Adolescence. The physical, cognitive, social, personality, moral, and faith development of adolescence

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2008

22 Pages, Grade: A


Table of Content











Appendix I


Life is marked by developmental changes in every domain of life: physical, cognitive, social, personality, faith, and moral. Due to great researchers such as Erikson, Kohlberg, Freud, Piaget, and Fowler we are able to understand the development of each domain more thoroughly and are consequently almost able to predict the development from a baby to an adult with accuracy. Each stage of life has its own challenges and key events which have a huge impact on a person´s life, challenges which can be dealt with successfully or not-successfully. The aim of this paper is to overview the life stage “adolescence, the last stage of childhood[1] ” with its incorporated challenges, events and characteristics in the domains of a person’s physical, cognitive, social, personality, faith, and moral life. (For a general overview and comparison over the major theories of human cognitive, physical, social, moral, and faith development please find the charts in Appendix I.)

Erik Erikson pictures Adolescent as a trapeze artist: like a trapeze artist, the young person in the middle of vigorous motion must let go of his safe hold on childhood, and reach out for a firm grasp on adulthood, depending for a breathless interval on the relatedness between the past and the future, and the reliability of those he must let go of, and those who will receive him.[2]

Adolescence is a period of transition during which an individual moves from the relative security of childhood to the privileges and responsibilities of adulthood.[3]

One general observation ahead: One of the most striking of adolescent development is the diversity of the various ages each adolescent juggles within himself or herself: A girl with the chronological age of thirteen may have an intellectual/cognitive age of sixteen, a physical age of eleven, a social/personality age of ten, and a spiritual age of fifteen. She is academically ahead and is receiving affirmation for this area of achievement. However, inside she is painfully aware that among her peers she is the only one who has not started menstruation and breast development…[4]

Physical: The most obvious change that occurs at adolescence is the physical change. Physical development during adolescent years is phenomenal. One adolescent may complete physical development before another one has even begun the sequence. The beginning of the growth spurt for girls is eleven or twelve, while the average boy begins at thirteen. The change of the body in size, shape, and sexual characteristics affect the adolescent´s sense of identity.[5] In the early years of adolescence the pituitary gland, situated in the brain, secretes hormones which results in such significant physical changes as a rapid growth (growth-spurt) in body size and maturation of the reproductive system.[6] This process is also called puberty. The physical “growth-spurt” refers to an accelerated increase both in height and weight. Besides growing, the body proportions change: the head, which was one-fourth of the body length at birth, becomes smaller in proportion to the total body length (one eighth of the total body); the facial features lose their baby look, the legs change in length, etc.[7]

The sexual changes can be classified into two categories: primary and secondary. Primary sex changes concern the reproductive organs: in boys the penis, testes and other parts of the reproductive system enlarge in size and mature in function; in females the ovaries, uterus, and vagina.[8] Females also experience a growth of their breasts and widening of their hips. Secondary sex characteristics are those physical features that signal adulthood but are not directly concerned with the reproductive organs. Both sexes develop pubic hair, and (especially boys) hair on the face, chest, and other parts of the body. The voice pitch lowers, the skin becomes coarser.[9] The development of the sexual organs also causes the development of the instinctual sexual drive which usually finds its outlet in heterosexual genital contact. This findings go in line with Sigmund Freund´s “Genital stage” of his psychosexual theory of personality development.[10]

Issues: First, the physical growth spurt is sometimes followed by a humiliating clumsiness while the adolescent gets accustomed to his longer limbs. Pimples and body odors can all be additional causes of embarrassment. Having non-supporting parents may destroy the persons self-esteem. Since tall broad shouldered men and petite shapely women seem to be the ideal in our society, young people who do not meet these standards are often distressed because for them it is very important to be physically attractive. If they do not have somebody who loves them for who they are besides their pimples, ‘too small’ shoulders, etc. They may have difficulties to develop a healthy identity and personality and have consequently a poor self-concept.

Second, if a person´s chronological age does not line up with their physical age and/or social and cognitive age, huge internal tension can arise. Boys, whose physical maturation occurs later than average, feel inadequate, rejected, dominated, socially awkward, and rebellious. Some of these feelings may even persist into adulthood. Late maturing girls tend to think less of themselves, have more worries and, are slower to develop “adornment and display.”[11] On the other side, if a girl develops before her peers, she will appear mature while she is not yet prepared for the social pressures or the accompanying expectations.[12] Here is an example of a physically pre-matured girl I once encountered. At a summer-camp I attended, an 12 year old girl participated that looked like a 16-year or older super model. Since men are mostly driven by the outward appearance, the older guys were ‘taking care of her.’ At this point of view I did not see it as a problem since she “looks mature.” What I was not aware of is that her social, cognitive, etc. development may not be in line with her physical development. Consequently it could have happened that older guys would take advantage of her and take her to bars, discos, have sexual intercourse (which can lead to teenage pregnancies), etc. Pre-matured guys have a more advantageous situation and often use their pre-maturity for their benefits, but may also face expectations of responsibility for which they are unprepared.

Cognitive: During adolescence, synaptogenesis (overproduction of neutral branches and connection), and synaptic pruning (use it or lose it) occurs. The grey matter in the brain decreases and the white matter increases in the four major lobes of the brain (frontal, temporal, parietal, and occipital) – a pattern that is associated with cognitive development. (The decreasing amount of Grey Matter reflects the process of pruning).[13] According to Jean Piaget, from the age of around 12 on, children enter the stage of formal operation during which they develop the capacity for abstract, scientific thinking.[14] This has all different kinds of applications. Whereas concrete operational children can “operate only on reality,” formal operational adolescents can “operate on operations.” They no longer require concrete things and events as objects of thoughts. Instead, they can come up with new and more general logical rules through internal reflection.[15] The two major features of it are the following.

First, Hypothetico-Deductive Reasoning. “When faced with a problem, they start with a general theory of all possible factors that might affect the outcome and deduce from it specific hypotheses about what might happen and test them in order to see which option may actually work.” This is an ability a concrete operational child is not able to do, they can only reason on base of ‘real reality.’ Their ability for abstract thinking (or hypothetical thinking) enables them to conceptualize and to think about their own thinking. They can deal with possibilities and oxymorons. They can imagine the ideal world, family, and parents, and thus their own parents and family may find themselves being criticized in comparison.[16] Second, Systematic-Problem Solving; they have the ability to search methodically for the answer to a problem. They can think ‘outside the box,’ they are able to apply strategies to solve a given problem, tther skills are:

First, the capability to mentally control more than two types of variables at the same time. An example of this is being able to think about the links between speed, distance and time when planning a trip. The second skill is the capability to think about modifications that may occur with time. For instance they may grasp the concept that they will in time have to move from their parent’s house into a new life of their own. The third skill is the ability to imagine rational series of events. For example they are capable of understanding how far they may go in high school or afterwards depending on how well they do in college.

The fourth skill is the capability of predicting results of actions. An example of this is realizing that if they drink and drive they may kill themselves or somebody else. The fifth skill is the capacity to sense reasonable steadiness or contradictions in a set of statements. For instance they may question “equal education” amongst different social classes. The sixth skill is the capability to think of themselves, others and the world in a real way. Depending on the social norms children know they must act a certain way and know that others may act differently from them.[17]

Besides that their attention becomes more focused, knowledge increases, metacognition (awareness of thought) expands, cognitive self-regulation improves, and their speed of thinking (processing capacities) increases.[18]

Two important factors for the development of cognition are ‘social interaction and the process of exploring tensions, or “equilibration.”[19] People tend to make the most progress in learning when things don´t make sense; they grow as they explore tensions and create new categories.[20] Piaget argued that in order to understand an idea, a person in one sense has to invent that idea. Therefore we should rather encourage young people to struggle with problems rather than give them the easy answers.[21] For example: By working through the abstract conflict between justice and mercy, the concept such as the Atonement can take on deeper meaning.[22]


[1] Erik H. Erikson, Identity Youth and Crisis, (New York, W.W. Norton & Company: 1968), 155.

[2] James C. Wilhoit, John M. Dettoni, Nurture that is Christian – Developmental Perspectives on Christian Education, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995), 160.

[3] Gary Collins, Man in Transition, (Illinois: Creation House, 1971), 100.

[4] James C. Wilhoit, John M. Dettoni, Nurture that is Christian, 161.

[5] Ibid., 164

[6] Gary Collins, Man in Transition, 71.

[7] Ibid..

[8] Neil R. Carlson, William Buskist, Psychology – The Science Of Behaviour, (Toronto: Pearson, 2005), 334.

[9] Neil R. Carlson, William Buskist, Psychology – The Science Of Behaviour, 334.

[10] Ibid., 470.

[11] Gary Collins, Man in Transition, 73.

[12] James C. Wilhoit, John M. Dettoni, Nurture that is Christia n, 164.

[13] Neil R. Carlson, William Buskist, Psychology – The Science Of Behaviour, 337-338.

[14] Laura E. Berk, Development Through the Lifespan, (Boston: Pearson, 2003), 363.

[15] Ibid..

[16] James C. Wilhoit, John M. Dettoni, Nurture that is Christian, 162.

[17] Geroge Boeree´s Homepage. Article Jean Piaget was written by Dr. C. George Boeree. Date of release is unknown. Accessed on 01.12.2008. <>

[18] Laura E. Berk, Development Through the Lifespan, 365.

[19] James C. Wilhoit, John M. Dettoni, Nurture that is Christian, 50-51.

[20] Ibid., 51.

[21] James C. Wilhoit, John M. Dettoni, Nurture that is Christian, 54.

[22] Ibid..

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Adolescence. The physical, cognitive, social, personality, moral, and faith development of adolescence
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Christian Mogler (Author), 2008, Adolescence. The physical, cognitive, social, personality, moral, and faith development of adolescence, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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