roles.
Characteristic # 11.
Impact of the Peer-Group is the Strongest:
During early childhood, parents, and more especially, the mother, enjoys the greatest influence upon the child. The child values its acceptance by the parents to be the highest. The child’s greatest reward is the praise for his behaviour by the parents, and the severest punishment is the withdrawal of parental affection.
With the child’s entry into the nursery, his social circle expands. Now, he also cares for his acceptance by the peer-group. He cannot tolerate isolation from a peer of his who happens to be very close to him. For an adolescent, the peer-group grows more in importance, sometimes, more than even the parents do.
He is influenced by his peers in matters of dress, hair-style, likings-dis-likings, hobbies, recreations and so on. If the home environment is drab, his attachment to the group of his friends, will be greater. And, if that group, or his friend or friends do not happen to be good, he too would be spoilt.
The adolescent, as a child, has learnt that to get a respectable entry into the peer-group, he will have to imitate those among them who are more active. Through imitating their remarks, gestures and actions, he gets more and more integrated into the group. The newcomer adopts the behaviour pattern of the one who is successful.
Up to the period of middle childhood, the groups happen to be informal, but during adolescence, boys and girls join such organisations and clubs which are governed by certain rules. Now, observance of certain rules gets importance. In higher structured organisations, certain rituals are also observed.
Some join Boys Scout, the girls go to the Girls Guide; then there is NCC, and a number of other groups related to different games in the school. Some have their friendship developed in a club—a hobby or a literary one, that they join. Sex-role identity becomes more conspicuous now. A boy of eleven would feel embarrassed if he is surrounded by a group of girls.
The tastes and items of the game become different for different genders. Whether a boy or a girl, each one feels secure in one’s own sex identifications. Relationships with peers, teach each of them to work co-operatively; and to earn competence-knowledge and skills for integration into the group.
Interests, attitudes and skills ought to be identifying with that of the group, especially, organised with a due consideration for a particular gender.
Bonny measured popularity in the social group through socio-gram. He found that the most popular were those who had the qualities of leadership, enthusiasm and active and aggressive participation in the activities of the group. Now, these positive qualities have more chances of being thriving if the same have been encouraged in the family environment.
When peers, parents and teachers are in agreement regarding the appropriateness of certain values and actions, few problems arise for the adolescent. Otherwise, he or she will have to bear a situation of great tension or strain, and ambivalence would be the result.
And, adolescence is the period when he or she gives more importance to the values rewarded by the peer-group rather than the values that his or her parents have been rewarding. For acceptance by the peer group, the behaviour-patterns of the peers are adopted.
Now, one can interact better with one’s age-mates who are of the same sex. The adolescent learns how to behave for dominance, and, when hostility needs to be shown, and how it should be shown. Because of the development of formal operational skill, he or she can have discussions regarding his or her problems—conflicts or complex feelings.
And, when an adolescent finds that some of his or her peer is having the same sort of conflict or problem with his or her parent, it provides some relief in the tension. The discovery that other too is angry with his father or is concerned about sexuality, relieves one from a sense of guilt.
The peer-group also helps in developing self-concept. One can realise one’s strengths and limitations on the basis of when the peer-group acceptance is accorded to one, or, when one is rejected by the group.
Whitlery and Hallock write:
“…….. It is fair to say that the crucial arena for self-esteem is the arena of one’s age-mates.”
As the adolescent seeks independence from his parents, he spends more time with peers, and turn to them for identity and social support; he is shifting from a period of “parent-orientation” to “peer-orientation”.
Hargreaves has documented the importance of the values of the peer groups; to abide by the same, the adolescents may even transgress the patterns of behaviour which their parents were at great pains to inculcate in them.
Studying the mentality of the adolescents in the USA, Coleman has concluded alike. Studying anxieties about friendships with peers JC Coleman reported that anxiety of being rejected by the friends, increased between 11 to 13 years, and then to 15 years; by 17 it starts declining. Such an anxiety was found to be stronger in girls.
Notwithstanding, in matters of education and career, the adolescents would like to consult their parents rather than to their peers. But a good number of students start taking to drugs as a result of peer-orientation.
The nature of social relationships with peers is not the same as with parents. Parental relationship happens to be one of “unilateral authority”; what parents strive to teach is a “constructed set of knowledge and attitudes”.
Relationship with friends, on the other hand, happens to be that of “mutually reciprocal” nature; here, it is possible to have divergent views regarding an issue, and more freedom is there to air one’s views, and have discussions on the same.
Hunter prepared a questionnaire to study the reactions of adolescents in case of disagreement with father, mother or a friend. He administered the questionnaire on 180 adolescents in the age group 12 to 20 years.
Through the responses that were got, again it was confirmed that parents are more unilateral, and friends are more mutual. Democratic parents can develop better relationships with their adolescent children along with giving them greater independence and confidence.