Hormones and Behavior during Adolescence

Adolescence is a unique developmental period in human life. Rapid biological changes, intense emotions, and significant shifts in behavior characterize it. While much of the focus around this phase of life is often on the external expressions of these changes, the underlying biology, specifically hormones and their role in adolescent behavior, ought to be explored as well.

Hormones in Developmental Processes

Hormones' primary function is to cause events to occur. Hormones, by definition, are released at one location to affect another. Hormones mediate short−term initiatives like digesting a meal and long−term ones like growing up or producing a kid. Understanding of the function of hormones in behavioural maturation throughout adolescence is expanding, as are insights into endocrine action sites and mechanisms, the influence and mediation of experience impacts, and brain maturation processes.

Understanding the consequences of endocrine changes during this era necessitates seeing puberty as part of a continuous developmental process that begins in utero. Hormones alter the formation of neural pathways in the brain that will form the basis of behaviour regulation during pregnancy and the first few months after birth.

Such permanent impacts on the structure and moulding of adult behaviour are the organisational consequences of hormone activity, which may not be shown until subsequent exposure to the hormones released during puberty. The activational consequences of higher hormone outputs comprise reversible endocrine stimulation of behaviour expression.

Much of the research on organisational effects has been on the potential role of gonadal steroid hormones in mediating sex differences in behaviour through early organisational effects on the brain, followed by activational effects in puberty and adulthood. However, imaging studies of brain development now strongly imply that the brain goes through a teenage phase of growth and reorganisation influenced by hormones.

Physical Changes− How Hormones Impact the Teenage Body

Adolescence is a time of intense physical changes, and hormones are one of the most influential factors in the process. As you go through puberty, your body releases hormones like estrogen, testosterone, and adrenal hormones that cause physical changes throughout your body. These hormones can cause an increase in body fat and bone density, as well as growth spurts in height and weight. The result is a dramatic transformation from child to adult physically, at least.

Emotional Changes− Mood Swings and Reactivity in Adolescents

Adolescence is a period of intense emotional change, making navigating this life stage difficult for teens and adults. This tumultuous time is largely the result of major hormonal changes, specifically those involving sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone. As these hormones alter the body and brain in adolescence, they cause mood, behavior, and cognition shifts. These shifts can be seen practically everywhere, and they affect more than just teenagers.

For example, many people recognize that adolescents will experience heightened levels of reactivity, a tendency to respond with an outburst to seemingly less intense stimuli though it's important to note that this isn’t a universal trait. For other teens, this period can bring depression or manic episodes due to hormonal fluctuations in neurotransmitters like dopamine or serotonin.

Additionally, adolescents who experience hormone level dysregulation may have difficulty regulating their emotions during this time, which can lead to acting out behaviors or even self−harm.

Cognitive Changes− How Teenage Thinking is Influenced by Hormones

The adolescent brain undergoes some big changes during this time too, and those changes are largely influenced by hormones. You may already be familiar with the idea of teenage impulsivity or risk−taking behavior, and that's partly due to the increase in hormones.

  • Impulsivity − During adolescence, we experience a surge of hormones like norepinephrine and dopamine, which are associated with pleasure−seeking behavior and reward. This can result in adolescents being more inclined to act impulsively without considering potential consequences gone are the days of weighing up pros and cons!

  • Risk Taking − The rise in hormone levels during the adolescent years may also lead to an increased willingness to take risks. This is partly because they don’t have the same well−developed prefrontal cortex as adults do; this part of the brain controls executive functioning skills like decision−making and impulse control. As such, teenagers are more likely to choose short−term gratification over long−term rewards (like completing a task for good grades).

  • Changes in Sleep and Circadian Rhythms During Adolescence − The fourth example of biological changes during adolescence are changes in sleep and circadian rhythms. It is well known that teenagers have a natural tendency to sleep late and wake late, as opposed to younger children or adults, who prefer to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier. This change in sleep preference is likely due to the surge of hormones during this stage of life.

  • Hormonal Changes − Adolescence is characterised by hormonal surges, most notably an increase in melatonin, which helps regulate the sleep cycle. These changes often contribute to the general feeling of fatigue that adolescents experience before bed. Additionally, fluctuations in cortisol levels (the stress hormone) can make it more difficult for teens to stay asleep and wake up feeling rested.

  • Daily Activity − The way teenagers approach their daily activities also plays a role in their changing sleep patterns. Teenagers tend to be more active than children or adults, so they may stay up later as a result of working on projects, playing sports, seeing friends, or completing other tasks.

Understanding these biological changes is essential for helping teenagers reach healthy sleeping patterns and improving their overall well−being.

Peer Influence and Risk−Taking− The Impact of Hormones and Social Factors

We can’t talk about hormones and behaviour during adolescence without discussing the big question: why do teenagers take risks? It seems like, during the teen years, our brains are hardwired not only to seek out danger and take risks but to also act impulsively− crashing cars, drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes. The answer isn't just hormones− while they may contribute, social factors like peer pressure and seeking out recognition from friends also play a major role.

Studies suggest our hormones go up and down depending on the influences we have in our social environment. How does this work? Peer influence is complicated on an individual level, with highly unpredictable impacts depending on how teens interact with their social group. In short, different teenagers react differently when faced with a risky situation.

Parenting an Adolescent− Understanding Hormones and Supporting Healthy Development

Parenting an adolescent can be incredibly difficult, and one particularly tricky thing parents have to juggle is their teenager's shifting hormones. While hormones are part of the natural process of adolescence, understanding how they impact behavior can help you have a better relationship with your teen and support healthy development.

  • Estrogen and Testosterone − Estrogen and testosterone are two main hormones that influence teen behavior, both physically and emotionally. For instance, boys with higher levels of testosterone might feel more aggressive or competitive, while higher estrogen levels in girls can lead to increased sensitivity and a need for more emotional support.

  • Puberty − Puberty when reproductive organs become functioning is often the starting point for changes in hormone levels. These hormones contribute to increased impulsiveness and risk−taking behaviors, which could lead to problems like experimenting with drugs or alcohol. It's important for parents to monitor their teenagers closely during this phase so they can recognize any potential warning signs early.


Hormones play an important role in the behaviour of adolescents and can have both positive and negative impacts. Hormone−related changes in behavior can often make the teenage years difficult, but with the right guidance, these hormones can be used as an opportunity for growth and development. Parents, educators, and carers can all work together to provide a supportive and safe environment where adolescents can learn, grow, and develop into healthy adults.

Updated on: 09-Nov-2023


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