Module 2.1s Adolescent development: The art of growing up

MindMatters in Minutes. The art of growing up.

Let’s get one thing straight: we’re all human.

One thing we all have in common is that we all go through the human life cycle, which goes from infancy to childhood to adolescence to adulthood to old age and to death.

Compared to other species, humans are weird.

We spend a long time in infancy and childhood, much longer than other mammals. Why? Because of this. Our gargantuan brain. It takes about a quarter of a century for our brains to fully develop, which is crazy, and unlike any other animal.

To make things even stranger, for about the first 10 years of our lives our brain is growing, growing, growing, while our bodies just hang back and chill, not doing all that much, until suddenly our bodies freak out and decide to grow up all at once, and then it’s our brains that need to play catch-up.

This weird growth phase is called adolescence, it usually lasts for about four or five years, and for many of us it can be a pretty intense experience.

Here’s what’s going on. On the physical side, you’re building up your adult body, which includes obvious changes in size, shape, texture and smell — but you’re also changing internally as you develop the power of sexual reproduction.

All the hormones driving this physical development can have a big impact on your mental state. Specifically they can give you a craving for intense experiences, which could be anything from horror movies to romantic relationships to extreme sports.

On the social front, the move to an adult body triggers a whole wave of changes in your relationships and identity. Friends become super important, you begin to look for adult role models outside of your family, and you begin to think about who you are and what you want to do with your life.  

Finally, while your body might have decided to grow up right now, all at once, your brain still isn’t done. In fact, one of the most important areas of your brain is still under development well beyond adolescence, even into your twenties.

The pre-frontal cortex is the part of your brain that helps you manage your own behaviour and plan for the future. The fact that this region is still developing explains a lot about why many adolescents live in the moment, act impulsively and take risks.

This can be a good thing when it helps you to dream big, take on crazy challenges and go on great adventures — not so good when those adventures fall over because of poor decisions and no planning. 

For some people, all these changes make adolescence awesome and fun, for others it’s scary and difficult — while for most of us it’s a mixture of both. We’re all different.

But the fact is that adolescence is a time of enormous change, and we humans are the only species to really undergo it, so we’ve got to stick together and help each other out. If you’re ever overwhelmed by your day to day experiences, don’t go it alone. Talk to school staff, friends or family, and you might be surprised how readily people want to help you.

So how are you going at the moment? Do you see any of these features of adolescence affecting in your life? In what way? And is there anything you want to talk to someone about?