Physical Development in Adolescence

You would have noticed how after 10-12 years of age, the body makes strides of changes. From changes in the voices to more visible changes in the body and height- it all can be noticed as one crosses over childhood and reaches adolescence.

What is Adolescence?

Adolescence is the transitional period between childhood and adulthood. It is regarded as quite an important part of one's life as one undergoes rapid and dynamic changes in their body. During this stage, physical, biochemical, psychological, and social growth, development, and maturation occur. The hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis matures and becomes active at the beginning of this phase due to the coordinated action of intricate neuroendocrine systems. Environmental exposure, genetic interaction, mental issues, diet, and living situations are all aspects that have an impact on it. Hence, huge variations can be observed in adolescent growth on an individual level. This growth can still be classified into three stages- Early, middle and late adolescence.

Stages of Adolescence

Early Adolescence

  • 11-13 years

  • Growth spurt

  • Puberty results in development of primary and secondary sexual characters

Middle Adolescence

  • 14-18 years

  • Physical growth is slowed for girls, continues for boys

Late Adolescence

  • 19-21 years

  • Women are fully developed, men continue to grow.

The Growth Spurt

Adolescents go through a general physical growth spurt. The growth begins from the extremities, moving towards the torso. This form of development is known as distal proximal development. The hands develop first, followed by the arms and then the torso. The entire physical growth spurt results in weight gain of 50 to 75 pounds and an increase in the height of 10 to 11 inches. The head starts to develop after the feet have finished their growing phase. The ears, nose, and lips grow first, followed by the head. Due to the disparity in these growth trends, adolescents seem uncomfortable and out of proportion. Internal organ growth coincides with torso expansion. During this time, the heart and lungs are rapidly growing.

While during childhood, no apparent differences can be observed based on gender. These differences become very apparent with adolescence. Females start growing early and are generally taller than their male counterparts at the beginning of adolescence. However, as they reach maturation, their male counterparts tend to be taller and heavier than them. Height and weight are sensitive issues during this age due to the unrealistic beauty standards set by the media and propagated by society.

Quite often, puberty is used as a synonym for adolescent. However, they might only sometimes fully coincide. Adolescence includes puberty, during which the biological variety linked to genetic traits and individual variances are most noticeable, and reproductive potential is attained. Males and females exhibit this reproductive capacity during sperm ejaculation and menarche. Puberty focuses on the child's physical and sexual development, whereas adolescence also comprises a child's psychosocial growth. The initial stage of puberty, known as adrenarche, starts between the ages of 6 and 8 and involves an increase in the synthesis of adrenal androgens, which are responsible for several pubertal changes, including skeletal growth.

Sexual Growth

Gonadarche, the second stage of puberty, starts a few years later and is characterized by an increase in the hormones controlling sexual and physical development. The height, weight, body composition, circulatory and respiratory systems, and adrenal and sex glands undergo different physiological changes during puberty, and Hormonal activity has a big influence on these alterations. The onset of puberty is influenced by various hormones, most notably a significant surge in estrogen for females and testosterone for males.

Usually, the development of sexual maturity comes after the growth surge. Primary sexual characteristics and secondary sexual characteristics are the two categories used to classify sexual changes. Modifications to the reproductive organs are the primary sexual characteristics. This comprises the development of the testicles, penis, scrotum, and spermarche in males, as well as the first ejaculation of semen. Primary feminine traits include uterine growth and menarche, or the start of menstruation.

Visible bodily changes that are not directly related to reproduction but indicate sexual maturity are secondary sexual characteristics. This includes wider shoulders and a lower voice when the larynx develops in people for males. The pubic region, under the arms, and the cheeks all experience hair growth and a coarsening and darkening of the hair. Females undergo breast development, which begins at 10, while full development takes several years. Hips enlarge along with the development of pubic and underarm hair, which gets darker and coarser.

Brain Development in Adolescence

When a person enters puberty, their brain has not fully matured. The brain goes through enormous changes that impact behavior between the ages of 10 and 25. By the time a person is six or seven years old, 90% of their adult brain size has developed. As a result, during adolescence, the brain does not develop very big. Nevertheless, until the late adolescent years, the creases in the brain keep getting increasingly intricate. The areas of the cortex that handle cognitive and emotional information are where the folds of the brain undergo the most significant modifications during this period. The prefrontal cortex experiences an increase in myelination and synaptic pruning during adolescence, which increases the efficiency of information processing and strengthens the neural connections between the prefrontal cortex and other parts of the brain. However, this growth is slow and uneven, and it takes time.

Due to fluctuations in the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine in the limbic system, adolescents tend to be more sensitive to rewards and stress. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter, is linked to pleasure and sensitivity to the environment during decision-making, whereas serotonin, also known as the "calming hormone," lowers anxiety and tension. During adolescence, dopamine levels in the limbic system rise along with the quantity of dopamine reaching the prefrontal cortex. Adolescent risk-taking and susceptibility to boredom may be impacted by increased dopamine activity. Serotonin also curbs the enthusiasm and, occasionally, the recklessness that dopamine can bring on. The brain's serotonin processing problem may cause impulsive or violent behavior.


Adolescents is a period of development that is accompanied by several physiological changes. While one experiences growth spurt and sexual changes for the first time, their brains are also still developing. This makes this age group extremely vulnerable. They seek risks and react to stress differently than adults, making them susceptible to psychological disorders like eating disorders, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and depression. Adolescents are also very susceptible to substance abuse and unhealthy sexual practices. While they embark on their journey to be individuals, they must have proper guidance and help. They need to be well-informed in order to take care of themselves.

Updated on: 10-Apr-2023


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