Understanding Early Adolescence Back »

This article was written by Marilyn Rasmussen, former SDSU Extension 4-H Youth Development Specialist.


Youth ages 12 to 14 are experiencing rapid changes.  Youth in early adolescence are transitioning to different school settings that offer more independence and at the same time threaten their sense of self.  They are in the process of “becoming” in their search for identity.

As a group, both girls and boys are experiencing many physical changes with the onset of puberty. However, some youth, especially girls, may mature earlier than others in their peer group, causing them to be overly self-conscious. Most kids are interested in sports or active games, but will often quit formalized sports due to new interests, too much pressure, or other issues. 

The changes in physical self also lead to a new perspective on the social self as youth explore gender roles.  There is an interest in mixed gender social activities and an intense desire to be liked by friends. They are easily embarrassed.  They seek to be in the company of friends or peers , rather than parents . Groups and clubs provide an opportunity for early teens to practice their social skills, especially gender roles, and achieve acceptance by their peers.

Mood swings are not uncommon during early adolescence due, in part, to hormonal changes.  It is a period of testing the values they have grown up with, creating more inner conflict. Early teens need help in understanding how to cope with uneasiness or lack of confidence. 

Thinking skills are transforming from the concrete to abstract thinking.  Solutions suggested by adults may be rejected, unless the adult is respected and allows youths to test their own ideas.  Leadership development is an excellent topic. Their exploration of values and truth-seeking leads to a stronger sense of justice, equality, and fairness.

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