Friday, November 12, 2010








Definition and Scope
Boundaries of Adolescence


The Biological-Maturational theories
The Environmental theories
The Psychoanalytical theories
The Cultural Context theories


Puberty and pubertal growth
Physical changes during puberty
Effects of early and late maturation
Psychological effects of early and late maturation
Traditional Rites of Passage


Stage of formal operations
Elkind: Immature Aspects of Adolescent thought

Piaget’s theory
Kohlberg’s theory
Evaluating Kohlberg’s theory
Gilligan’s Alternative


The Self and Identity
The Self
Self concept and Self esteem
Carl Rogers and Susan Harter’s views
Erickson and identity
Marcia and identity
Sexuality and achievement


The working parent
The growth of the Nuclear family
Divorce, premature death and single parenthood
Gender and equity of family responsibility
Parent adolescent conflict
The balanced ecology of the family


The peer group
School influence
The influence of the media


Juvenile Delinquency
Drug and alcohol abuse
Teenage pregnancy and adolescents
HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases


Teaching and learning in adolescence



Adolescent psychology is an entity of a major branch of psychology- Developmental psychology which also constitutes Child and Adult psychology. Any concise definition of adolescence falls short of a comprehensive description of the term because every definition reveals the bias or major interest of the author. Often a technical term is invented in order to create a social condition and a social fact and such has been true with respect to the term, ‘Adolescence’.

As defined by the Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary [1977], adolescence refers to the, ‘process of growing up’ or to the ‘period of life from puberty to maturity’. Linguistically as well the word is a Latin word meaning ‘to grow up’ or to ‘come to maturity.’ If we start at the beginning as it were and set out to define the term adolescence from a psychological perspective, then immediately two aspects become apparent.

·        First – that adolescence as a period cannot even be defined in a way that makes it a period of development independent or immune of human judgment.

In other words the question is as to whether adolescence is a
Social construction.

·        Second – that it usually has to be defined with the sort of ambiguity that has left the door open for rival theories of adolescence [Vaness, 1960].

Taking for example, Buhler’s [1954] definition which has most likely reached general acceptance among developmental psychologists:
Adolescence is an in-between period beginning with the achievement of physiological maturity and ending with the assumption of social maturity- that is with the assumption of social, sexual, economic and legal rights and duties of the adult. The definition is biological at the outset, but except for the word ‘sexual’, its termination is entirely in social terms. In other words, the termination of adolescence is subject to the particular customs of the culture- it is cultural specific. Adolescence is thus subject to human judgment. It has the implication that adults can willfully prolong adolescence by decisions about what defines the termination of it.

Adolescence as a concept is said to have appeared in literature in the 15th  century. Prior to that during the Middle Ages children were treated as miniature adults. Children and adolescents were believed to entertain the same interests as adults and, since they were simply miniature adults, they were treated as such, with strict, harsh discipline. In the Middle Ages neither the adolescent nor the child was given status apart from the adult [Muuss, 1989].

During the 18th century Jean Jacques Rousseau offered a more enlightened view of adolescence. Rousseau, a French philosopher, did more than any other individual to restore the belief that a child is not the same as an adult.
In Emile [1762], Rousseau argued that treating the child like a miniature adult is not appropriate and is potentially harmful. He believed that children up to the age of 12 or so should be free of adult restrictions and allowed to experience their world naturally, rather than having rigid regulations imposed on them. Social and historical conditions have led a number of writers to argue that adolescence has been ‘invented’ [Finley, 1985; Hill, 1980; Lapsley, 1988]. While adolescence clearly has biological foundations, nonetheless social and historical occurrences have contributed to the acceptance of adolescence as a transitional time between childhood and adulthood. This is denoted the Inventionist View of adolescence.

Adolescence is marked by two significant changes in physical development.

·        First – physiological changes or dramatic change in size and shape.

·        Second – the inception of puberty.

According to G. Stanley Hall [1904], adolescence starts at the age of 12 or 13.  In principle, at least, the outset of adolescence can be determined objectively, for example, by the presence of the gonadotropin hormone in the urine. It lasts until anything from 22 to 25 [Kalat, 1990].In other words, its termination is determined by the achievement of the society’s criteria of psychological maturity. And so we have a biological definition of the beginning of adolescence and a sociological definition of its termination.

A South African psychologist Nsamenang [1996], argues that adolescent psychology has since been a Eurocentric enterprise. This implies, regrettably, that research efforts have so far failed to capture what adolescence truly is in its global context. Instead, scholars have tended to create, or more accurately, to recast, the African or other non-western images of adolescence in the shadow of Euro-American adolescence.

Other authorities have more explicitly endeavored to define adolescence:

Stone and Church, 1973; Bandura, 1970; Ingersoll, 1981; Sisson, Hersen and Van Hasselt, 1987; Sprinthall and Collins 1988 state that,

·        Adolescence is a stage in a person’s life between childhood and adulthood.

Crider, Goethais, Kavanaugh and Solomon [1983] state that,

·        Adolescence is usually defined as the period that begins with the onset of puberty and ends somewhere around age eighteen or nineteen.

Atwater [1992] states that,

·        Adolescence is the period of rapid growth between childhood and adulthood, including psychological and social development.

Hopkins [1993],

·        Defines adolescence as the period between childhood and adulthood with much personal growth- physical, psychological and social—that gives the period its special place within the field of developmental psychology.

Santrock [1993],

·        Defines adolescence as, the developmental period of transition between childhood and adulthood that involves biological, cognitive and social changes.

In this context,

·        Biological changes involve physical development.

·        Cognitive changes involve thought, intelligence, and language.

·         Social changes involve relationships with other people in emotions, in personality and in the social context.


Adolescence has been described as a transitional stage with uncertain boundaries. In other words, it is difficult to tell exactly at what ages adolescence begins or ends—its inception and termination is difficult to determine. Basically boundaries of adolescence mark the beginning and ending of key factors of development.

Atwater [1992] has demarcated the following boundaries:

·        Biological: in this perspective adolescence begins at puberty and ends with the attainment of physical and sexual maturity.

·        Emotional: in this perspective adolescence begins at the beginning of autonomy or independence from parents and ends with the attainment of self-revised personal identity and emotional autonomy.

·        Cognitive: in this perspective adolescence begins with the emergence of logical reasoning, problem solving and decision making skills and ends after attaining adult logical reasoning and autonomous decision making.

·        Interpersonal: in this perspective adolescence begins with the shift from parents to peer orientation and ends with increased capacity for intimacy with peers and adults.

·        Social: in this perspective adolescence begins with entry into personal, family and work roles and ends with the attainment of adult privileges and responsibilities.

·        Educational: in this perspective adolescence begins with entry into secondary school and ends with the completion of college education.

·        Religious: in this perspective adolescence begins with preparation for confirmation and adult baptism and ends with the attainment of adult status in a religious community.

·        Chronological: in this perspective adolescence begins with the attainment of a given age associated with adolescence e.g. teen years and ends with the attainment of a given age associated with adulthood e.g. twenties.

·        Legal: in this perspective adolescence begins with the attainment of juvenile status and ends with the attainment of legal status.

·        Cultural: in this perspective adolescence begins with the training for preparation for ceremonial rites of passage and ends with the ceremonial rites of passage.

For practical purposes the beginning of adolescence remains closely associated with the beginning of puberty although it is no longer synonymous with it. It is however difficult to determine its ending since it merges into early adulthood.



Scientists approach the understanding of adolescence from different theoretical perspectives or points of view. As a result there are many theories of adolescent development. However, each theoretical perspective is based on particular assumptions to explain adolescent development. No one single theoretical perspective covers all aspects of adolescence. By examining particular contributions from several theoretical perspectives, one may be able to arrive at a more comprehensive and well-balanced understanding of adolescent behavior [Atwater, 1992].


Assume that adolescence begins with the biological changes accompanying puberty. It is from this assumption that earlier views of adolescence assumed a direct link between biological factors and psychological development.
The perspective was pioneered by G. Stanley Hall. Hall’s theory is probably the earliest formal theory of adolescence- and as such he is dubbed the father of ‘a scientific study of adolescence’.

Influenced by Darwin’s evolutionary theory, Hall [1904] argued that each person’s psychological development recapitulates [or recaptures] both the biological and cultural evolution of the human species. The notion that ‘ontogeny [i.e. individual development] is a brief and rapid recapitulation of phylogeny [i.e. the evolutionary development of the human race]’. In essence ontogeny reflects development from childhood through adolescence to adulthood. On the other hand phylogeny reflects the evolution of man from early man through the traditional primitive man to the modern man.

Hall saw adolescence as a time of ‘storm and stress’- or ‘sturm and drang’ which mirrors the volatile history of the human race over the last 2000 years [Gross, 2001]. Hall’s ideas were published in the two volumes set ‘Adolescence’ in 1904. The storm and stress label was borrowed from the German writings of Goethe and Schiller, who wrote novels full of idealism, commitment to goals, revolution, passion and feeling. Hall sensed there was a parallel between the themes of the German authors and the psychological development of adolescents.

According to Hall, the adolescent period of storm and stress is full of contradictions and wide swings in mood and emotion. Thoughts, feelings, and actions oscillate between humility and conceit, goodness and temptation, and happiness and sadness. One moment, the adolescent may be nasty to a peer, yet in the next moment be extremely nice to her. At one time he may want to be left alone, but shortly thereafter desire to cling to somebody.
In sum, G. Stanley Hall views adolescence as a turbulent time charged with conflict [Ross, 1972]- a perspective labeled the storm and stress view of adolescence.
Hall’s analysis of the adolescent years also led him to believe that the time to begin strenuously educating such faculties as civility, scientific thinking, and morality is after the age of 15. However, Hall’s developmental vision of education rested mainly on highly speculative theory rather than empirical data. While Hall believed systematic methods should be developed to study adolescents, his research efforts usually resorted to the creation of rather weak and unconvincing questionnaires. Even though the quality of his research was suspect, Hall is a giant in the history of understanding adolescent development.

It was he who began the theorizing, the systematizing, and the questioning that went beyond mere speculation and philosophy. Indeed, we owe the scientific beginnings of the study of adolescent development to Hall.
The concept of adolescence as a period of storm   and stress however raises several questions:

·        First, is adolescence particularly stressful, or conspicuously more so than other age periods?

·        Second, if it were conceded that adolescence is stressful, then how stressful is it?

·        Third, is such stress attributable to physical changes that occur, or to society’s failure to adapt to adolescents’ needs?

·        Finally, what special measures, if any should be taken to prevent or alleviate such stress?
Hall portrayed changes as so marked and so catastrophic, as to be upsetting.
Since Hall’s time, most writers on adolescence have expressed similar views. For example, Stone and Church [1989] call adolescence a vulnerable period. According to these psychologists, adolescence is characterized by persistent feelings of exaggerated rebelliousness, emotional volatility, feelings that everybody is against one, and intense idealism. Fortunately, Stone and Church do conclude that most adolescents have developed ‘a tough core of security, and an anchorage in reality, that permits them to withstand and thrive in the stresses of this period,’

Gessell advocates that adolescence as a period is characterized by ‘negativism, introversion and rebellion.’ Lewin advocates that adolescence is typified by marginality, ideological instability, extremism, expansion and increased differentiation of the ‘life space’. Anna Freud (1968) advocates that adolescence is typified by ‘psychological disequilibrium’ resulting from sexual maturity and arousal of ego-defense mechanisms [e.g. intellectualism, asceticism]. She also viewed adolescence as a state of flux, alternating between periods of high enthusiasm and utter despair between energy and lethargy, between altruism and self-centeredness. For Otto Rank a ‘striving for independence’, for Kretschmer and his followers an increase in ‘schizoid’ characteristics and for Remplan ‘a second period of negativism, followed by ego experimentation and the formation of new self-concept’.

Despite the significance that Hall’s view on the study of adolescence had in his day yet many of his ideas have not stood the test of time and not all writers agree that normal adolescence is a period of storm and stress.

In his research, Bandura (1964) found that most young people with whom he had contact in the USA were not anxiety ridden and stressful. Bandura felt that the assumption of a tumultuous adolescence was a gross overstatement of fact. He argued that if a society labels its adolescents as ‘teen-agers’, and expects them to be rebellious, unpredictable, sloppy, and wild in their behaviour, and if this picture is repeatedly reinforced by the mass media, such cultural expectations may very well force adolescents into the role of the rebel. In this way, a false expectation may serve to instigate and maintain certain role behaviours, in turn, and then reinforce the originally false belief (Bandura, 1964, p. 24). Bandura’s (1964) main point was that when society presumes adolescence to be a period of radical tension, it runs the risk of creating what he called a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’.

The current views on adolescence in addition to that adopt a mediator effects approach. This approach recognizes that the impact of puberty on overall development is mediated by other variables. In other words the experience of adolescence is heavily influenced by one’s social and cultural environment [Atwater, 1992].


Social learning theory consists of rather diverse thoughts that range from Clark Hull’s drive reduction theory, to Skinner’s reinforcement theory to Freud’s psychoanalytic theory. Social learning theory’s effort in combining such diverse points of view has been described as the merging of the clinically rich psychoanalytic concepts with the scientifically rigorous behaviorists constructs. Clearly, social learning theory is multidimensional/eclectic in that it draws on concepts, hypothesis, and methodology from a variety of different psychological sources.

While social learning theory develops its own theoretical constructs, of which modeling and observation are the most important, it draws freely on constructs of behaviorist learning theory, especially reinforcement.
But even Skinner’s concept of direct reinforcement is expanded to include important social dimensions- vicarious reinforcement and self-reinforcement. Thus the concerns of social learning theorists go far beyond those of the narrow connection between a stimulus and a response and include the contributions of the mother-child [and child-mother] relationships to personality development.  This bidirectioal influence [parents to child, but also from child to parents]is a cornerstone of social learning theory.

The bidirectionality of social influences, especially that of children themselves being active contributors to their own development, has, under the influence of social learning theory, become a core concept in ecological and contextual theories of development. It apart from that also incorporates the importance of models, the role of cognitive processes, and the imitation of models in the learning process.  In addition, the relationship of the individual to the social group and the mutual influences are of unique importance:

‘Individual and group behavior are as inextricably intertwined, both as to cause and effect, that an adequate behavior theory must combine both in a single internally congruent system’ [Sears, 1951].

In short, the realm of investigation, for the social learning theorist is the whole spectrum of socialization processes. These encompass imitation, modeling, instruction, reward and punishment; by which children learn and to which children contribute, often through indirect teaching. The significance of the socializing agents as ‘ a source of patterns of behavior’ has often been neglected in other theories, even though observational and empirical evidence indicate that this social aspect of the learning process is fundamental to socialization and personality development.

Albert Bandura, a leading social learning theorist has pioneered the view that cognition [act of knowing], bearing [social conduct] and environment play a primary role in human behavior. Bandura has observed that much of adolescent behavior comes from observational learning, in which adolescents observe and imitate the behavior of their parents, other adults and peers. Furthermore, adolescent learning and behavior are significantly affected by cognitive variables such as competences, encoding strategies, expectances, personal values and self-regulatory systems [self-monitoring and motivation]. Piaget’s cognitive development theory and the information processing view are two main cognitive theories. Piaget defines adolescence as a stage of transition from the use of concrete operation to the application of formal operation in reasoning. This clearly distinguishes it from puberty which is the period in adolescence which is characterized by physiological changes that end childhood and bring the young person to adult size, shape and sex potential. Robert Havigurst combines the individual’s readiness for learning with certain social demands in defining the eight developmental tasks of adolescence.


Pioneered by Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis- he regarded childhood as the most formative periods of human development. In other words, he believed that the dynamics of personality depend largely on how the sexual instinct [ID] and the ego and superego have been shaped during the formative years of childhood. In the three dimensional or tripartite model of the mind the ID which is biological is the subconscious [that part of the mind of which one is not aware but which can influence one’s behaviour] part of the personality or in other words it upholds or represents the pleasure principle.

It contains irrational instinctual appetites and impulses. It emphasizes on the immediate gratification of needs for example the sexual impulses and hunger. The EGO which is psychosocial is the reality principle trying and endeavoring to control the ID into reality. Functions to adapt the individual to reality, delays, inhibits, restrains and controls ID demands. The SUPER EGO which is social in nature is the home of norms and ethical values of society and tries to bridge the gap between the ID and EGO. It represents the social-moral component in the personality-represents the ideal rather than the real and strives for perfection. The SUPER EGO has two components- conscience and ego-ideal. The conscience reacts to moral transgression by an individual through feelings of guilty.

The ego-ideal produces pride and satisfaction if the individual’s behavior conforms to acceptable standards. It is hypothesized that the weakening of the ego as a result of ID demands and the subsequent inability of the Superego to bridge the gap between the ID and Ego has often been cited as the major cause of psychological instability. The Freudian theoretical perspective emphasized that the intensified sex drive and resulting sexual conflicts arouse a lot of anxiety in adolescents. This anxiety in turn produces a variety of defense mechanisms such as repression, intellectualization, and asceticism for coping with stress in adolescence.

Central to Freud’s psychoanalytic theory is the assumption that human beings have a powerful drive that must be satisfied. As biological creatures, there is a drive in individuals to satisfy or serve these motives, yet society dictates that many of these urges are undesirable and must be retained or controlled. Freud further added that people are unaware that the biological instincts are the driving force behind behaviors. Similarly, Anna Freud, while retaining her father’s developmental approach emphasized an additional view. She believed that adolescence is a special period of turbulence because of the sexual conflicts brought in by puberty.

Erickson who also subscribes to the psychoanalytic theories of adolescent development emphasized on eight developmental stages. Santrock emphasized on the past, the developmental course of the environment, unconscious mind and emphasis on conflict. The main weaknesses of the theoretical perspective are too much emphasis on sexuality and the unconscious mind as well as the negative view of human nature.

Defense mechanisms

Are automatic, unconscious strategies for reducing anxiety.

Regression-------return to behavior of an earlier age during stressful times, to try to recapture security.

Denial---------refusal to accept feelings and experiences that cause anxiety.

Repression-----------blocking from consciousness those feelings and experiences that cause anxiety.

Sublimation-------------channeling disturbing sexual or aggressive impulses into ‘acceptable’ activities such as study, work, sports and hobbies.

Projection-----------attributing one’s own unacceptable thoughts and motives to another person.

Reaction formation-------------say the opposite of what one really feels.

Intellectualization------------------participating in abstract intellectual discussion to avoid unpleasant, anxiety producing feelings.

Asceticism---------------engagement in more positive academic activities such as study to repress negative impulses.


Pioneered by Margaret Mead in a cultural anthropological standpoint, she implored as to whether adolescence is a biologically determined period of storm and stress as advocated by Hall or simply a reaction to social and cultural conditions. In a bid to resolve the controversy Mead conducted research in Pago Pago- Samoa in the West Indies in 1925. The goal of research was to determine whether adolescent turmoil was a universal product of puberty, and hence biologically determined, or could be modified by culture. In the research she conducted, it was conclusively established that the disturbances which vex our adolescents are ontological or culturally specific and not universal. In essence they are a product of civilization [Muuss, 1996].

It has been cited frequently as evidenced that;
·        The turmoil
·        The sexual frustration
·        The storm and stress

Associated with growing up in the United States and considered universal by many of the major developmental psychologists of that time is far from being an inevitable, universal condition, and actually resulted from particular expectations, cultural settings, social environment, and childrearing practices.

Mead’s description of life in Samoa [1928/1950] a life characterized by;

·        Carefree
·        Unpressured
·        Harmonious interpersonal interactions
·        A lack of deep feeling being the very framework of all their attitudes towards life
·        Without jealousy and stress
·        Love and hate, jealousy and revenge, sorrow and bereavement, being a matter of weeks

In a nutshell, Mead described the transition to adulthood as smooth and unencumbered- not affected by conflict. Mead’s perspective was challenged by an Australian anthropologist, Derek Freeman, in his book titled ‘Margaret Mead and Samoans: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth’ published in 1983.  Freeman spent a total of six years in Western Samoa in the 1940s and the 1960s doing his research among the Samoans.
According to Freeman’s [1983] findings, the Samoans were more violent, sexually repressed, and fearful than what Mead had reported. Freeman argued that Mead had been overly concerned with emphasizing the role of culture, rather than biology, in human behavior.

Any explanation in biological terms of the presence of storm and stress in American adolescents was totally excluded. The conclusion to which Mead was led by her depiction of Samoa as a negative instance was thus of an extreme order.
Instead of arriving at an estimate of the relative strength of biological puberty and cultural patterns, Mead dismissed biology, or nature, as being of no significance whatsoever in accounting for the presence of storm and stress in American adolescence, and claimed the determinism of culture, or nurture, to be absolute [Freeman, 1983, p. 78]. It should be pointed out; however, that Freeman did not conduct his research with the same population that Mead had used in her studies.

In their book, ‘Adolescent Psychology: A Developmental View’, Sprinthall and Collins [1988] defended Mead’s work by pointing out that her work gave only a partial picture of Samoan life and her view that ‘cultural norms and expectations help to determine the nature of adolescence has been widely supported by studies in a variety of cultures, and Mead’s work is still recognized as an important early statement of this idea’ [p.13]. Ruth Benedict in trying to answer the question: what are the cultural differences that make adolescence a more or less generally difficult experience for young persons in western society:

‘Concluded that the major determinant of the difficulty of adolescence was the extent to which socialization for adulthood was discontinuous in a society.’

By discontinuous Benedict referred to ‘the necessity for an individual to learn a different set of behaviors, roles and attitudes for adulthood from the set learned in childhood’. Lloyd (1985) simplified Benedict’s description by pointing out that the Samoan society was a perfect example of a continuous culture and the Western society could be viewed as a discontinuous culture.



As already noted in the preamble to the course the onset of adolescence is heralded or marked by two significant changes:

·        Physiological changes in appearance
·        The onset of puberty

Pubescence and adolescence have often been confused and considered as synonymous. However puberty can be distinguished from adolescence because for most people puberty has ended long before adolescence is exited or begins. Different authorities have attempted to define puberty differently:
Santrock states that puberty is a rapid change to physical maturation involving hormonal and bodily changes that take place primarily during early adolescence. Slavin [1988] defines puberty as a series of psychological changes that render the immature organism capable of reproduction.
Papalia [1990] describes puberty as a process that leads to sexual maturity and ability to reproduce.


Behind the first whisker or wet dream in boys and behind the first menarche and widening of hips in girls is a flood of hormones. Hormones are powerful chemical substances secreted by the endocrine glands and carried through the body by the bloodstream. The key to understanding the endocrine system’s role in pubertal change is the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Gonadal axis.
The hypothalamus is a structure in the higher portion of the brain, and the pituitary is the body’s master gland. It is located at the base of the brain.
Its designation as the master gland comes from its ability to regulate a number of other glands. The term gonadal refers to the sex glands-that is the testes in male and ovaries in female.


While the pituitary gland monitors endocrine levels, it is regulated by the hypothalamus. The pituitary gland sends a signal via gonadotropin- a hormone that stimulates the testes or ovaries to manufacture other hormones.
The pituitary gland, through interaction with the hypothalamus, detects when the optimal level is reached and responds by maintaining gonadotropin secretion. There are two main classes of sex hormones that are manufactured after the trigger of the sex glands by gonadotropin.

These are:

·        Androgens
·        Estrogens

Androgens are secreted primarily in male and estrogens in female.
Current research, however, has been able to pinpoint more precisely which androgens and estrogens play the most important roles in pubertal development. In this respect, testosterone appears to assume an important role in pubertal development of male. Throughout puberty, increasing testosterone levels are clearly linked with a number of physical changes in boys e.g. development of genitals, increase in height and voice changes.
In female, estradiol is likely the most important hormone responsible for pubertal development. The level of estradiol increases throughout puberty and then varies in women across their menstrual cycle. As estradiol levels rise, breasts and uterine development occur and skeletal changes appear as well.

Note that both testosterone and estradiol are present in the hormonal make up of both boys and girls, but that testosterone is dominant for boys while estradiol is stronger in girls. Each hormone however is not solely responsible for pubertal changes; there are other hormones and variables responsible.
These hormonal changes in girls and boys trigger a process referred to as the Adolescent growth spurt marked by rapid physical and physiological changes.

The growth spurt refers to the accelerated rate of increase in height and weight that occurs in adolescence. This physical change has many of the features of stage transition predicted by the epigenetic landscape model.
There is a wide variation, both between and within sexes, in the onset and rate of change during the transition to adolescence. In boys, the growth spurt may begin as early as 10 years, or as late as 16 years. In girls, the same process only may begin as early as 8 years or not until 12 or 13 years.
Other physical changes include increases in strength, a doubling in the size of the heart, greatly increased lung capacity and the release of sex hormones by the pituitary gland.


Puberty is not a single event. It is a series of changes involving almost every part of the body and the final outcome of those changes being the ability to reproduce. It is popular acceptance by scholars that girls begin puberty at about one and half to two years ahead of boys. In each sex the normal range of onset is approximately six years. Slavin [1988] adds that like the onset, the rate of changes also varies with some people taking only eighteen to twenty-four months to go through the pubertal changes while others may require six years to pass through the same stage. These differences in a way may mean that some individuals may be completely mature before others of the same age have even begun puberty


The sequence of changes is as follows in girls:

·        Initial enlargement of the breasts---breast bud stage.

·        Straight lightly pigmented pubic hair begins.

·        Maximum growth rate is attained.

·        Pubic hair becomes adult in type but covers a small area than in adult.

·        Breast enlargement continues: the nipple and the area around it now project above the level of the breast.

·        Menarche occurs.

·        Underarm hair appears: sweat glands under the arms increase in size.

  • Breast and pubic hair reach adult stage.


The sequence of changes is as follows in boys:

·        Growth of the testes and scrotum begins.

·        Straight lightly pigmented hair begins.

·        Enlargement of the penis begins.

·        Early changes in the voice occur.

·        First ejaculation of semen occurs.

·        Maximum growth rate is attained.

·        Underarm hair appears and the sweat glands under the arms increase in size.

·        The voice deepens noticeably.

·        Growth of moustache hair, beard hair and pubic hair reach adult stage.


It may be noted that the sequence of events at puberty is generally the same for both boys and girls. However the timing and rate at which they occur vary widely. Changes take place in different organs of the body.
     Some organs are directly responsible for reproduction while others only
     show the physiological signs of sexual maturity. All organs necessary or  
     directly responsible for reproduction are denoted primary sex

In the female body structures involved are:

·        Ovaries
·        Uterus
·        Vagina

In the male body, structures involved include:

·        Testes
·        Penis
·        Prostate gland
·        Seminal vesicles

During puberty these organs enlarge and mature. There are also secondary sex characteristics. These are physiological signs of sexual maturity that do not directly involve the reproductive organs.

Examples are:

·        Changes in voice
·        Texture of skin
·        Pubic, facial, armpit and body hair.


Comparison in girls

·        Early matures maybe associated with social recognition and acceptance while late matures lack social recognition and acceptance.
·        Early matures are treated as adults and are expected to behave likewise while late matures have a youthful appearance which leads to immature behavior.
·        Early matures feel more popular with boys while late matures feel less popular.
·        Early matures are dated frequently while late matures have little or no dates at all because they are less attractive.
·        Early matures act more independently while late matures are still dependent.
·        Early matures are more likely to get into trouble while late matures are less likely to get into trouble.
·        Early matures take pride in their appearance while late matures suffer from anxiety and self doubt.

It may be noted that both early and late maturation are advantageous as well as disadvantageous.

For example a girl who matures early enjoys social recognition and acceptance and as a result she can develop socially as long as she is emotionally ready. However such recognition and acceptance may sometimes facilitate her landing into trouble. For instance, being popular with boys may result in frequent dating and this later may lead to premarital sex and finally unwanted pregnancy. On the other hand, a late mature who is socially unrecognized and unacceptable can enjoy the advantage of growing up with less social pressure than do early maturing girls and chances of getting into trouble are slim.

Comparison in boys

·        Early maturing boys are more attractive to girls while late maturing boys are less attractive to girls.
·        Since they appear more mature, early maturing boys are likely to be chosen leaders while late maturing boys are less popular with their peers and less likely to be chosen leaders.
·        Early matures are less impulsive while late matures are more impulsive.
·        The mature behavior of early matures assists them to have or show positive personality traits for example positive self-concept, feelings of adequacy, acceptance and unrebellious attitudes while late matures have a negative self-concept, feelings of inadequacy, dependency and rejection.
·        Early matures develop more successful peer relationships while late matures have less peer relationships.
·        Early matures have a higher level of self –esteem while late matures have low self esteem.
·        Early matures have a lower attention span and are less talkative while late matures have a higher attention span and are talkative.

There are both advantages and disadvantages of early and late maturation in boys. As indicated boys who mature early enjoy high social status, tend to be popular and to be leaders. Research has shown that many of the advantages of early maturity are sustained in later life. Late matures however have been found to be more creative, tolerant and perceptive. This may be because of the trials and anxieties that they go through. These problems help them to be better problem solvers.


Biological changes which take place during puberty have a tremendous effect on an adolescent psychologically. One of the changes for example is menarche. Adolescent girls usually have psychological reactions to physical appearance as well as menstruation. However a girl’s reaction to menstruation could be a result of culture or how her parents view the event.
In some cultures or families, girls are prepared ahead of time so that when they reach puberty menstruation does not take them by surprise. This is helpful in the sense that those who are prepared have a more positive attitude towards menstruation and usually experience less distress since research has shown that menarche involves physical discomfort and may be disruptive.

Menarche and other physical changes in the body can have a psychological effect on the adolescent girl. For instance, she can be upset especially when she is not prepared for the changes or if her friends mock her. Secondly early maturity means being forced to behave like an adult. On the other hand, late matures also get affected psychologically. For example a girl who matures late feels out of place when she is among mature adolescents. Research has shown that girls who mature late worry about whether their bodies will develop properly or whether they will be as well endowed sexually as those around them.

It is worthy-pointing out at this time that psychologists have come up with different views as regards early and late maturation. In as far as boys are concerned; those who mature early tend to enjoy several advantages.
Early matures look more poised, more relaxed, more good-natured, less affected. They tend to be more popular with peers and more likely to be leaders, and less impulsive. Even though such is the case early matures sometimes have problems living up to the expectations of others particularly when they should act as they look. Unlike the early matures boys who mature late tend to have a negative self-concept, feelings of inadequacy, and dependency, and rebelliousness. Because of these many disadvantages which come with late maturation, research has shown that late matures are more talkative and hungrier for attention. Since late matures feel and act more childish, they may benefit from the longer period of childhood when they do not have to deal with the new and different demands of adolescence.
They again may be more flexible.

In as far as cognitive ability is concerned research has indicated that by adulthood, early maturing girls exhibit a high level of cognitive mastery and coping skills partly because of their richer experience throughout puberty.
On the other hand late maturing girls may fail to achieve the high level of cognitive mastering and coping skills exhibited by early matures. Thus the earlier the girl matures the higher the cognitive mastery. Scholars like Atwater [1993] have indicated that ‘boys who mature early sometimes fail to grow intellectually and socially at least through mid adolescence. In addition the relative social neglect suffered by the late maturing boy, together with the long period of puberty adjustment may also lead to greater cognitive mastery and coping skills. This reflects a difference between boys and girls.

Western and most urbanized society provide no clear pattern of transition to adulthood. In contrast, many primitive societies have formalized rites of passage, or initiation ceremonies, to mark the adolescent’s assumption of new, more adult social roles. Such ceremonies typically exist for both boys and girls. According to Santrock [2001] rites of passage refer to ceremonies or rituals that mark an individual’s transition from one status to another, especially from childhood into adulthood. Among the Yao of southern Malawi such ceremonies include Jando for boys and Msondo for girls and among the Chewa of central Malawi the ceremonies are engulfed within the Gule waMkulu rituals.

These ceremonies prepare adolescents for adult roles and responsibilities offering a formal phase of socialization. Thus, new roles are assumed by degree, causing minimal strain. The social internship that precedes these rite de passage or developmental transition according to Nsamenang (2000) is designed to cultivate virtuous character and instill values of cooperation and generosity. Typically, the initiation of adolescent boys [wonle ntsum for the Nso of Cameroon], including circumcision, is a collective affair that marks the transition from the company of children and women to that of adult men.
Circumcision as a prominent practice in rites of passage has both sexual and spiritual meaning.

Circumcision may be done at the onset of puberty for hygienic reasons, to test the endurance of the youth, to reflect symbolic sacrifice, to sanctify procreation, to symbolize incorporation into the community, to represent symbolic castration by a father figure, or to express male envy of women’s menstruation [Allen, 1967]. In some societies, the initiation of adolescent girls [wonle ngon in Nso] is subtler and less public as it focuses on training for proficiency in housekeeping and societal reproduction. The puberty rite marks the point at which adolescent boys and girls begin to take their place in the jural, cultural, and ritual affairs of the society, first, as their parents’ representatives and later, in their own right, particularly for boys (Erny, 1987).

The specific form the rite takes varies across societies and has been reported in great detail by a vast but critical anthropological literature [Burton and Whiting, 1961; Erny, 1968; Harrington 1968; Jahoda, 1982; Whiting, 1965] that attests to the rite’s social significance to the teenager’s development.
At maturity, an African adolescent takes on the adult roles for which he or she was being primed. An adolescent does not, however, automatically attain adult status; full adulthood status requires being ‘married with children’ [Nsamenang 1992a]. The socialization of African youth is somehow changing, being affected by the consequences of schooling and the exigencies [urgent demands] of urbanization and commercialization.

Among the Zuni Indians, according to Conger [1984], the initiation rites of adolescents serve an important psychological function. Younger children are taught to fear the displeasure of ‘scare Kachinas,’ or ‘punitive masked gods,’ employed in tribal ceremonies, if they behave improperly. Traditionally, when a boy is about 14 and considered responsible, he undergoes an initiation rite at which he is ceremonially whipped with strands of yucca by these ‘masked gods’- not as a physical punishment, of which the Zuni disapprove, but as a rite of exorcism, ‘to take off the bad happenings,’ and to make future events propitious [favorable]. Among girls, initiation ceremonies are likely to center around the onset of menstruation, ‘which furnishes an obvious and dramatic signal of approaching physiological maturity’.

Menarche for girls is considered a pubertal marker, while male pubertal development does not include such a distinctive marker. Also, for boys the rites of passage reflect an introduction to the more ethereal world of spirit and culture, while for girls the rites of passage are more likely to reflect natural phenomena such as menstruation. A common feature of such ceremonies in a large number of societies is the seclusion of the girl, especially from men. This seclusion may last for only a few days or continue for several months.

In many instances the secluded girl receives special instruction from an older woman in matters pertaining to sex and marriage. The teaching generally ‘includes an explanation of the social regulations governing proper conduct in sexual affairs, a description and sometimes demonstration and pantomime [play based on a fairy tale] of the techniques of lovemaking, advice on how to get along in married life, methods of avoiding pregnancy, and what to expect in childbirth’. Information about modes of dress may be passed on as well during the ceremony, and spirituality is often included by associating femininity with the powers of the moon. In such rites, it is not unusual for the girl’s clitoris to be removed. In fact genital mutilation is part and parcel of initiation in most societies in Kenya, Uganda and most African countries.
In some rites, girls are tortured or scared, while in others they are admired and celebrated [Opler, 1972].

Typically, the conclusion of the period is marked by a feast or dance, at which the girl, after bathing or going through ritual purification, publicly dons the clothes of a mature woman. In a nutshell the rite de passage provides a forceful and discontinuous entry into the adult world at a time when the adolescent is perceived to be ready for the change. In western society however, a variety of laws according to Conger [1984] often internally inconsistent, are about all that the societies have in the way of institutionalized patterns of recognizing the adolescent’s increasing independence.

Although universal formal ceremonies that mark the passage from adolescence to adulthood may not be prevalent in western society; certain religious and social groups do go through initiation ceremonies that indicate an advance in maturity has been reached. The Jewish bar mitzvah, the Catholic Confirmation, and social debuts, for example are typical of the rites. School graduation ceremonies come the closest to being rites of passage in today’s world.

The high-school graduation ceremony is especially noteworthy, becoming nearly universal for middle-class adolescents and increasing numbers of adolescents from low-income families [Fasick, 1988]. Nonetheless, high school graduation does not result in universal changes- many high school graduates continue to live with their parents, continue to be economically dependent on them, and continue to be undecided about career and life-style directions. Therefore the absence of clear-cut rites of passage make the attainment of adult status ambiguous in most western societies.



Characterized as a ‘zoologist by training, an epistemologist by vocation, and a logician by method,’ Piaget is best known for his contributions to developmental psychology. He regarded himself as an interdisplinary thinker; perhaps the identification ‘genetic epistemologist’ best described his orientation. Epistemology is the branch of science concerned with the methods, limits, and validity of knowledge. The term genetic is used in the sense of genesis or development; indeed, Piaget did not study the genes of his subjects, and the idea of genetic influences on the acquisition of knowledge applies only in a very broad sense. In regard to the nature-nurture controversy, Piaget was neither a maturationalist nor an environmentalist, but is better characterized as an ‘interactionist’ or ‘constructionist’. He came up with four stages of cognitive development.

·        The sensorimotor
·        Preoperational
·        Concrete operational
·        Formal operational

Each of Piaget’s four stages represent a stage in development of intelligence [hence Sensorimotor intelligence, preoperational intelligence, concrete operational intelligence, and formal operational intelligence] and is a way of summarizing the various schemas a child has at a particular time. The ages given are approximate, because children move through the stages at different rates due to differences in both the environment and their biological maturation. Children also pass through transitional periods, in which their thinking is a mixture of two stages. The concept of developmental ‘stage’ is often taken to mean that development is discontinuous. But for Piaget, development is a gradual and continuous process of change although later stages build on earlier ones [which is why sequence is invariant].

The sensorimotor stage

This is the period during infancy. Development at this stage is based on information obtained from the senses [sensori] and from the actions or body movements [motor] on the part of the infant. Infants learn about the world primarily through the senses and by doing. The infant’s greatest developmental achievement is the realization that objects in the environment exist whether perceived or not. This basic understanding is called object permanence. Infants begin to recognize that hidden objects do not cease to exist.

A second major achievement or accomplishment at this stage is the beginning of logical goal-directed actions. For example, if a child wants to get what is in a covered container he or she may build a scheme as follows:

·        Get the lid off
·        Turn the container upside down
·        Shake if the item falls
·        Watch the item fall on the floor

The child may also reverse this action by refilling the container. But a very young child will struggle to get the contents out. So the child moves from reflex action to goal directed activity.

The preoperational stage

This stage takes place during early childhood from 2-7 years. This period is also denoted the preschool period. This is a stage before the child masters logical and mental operations. These are actions carried out by thinking them through instead of literally performing them. Because, the child has not mastered these operations, hence the reference preoperational. The fact however is that the child is moving towards mastery. According to Piaget, the first step from action to thinking is the internalization of actions. This means, performing an action mentally not physically.

The first type of thinking that is separate from action, involves making an action scheme symbolic. So the ability to form and use the symbolic – words, gestures, signs and images- is a major accomplishment at this stage. This accomplishment moves children closer to mastering mental operations. This ability to work with symbols such as using the word [bicycle] or a [picture] of a bicycle that is not actually present is called the sembiotic formation.  During the preoperational stage there is rapid development of the very important symbolic system---language.

As the child moves through this stage, the developing ability to think about objects in symbolic form remains limited to thinking in one direction only or using one-way logic. It is very difficult for the child to think backwards---reverse thinking. According to Piaget, preoperational children are egocentric. This is the tendency to see the world and the experiences of others from one’s own perspective only. The child cannot appreciate that other people might see things differently. Egocentrism does not imply that the child is selfish however. Rather it simply means children often assume that everyone else shares their feelings, reactions, and perspectives. Furthermore egocentrism is also evident in the child’s language. Children happily talk of what they are doing even though no one is listening. This happens when a child is alone or with a group of other children. In a group, each child talks enthusiastically without real interaction or conversation. Piaget calls this the collective monologue. Other weaknesses include transductive reasoning, animism and artificialism.

Transductive reasoning involves drawing an inference about the relationship between two things based on a single shared attribute. An example being cats must be dogs because they all have four legs. Animism refers to the belief that all inanimate objects are alive. Artificialism is the belief that natural features have been designed and constructed by people, for example, the question ‘why is the sky blue?’ might produce an answer from a preoperational child that ‘somebody painted it’.

Preoperational children also lack the abilities to apply:

·        Conservation
·        Classification
·        Seriation

The concrete operational stage

This stage takes place during the later primary to middle school years from 7-11 years. The basic characteristics of this stage are:

·        The recognition of the logical system of the physical world.
·        The realization that elements can be changed or transformed but still conserve many of their original characteristics.
·        The understanding that these changes can be reversed.
·        Operational thought is reversible----logical operations can be reversed by canceling an operation.
·        Operational thought is associative----thought is not limited to one avenue.

In this stage mental tasks are tied to concrete objects and situations.
According to Piaget, a student’s ability to solve conservation problems depends on the understanding of basic aspects of reasoning such as identity, compensation and reversibility.

Conservation is the understanding that any quantity [e.g. number, liquid quantity, length and substance], remains the same despite physical changes in the arrangements of objects. Piaget believed that preoperational children cannot conserve because their thinking is dominated by the perceptual nature of objects [appearance].

Elements of conservation include:

·        Identity
·        Compensation
·        Reversibility


It is the principle that quantity or mass in objects remains the same over time. For instance a round mould when reshaped into a sausage still retains the same volume and characteristics regardless of the change. With complete mastery of identity, the student knows that if nothing is added or taken away the material remains the same.


It is the principle that changes in one dimension can be offset by changes in another as in changes in matter form from liquid to gas, solid to fluid. With an understanding of compensation the student knows that an apparent change in one dimension can be compensated for by a change in another dimension.


It is the ability to think things through a series of steps and return to the starting point. The child is able to comprehend that if 1 + 3 = 4 then 4 – 3 = 1-----in other words he or she can reverse mathematical or any other computations. With an understanding of reversibility the student can actually cancel out the change that has been made. A grasp of reversibility means that the student has mastered two-way thinking.


Involves focusing on only a single perceptual quality at a time.  In a test of conservation a child is presented with two tubes of the same volume but of different dimensions-----the other narrow but high and the other squat but wide. Queried which has more liquid when liquid of the same volume is poured into both of the two dimensionally different tubes:

A child in the preoperational stage would deduce the narrow one has more liquid even though both have the same volume of liquid while a child in the concrete operational stage would be able to understand that the two have the same volume and hence hold the same amount of liquid.

This would be the case even when the situation was reversed. Preoperational children lack the ability to decentre. As documented in the example above they only focus on the perceptual nature in this case length and height of the object.

Apart from conservation other important operations achieved at this stage include:

·        Classification
·        Seriation


Classification is the grouping of objects into categories. Classification depends on the student’s abilities to form simple characteristics of objects in a set and group the objects according to their characteristics. Given a mixture of fruits---mangoes, bananas, apples—the child is able to group them into sets of [M], [B], and [A].


Seriation is the process of making an orderly arrangement from large to small or vice versa. The preoperational child has difficulty arranging objects on the basis of a particular dimension e.g. color, length and shape.

With abilities to handle operations like conservation, classification and seriation; the student has finally developed a complete and very logical system of thinking. This system of thinking is, however, tied to physical reality. The concrete operational child is not yet able to reason about hypothetical, abstract problems that involve the coordination of many factors at once.

The formal operational stage

Piaget’s formal operations include, among others, the use of propositional thinking, combinatorial analysis, proportional reasoning, probabilistic reasoning, correlational reasoning, and abstract reasoning. The concept formal implies that what matters is form and logic rather than content. With the progression through these stages, mental operations become increasingly more abstract, more complex, more logical, and the boundaries of the mental structures become more permeable and thus, provide thought processes with greater flexibility.

This stage takes place during junior and senior secondary school from 11-15 years and older yet not all people acquire this level of abstract/logical thinking. This stage deals with mental tasks involving abstract thinking and coordination of a number of variables. All the earlier operations and abilities continue and are integrated. The focus of thinking shifts from what is to what might be. Situations do not have to be experienced to be imagined. A student at this stage attains hypothetical deductive reasoning as a major achievement at this stage.

This is a formal operations problem-solving strategy in which an individual begins by identifying all the factors that might affect a problem and then deduces and systematically evaluates specific solutions, for example moving from general to specific.

 Adolescent thought is thus more abstract than child thought. Adolescents are no longer limited to actual, concrete experiences as anchors for thought. They can conjure up make-believe situations, events that are strictly hypothetical possibilities or purely abstract propositions, and try to reason logically about them. The abstract quality of the adolescent’s thought at the formal operational level is evident in the adolescent’s verbal problem-solving ability. While the concrete operational thinker would need to see the concrete elements A, B, and C to be able to make the logical inference that if A= B and B= C then A= C, the formal operational thinker can solve this problem merely through verbal presentation. This reflects a reasoning ability connoted Transitive inference: the ability to solve problems verbally and logically.

 Furthermore children who function at the concrete operational stage cannot solve the transitive inference problem if it is placed on a purely verbal and hypothetical plane e.g. ‘John is taller than Mary, Mary is taller than Jane. Who is the tallest?’  They are unable to consider all the possible combinations in relation to the whole problem [Harris and Butterworth, 2002].

Another indication of the abstract quality of the adolescent’s thought is his or her increased tendency to think about thought itself. One adolescent commented, ‘I began thinking about why I was thinking what I was, then I began thinking about why I was thinking about why I was thinking about why I was’. If that sounds abstract, it is, and it characterizes the adolescent’s enhanced focus on thought and its abstract qualities. Accompanying the abstract nature of formal operational thought in adolescence is thought full of idealism and possibilities. While children frequently think in concrete ways, or in terms of what is real and limited, adolescents begin to engage in extended speculation about ideal characteristics- qualities they desire in themselves and in others.

Such thoughts often lead adolescents to compare themselves and others in regard to such ideal standards. And during adolescence, the thoughts of individuals are often fantasy flights into future possibilities. It is not unusual for the adolescent to become impatient with these newfound ideal standards and become perplexed over which of many ideal standards to adopt. It is sometimes said that the adolescent’s thought is more like a scientist’s than a child’s. This implies that the adolescent often entertains many possibilities and tests many solutions in a planned way when having to solve a problem. This kind of problem solving as already alluded to has been called hypothetical deductive reasoning. Basically this means that in solving a problem, an individual develops hypotheses or hunches about what will be a correct solution to the problem, and then in a planned manner tests one or more of the hypotheses, discarding the ones that do not work.

Adolescents can thus think about possibilities, think through hypothesis, think ahead, think about thought and engage in perspective thinking. Perspective thinking relates to the awareness that different people have different thoughts about the same situation. While children are egocentric adolescents are socio-centric. According to Muuss [1996] adolescents not only think beyond the present but analytically reflect about their own thinking. Piaget calls this type of reasoning ‘second-degree thinking’ which involves operations that produce ‘thinking about thinking’, ‘statements about statements’, or more significantly ‘operations on operations’.

The other distinctive property of formal thought is the reversal of direction between reality and possibility. A type of thinking which proceeds from what is possible to what is empirically real [Inhelder and Piaget, 1958].
Combinational systems of operations defined as the matrix of all possible combinations of all possible values of all possible variables inherent in the problem also constitutes formal operations. Combinational analysis can be exemplified by an experiment requesting to determine which combination of five chemicals produces a yellowish-brown liquid and which returns the liquid to its original colorless state.

Yet another cognitive ability attained at this stage is Propositional analysis entailing the ability to follow and understand logical deductions in the light of two premises---one specific, the other general---- and a conclusion.

E.g. :
A] All human beings are mortal.
John is a human being.
Therefore John is mortal.

B] All planets orbit the sun.
The earth is a planet.
Therefore the earth orbits the sun.


According to David Elkind [1967, 1976, 1978] two important aspects of thinking about the self and others that develop in adolescence are egocentrism and perspective taking. David Elkind believes two types of thinking represent the emergence of egocentrism in adolescents. These are the imaginary audience and the personal fable. Imaginary audience is the belief that others are as pre-occupied with the adolescent’s behavior as he or she is. Attention-seeking behavior, so common in early adolescence, may reflect this interest in an, imaginary audience, that is the desire to be noticed, visible, and on stage.

Particularly during early adolescence, individuals see themselves as constantly on stage, believing they are the main actors and all others are the audience. The construction personal fable on the other hand refers to the adolescent’s sense of personal uniqueness and indestructibility. Their sense of personal uniqueness makes them feel that no one can understand how they really feel that they are special. Another aspect of the personal fable involves the belief that one is indestructible. This results in feelings of invulnerability or insusceptibility and therefore risk-taking behaviors such as alcoholism/drug and substance abuse as well as sexual promiscuity. For reasons likely tied to an emerging interest in idealism and the ability to think in more abstract and hypothetical ways, young adolescents often get caught up in a mental world far removed from reality. This may entail the belief that things just can’t or won’t happen to them and that they are omnipotent and indestructible.




The issue of rightness and wrongness is a complex phenomenon.
Whether a given action is acceptable or unacceptable may depend on many factors including the specific circumstances involved, legal consideration and own personal code of ethics. Moral development is the process by which individuals acquire a sense of right and wrong, to use in evaluating their own actions and the actions of others [Turiel, 1998]. Moral development begins early and continues throughout the life span. Theories of moral development attempt to find answers to moral issues and how children reason or respond to moral dilemmas and how their moral growth is stimulated.


One of the earliest theories of moral development was put forward by Jean Piaget. Piaget theorized that the way humans think out moral issues depends on their level of cognitive development. In essence there is a direct relationship between cognitive development and moral development.
According to Piaget young children are egocentric. That is to say they have difficulty taking others’ perspective into consideration. This tendency is typical of children below the age of seven or in Piaget’s pre-operational stage of cognitive development. Children at this age generally believe that rules are inflexible mandates provided by some higher authorities, are arbitrary and cannot be changed. Breaking a rule will automatically lead to punishment.

Young children tend to judge the gravity or wrongness of an action depending on how much harm has been made regardless of the motive or intention behind an action. For instance a child who intentionally breaks 1 cup while trying to steal sugar is considered to have committed a lesser offence than another who breaks 15 cups accidentally while opening the cupboard door. Piaget called this kind of morality heteronomous morality or morality that is subject to rules imposed by others where a child shows blind obedience to authority. The child perceives justice as resting in the person of authority; this idea is referred to as ‘ethics of authority’. The period is also referred to as moral realism or the morality of constraint, characterized by the view that rules are absolute.

After age eight children are able to understand that rules are not absolute but are rather formed through social consensus and are thus subject to change ----are tentative. In the case of infraction or violation of a rule older children are now capable of considering whether the individual acted intentionally---they consider the motive behind the action. Piaget referred to this stage as morality of co-operation—the level at which children understand that people both make up rules and can change the rules, which are now seen as a product of people’s agreements. This stage reflects the change to a social orientation, an ‘ethics of mutual respect’. Moral judgments shift from an objective to a subjective orientation: the primary concern is no longer simply the objective amount of damage caused by the immoral act, but the intention or motivation now becomes more important. Children now appreciate the reciprocity of relationships.

For Piaget, the highest stage of moral development, characteristic of adolescence, is moral autonomy. Dependent on the attainment of formal or abstract reasoning ability, moral autonomy commonly begins at puberty.
In a game situation, like monopoly, chess, dominos- the adolescent reveals interest not only in the rules by which the game is played but also in possible new rules to make the game more interesting or more challenging.


Kohlberg developed his theory of moral development in the 1950s.
Like Piaget, he proposed three levels of moral development. The first level, which he called Pre conventional, is where moral reasoning is based solely on a person’s own needs and perceptions. The second level, Conventional is where the expectations of society and law are taken into account. The last level, Post Conventional is where judgments are based on abstract, more personal principles that are not necessarily defined by society rules. Each of these levels is then divided into two stages.

Kohlberg used moral dilemmas which required difficult ethical choices to assess the levels of reasoning in children at different ages. He was not especially interested in the specific choices children or adults made but their underlying moral reasoning in those choices.

Level 1----- Pre conventional morality

Children think in terms of external authority. Rules are absolute; acts are wrong because they are punished or right because they are rewarded.

Stage 1

The punishment obedience orientation

·        Punishment and obedience are an individual’s main concerns.
·        The main motivation for obeying a rule is to avoid punishment and achieve gratification.
·        Being right means obeying authority.

Stage 2

The instrumental-relativist orientation/ Personal reward

·        The individual adopts an orientation of individualism and exchange.
·        Rules are followed if they are in the individual’s best interest.
·        Deals and compromises with others are sometimes used to solve problems.
·        Revealing a hedonistic orientation, morally right behavior depends on what satisfies one’s own desires.
·        In both stages in level1- the child is egoistic/ a hedonist.
·        Everyone has the right to do what he wants with himself and his possessions, even though his behaviour conflicts with the rights of others.

Level 2-----Conventional Morality

Judgments at this stage are based on the conventions of friends, family and society and on their approval.

Stage 3

The interpersonal-concordance orientation/Good boy or Good girl orientation

·        Moral reasoning is guided by mutual interpersonal expectations and conformity.
·        People try to do what is expected of them.
·        The concern is to meet external social expectation.
·        Concept of ‘right’ is there but nobody has the right to do evil.
·        Intentions become more important in judging a person’s behaviour.

Stage 4

Authority and social order-maintaining orientation/Law and order orientation

·        Individuals place importance on the social system, including laws, and on fulfilling obligations.
·        There is strong belief in law, order, duty and legitimate authority.
·        The observance of the golden rule------do unto others as you would have others do unto you-----is often the criterion in making moral judgments.
·        Maintaining the established order for its own sake.

Level 3------Post conventional morality

Moral thinking involves working out a personal code of ethics or self accepted moral principle. Acceptance of rules is less rigid----one might not comply with some of the society’s rules if they conflict with personal ethics.

Stage 5

The social-contract legalistic orientation

·        People recognize and try to balance the importance of both social contracts and individual rights.
·        Moral behavior reflects a concern for the welfare of the larger community and a desire for community respect.
·        More flexible understanding that we obey rules because they are necessary for social order but the rules could be changed if there were better alternatives.

Stage 6

The universal-ethical principle orientation/Morality of individual principle and conscience

·        Behaviours conform to internal principles [justice and equality] to avoid self-condemnation and sometimes may violate society’s rules—motivation is feeling right with oneself.
·        Individuals adopt an orientation towards universal principles of justice, which exist regardless of a particular society’s rules.
·        Reasoning assumes a conscience that is based on self chosen ethical principles that place the highest value on human life, equality and dignity.
·        Civil disobedience is not out of disrespect for law and order, but out of respect for a morality higher than the existing law.
·        Visionaries or moral leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther displayed this form of morality.

Evaluating Kohlberg’s theory

Kohlberg’s theory has generated enormous interest. It is the most nearly complete theory of moral development and psychologists have found that moral development in many situations seems to proceed roughly along the lines Kohlberg suggested even in other cultures such as Turkey and Israel.
But the theory has not gone without any criticism.

·        First, the scoring of scenarios is somewhat subjective and can lead to errors of interpretation. Kohlberg used moral dilemmas or scenarios and respondents were categorized into a moral level or stage according to their response to the scenario or moral dilemma. There was no objectivity in such a criteria due to the fact that classifications depended on the researcher’s perceptions of the response.

·        Second, stages of moral development seem to be less domain general than Kohlberg’s theory suggests [Kurtines & Greif, 1974]. The level of people’s responses may vary, depending on the particular scenario to which they respond.  In essence given different scenarios or dilemmas, people’s responses may render them classified into different stages which may rather compromise the reliability and validity of the theory. Further, evidence indicates that, contrary to the assumption of stage theories, people may regress to earlier stages of moral reasoning under certain circumstances such as under stress.

·        Third, Kohlberg’s own finding that people can regress in their behavior points out the weak link that often exists between thought/reasoning and action/behavior. [Kurtines & Greif].
           The link between moral thought and moral behaviour is often
      weak –thought/reasoning does not necessarily translate into
       behaviour. Kohlberg needless to say put too much emphasis on
      moral thought than on moral behaviour.
       Moral   judgment/reasoning/thought refers to the intellectual   
            or reasoning ability to evaluate the ‘goodness’ or ‘rightness’
            of a course of action in a hypothetical situation. Moral behavior
          refers to the individual’s ability in a real – life situation to resist the
          temptation to commit immoral acts. Someone may indeed nurture a
          higher level of moral development, but not act in ways consistent with
           that understanding. This inconsistency is an element of cognitive
           dissonance in social psychology reflecting a discrepancy often
           existing between attitude/thought/reasoning and subsequent
           behaviour. The implication here is therefore that people in essence
           often ‘preach what they themselves do not practice’.

·        Forth, the theory was originally validated on a relatively small sample of white, middle-class American males less than 17 years of age.
          Thus the theory is androgenic or centered on males. Although some
         investigators have found cross-cultural support for Kohlberg’s theory,
         others have found that in certain circumstances, such as the lifestyle of
         the communal Israeli kibbutz what is viewed as a higher level of
         morality differs from the value systems Kohlberg suggested.
        Apart from that the theory is ethnocentric [perspective biased
         towards one’s culture and judging others basing thereof] and
         eurocentric [that is biased towards the west] where people
         are generally individualistic hence lacking a cosmopolitan
         perspective. It may therefore not apply in communal or collective  
         societies because of its parochial nature. It is also argued that the
         scenario or dilemma responses were somewhat based on intuition that
          is instinctive knowledge or insight without conscious reasoning.

·        Fifth Kohlberg emphasized on cognitive reasoning about morality but overlooked other aspects of moral maturity such as character and virtue that operate to solve moral problems in everyday life [Walker and Pitts, 1998; Woolfolk, 2000]. The theory does not differentiate between social convention and moral issues in which an example of a convention may be- receive things with both hands and an example of
           a moral issue maybe- do not steal.

·         Finally Kohlberg also fails to adequately reflect the connectedness with and concern for others in individuals. Carol Gilligan [1982, 1985] argues that Kohlberg’s theory emphasizes a justice perspective that is a focus on the rights of the individual rather than a care perspective that sees people in terms of their connectedness.


Carol Gilligan [1982] has proposed one alternative model of moral development arising from the criticisms to Kohlberg’s theory. She suggested that women tend to have a different conception of morality than do men.
According to Gilligan, whereas men tend to focus on abstract, rational principles such as justice and respect for the rights of others, women tend to view morality more in terms of caring and compassion. They are more concerned with issues of general human welfare and how relationships can contribute to it and be strengthened.

In particular women seem better able to show empathy, or the ability to understand how another person feels, when interacting with others. In general men tend to have a more competitive orientation, women a more co-operative orientation. Gilligan conducted several studies before she came up with her stage theory of moral development for women. Unlike Kohlberg’s study which used males only, Gilligan used adolescents both girls and boys aged 10-15 in her study. Thus her theory was not androgenic. However like Kohlberg she also used hypothetical dilemmas. One popular dilemma was the story of the porcupine, which went on like this:

A porcupine [nungu] was seeking refuge from the cold and asked to share a cave with the mole [mphuko] family. The moles agreed but the cave was too small, such that each time porcupine moved, its spikes scratched the moles. Moles complained bitterly and asked porcupine to leave their cave. But the porcupine refused and instead asked the moles to leave if they felt uncomfortable.

When the adolescents were asked what they thought of the situation?
Boys were quick to seek justice. Porcupine should leave because that is moles’ house. But girls looked for solutions that would take care of both of them. They suggested covering the porcupine with a blanket. From this study Gilligan concluded that:

·        Women are more concerned with caring than men.
·        What looks like weakness in women portrays their moral strength- caring is more virtuous than justice.

Gilligan like Kohlberg also thinks that moral development has three basic levels. She calls Level 1- preconventional morality, which reflects a concern for self and survival. Level 11- conventional morality, shows a concern for being responsible and caring for others. Level 111- postconventional morality, shows a concern for self and others as interdependent. Gilligan believes that Kohlberg underemphasized the care perspective in the moral development of both males and females and that morality’s highest level for both sexes involves a search for moral equality between oneself and others [Muuss, 1988].




Adolescents carry with them a sense of who they are and what makes them different from everyone else.  This sense of who an individual is and what makes him or her different from others is referred to as self-identity.
Adolescents cling to this identity and develop a sense that the identity is becoming more stable. Real or imagined, an adolescent’s developing sense of self and uniqueness is a motivating force in life. The two concepts comprising the word self-identity are self and identity.


Early in psychology’s history, William James [1890] distinguished two intimately intertwined aspects of the self. The self as subject [the I self] and the self as object [the me self] and there are four major distinctions between the two aspects according to James:

·        Firstly the I self is the actor or knower, the me self is the object of what is known or one’s knowledge of oneself [an empirical aggregate of things objectively known].
·        Secondly the I self is the active observer, and the me self is the observed [the object of the observing process].
·        Thirdly the I self conveys the sense of independence, agency, and volition and the me self conveys a sense of dependency.
·        Forth some researchers refer to the I self as the existential self and the me self as the categorical self.

Development proceeds in a sequence from the existential to the categorical self which is considered a duality according to Lewis and Brooks-Gunn [1979]. That is from a conception that I am, I exist, and to what or who I am [Lapsey & Rice, 1988; Lewis & Brooks-Gunn, 1979]. The task of developing the I self that is the self as subject, is to develop the realization that it is ‘existential’ in that it exists as separate from others. The me self, namely, the self as object, is referred to as ‘categorical’ in that the developing child must construct categories by which to define himself or herself [e.g., age and gender labels].

Lewis [1991, 1994] further refers to the I self as ‘subjective self-awareness’ since when attention is directed away from the self to external objects, people, and events one is the subject of consciousness. In contrast, the ‘idea of me’ can also be described as ‘objective self-awareness’ which involves focusing on the self as the object of consciousness. James also identified particular features or components of both the I self and the me self.

Components of the I self include:

1.     Self-awareness that is an appreciation for one’s internal status, needs, thoughts and emotions.
2.     Self-agency that is the sense of the authorship over one’s thoughts and actions.
3.     Self-continuity that is the sense that one remains the same person over time.
4.     Self-coherence that is a stable sense of the self as a single, coherent, bounded entity.

Components of the me self include the:

1.     Material me – the body as flesh.
2.     Social me- the self that interacts with others.
3.     Spiritual me- what in theology is considered the soul.

Self-concept and self-esteem

An increasing number of clinicians and developmentalists believe that the core of the self—its basic inner organization, is derived from regularities in experience [Kohut, 1977; Strobe, 1988]. Individuals carry forward a history of experiences with caregivers that provide the adolescent with expectations about whether the world is pleasant or not. And in adolescence, the individual continues to experience the positive or negative affect of social agents.

Despite developmental changes and context changes [increased peer contact, a wider social world] an important feature of the self’s health development is continuity in care-giving and support, especially in the face of environmental challenges and stresses. Many clinicians stress that difficulties in interpersonal relationships derive from low self-esteem, which in turn derives from a lack of nurturance and support [Bowlby, 1988; Erickson, 1968, Rogers, 1961, Sullivan, 1953].

Carl Rogers and Susan Harter’s views of self concept and self esteem

Carl Rogers and Susan Harter’s view has been instrumental in promoting the importance of self-concept in the adolescent’s development and the role of nurturance and support in achieving a health self-concept. Like Sigmund Freud, Rogers and Harter [1961, 1980] began their inquiry about human nature with troubled personalities.

They explored the human potential for change. In the knotted, anxious, defensive verbal stream of his clients, Rogers for instance concluded that individuals are prevented from becoming who they are. Rogers believed that most individuals have considerable difficulty developing their own true feelings which are innately positive. As children grow up significant others condition them to move away from these positive feelings. Parents, siblings, teachers, and peers place constraints on the adolescent’s behavior. Thus, Rogers believed that adolescents are the victims of conditional personal/positive regard meaning that love and praise are not given unless the adolescent conforms to parental or social standards. The result, says Rogers, is that the adolescent’s self – esteem is lowered. Through the individual’s experience with the world, a self emerges.

Rogers considered the congruency between the real self, that is, the self as it really is as a result of one’s experiences, and the ideal self which is the self an individual would like to be. The greater the discrepancy between the real self and the ideal self, the more maladjusted the individual will be, said Rogers. To improve their adjustment, adolescents can develop more positive perceptions of their real self, not worry so much about what others want and increase their positive experiences in the world. In such ways, the adolescent’s ideal and real self will be more closely aligned. Rogers thought that each adolescent should be valued regardless of the adolescent’s behavior. Even when the adolescent’s behavior is obnoxious, below standards of acceptance, or inappropriate, adolescents need the respect, comfort and love of others.

When these positive behaviors are given without contingency, it is known as unconditional personal/positive regard. Rogers strongly believed that unconditional positive regard elevates the adolescent’s self worth and positive self-regard. Unconditional positive regard is directed at the adolescent as a human being of worth and dignity, not to the adolescent’s behavior which might not deserve positive regard.

Strength of perspective

The view sensitized psychologists to the importance of self-perceptions, to the considering of the whole individual and the individual’s positive nature, and to the power of self understanding in improving human relations and communication with others.


Critics point out that while it is well and good to have a positive view of development, Rogers’s view is almost, too optimistic, possibly overestimating the freedom and rationality of individuals. Critics also argue that the approach encourages self love or narcissism. A major weakness is that it is extremely difficult to test scientifically.

In general self concept is the sum total of an individual’s feelings and perceptions about one self while self esteem is an evaluation and effective dimension of one’s self concept---an evaluation of one’s worth.


Who am I? What am I all about? What is different about me?
Not usually considered during childhood, these questions surface as common, virtually universal, concerns during adolescence. Adolescents clamor for solutions to these questions that revolve around the concept of identity. According to Erickson [1961] in Identity- Youth and Crisis it is necessary to differentiate between personal identity and ego identity.
The conscious feeling of having a personal identity is based on two simultaneous observations- the perception of the self-sameness and continuity of one’s existence in time and space and the perception of the fact that others recognize one’s sameness and continuity.

Ego identity on the other hand concerns more than the mere fact of existence; it is, as it were, the ego quality of this existence.
The ego is the conscious mind of the individual. Ego identity then, in its subjective aspect, is the awareness of the fact that there is a self sameness and continuity to the ego’s synthesizing methods, the ‘style of one’s individuality, and that this style coincides with the sameness and continuity of one’s meaning for significant others.’

Erickson and Identity

That today we believe identity is a key concept in understanding the lives of adolescents is a result of Erick Erickson’s masterful thinking and analysis.
Erickson [1950, 1968] believed identity versus identity/role confusion is the fifth of life’s eight stages occurring at about the same time as adolescence.
During adolescence, world views become important to the individual, who enters what Erickson calls a psychological moratorium----a gap between childhood security and adult autonomy. Like all stages in Erickson’s theory the stage is characterized by a conflict with the possibility of bipolar outcomes.

Erickson suggests that the individual must actually experience both sides of the conflict and must learn to subsume them into higher synthesis.
If the conflict is worked out in a constructive, satisfactory manner, the syntonic or positive quality becomes the more dominant part of the ego and enhances further healthy development through the subsequent stages.
For Erickson, the growth of a positive self-concept is directly linked to the psychosocial stage resolution that constitutes the core of the theory.
However, if the conflict persists past its time, or is resolved unsatisfactorily, the dystonic or negative quality is incorporated into the personality structure.

In the case of adolescents, the dystonic or negative attribute will interfere with further development and may manifest itself in impaired self-concept, adjustment problems and possibly psychopathology. In essence this explains the interplay with risk-taking behavior aptly typified by sexual promiscuity and deviance.

Contemporary views of identity development suggest several important considerations.

·        First, identity development is a lengthy process, in many instances a more gradual, less cataclysmic/ violent upheaval/abrupt transition than Erickson’s term crisis implies.

·        Second, identity development is extraordinarily complex [Marcia, 1980, 1987]. Identity formation neither begins nor ends with adolescence. It begins with the appearance of attachment, the development of a sense of self, and the emergence of independence in the family, and reaches its final phase with a life review and integration in old age. Resolution of the identity issue at adolescence does not mean that identity will be stable through the remainder of life. An individual who develops a healthy identity is flexible and adaptive, open to changes in society, in relationships and in careers. This openness assures numerous re-organizations of identity’s contents throughout the identity-achieved individual’s life.

·        Third identity formation does not happen neatly and it usually does not happen abruptly. At the bare minimum, it involves commitment to a vocational direction, an ideological stance, and a sexual orientation.
          Identity development gets done in bits and pieces.

Decisions are not made once and for all, but have to be made again and again. And the decisions may seem trivial at the time; whom to date, whether or not to break up, whether or not to have intercourse, whether or not to use contraceptives.

Marcia on identity

In an extension of Erickson’s work James Marcia [1966, 1980, 1991] proposed four statuses of adolescent identity formation, which characterize the search for an identity-  identity achievement, foreclosure, identity diffusion, and moratorium. The four kinds of identities are possible combinations of yes-no answers to two questions:

·        Has the person engaged in an active search for identity?
·        Has the person made commitments? [for example, to values, to school, to a job or career path, to who he or she wants to be as a person, or to other aspects of his or her identity]


Diffusion literally means confusion. The individual hasn’t really started thinking about issues seriously, let alone formulated goals, or made any commitments and this represents the least mature statuse. Lacking direction; unconcerned about political, religious, moral, or even occupational issues; does things without questioning why; unconcerned why others do what they are doing.


Foreclosure literally means adopting another’s position without forethought.
The individual has avoided the uncertainties and anxieties of crisis by quickly and prematurely committing to safe and conventional goals and beliefs. Commitment to occupation and various ideological positions; little evidence of the process of self construction; adopted the values of others without seriously searching and questioning; foreclosed on the possibility of achieving own identity. Alternatives haven’t been seriously considered.


Moratorium literally means a delay. The individual is at the height of the crisis and as described by Erickson, decisions about identity are postponed while the individual tries out alternative identities without committing to any particular one. Currently experiencing an identity crisis or turning point; no clear commitments to society; no clear sense of identity; actively trying to achieve identity.

Identity achievement

Achievement literally means success. The individual has experienced a crisis but has emerged successful with firm commitment to goals and ideologies.
Firm and secure sense of self; commitments to occupation, religion, thought and cultural ideology, beliefs about sex roles and the like; the views, beliefs, and values of others have been considered but own resolution reached.

This represents the most mature statuse. According to Kalat [1990] the individual has experienced several crises in exploring and choosing between life’s alternatives but finally arrived at a commitment or investment of the self in those choices. Although identity moratorium is a prerequisite for identity achievement, Marcia doesn’t see the four statuses as Erickson type stages.

An illustration of the answers to the two aforementioned questions resulting in categorization into a statuse may be as below:

                                   Has the person made commitments to values?

Has the person                         YES                                 NO
engaged in an active
search for identity?

      YES                             Identity achievement         Moratorium

      NO                               Foreclosure               Identity diffusion


Among the many developmental events that characterize puberty and the onset of adolescence, none is more dramatic, or more challenging to the young person’s emerging sense of identity, than the changes associated with sexual development. Bodily dimensions of boys and girls become increasingly differentiated, as boys develop broader shoulders and show a greater overall gain in muscle development, and girls undergo breast development and develop more rounded hips [Conger, 1984]. Girls experience their first menstruation and boys their first ejaculation.
In both sexes genital organs- the penis and scrotum in boys, the clitoris, vagina, and labia in girls- increase in size, and pubic hair develops.
All of these physical changes require new adjustments on the part of the young person and lead to a changing self-image.

Furthermore, although sexuality in the broadest sense is a lifelong part of being human, the hormonal changes that accompany puberty lead to stronger sexual feelings, although there may be considerable diversity in the ways these feelings are expressed in different individuals and in the same individual at different times. Adolescents may find themselves ‘thinking more about sex, getting sexually aroused more easily, even at times feeling preoccupied with sex’. Or they may find themselves excited by and involved in other interests, and not be particularly aware of sexual feelings. At the same age, one adolescent may be involved in sexual experimentation, another may not; one may be in love and going steady, another may feel that it is much too early for such commitments and may prefer to play the field.

Despite such individual variations, integrating sexuality meaningfully, and with as little conflict and disruption as possible, with other aspects of the young person’s developing sense of self and of relations with others is a major developmental task for both boys and girls.

How adequately this task is ultimately handled- the extent to which it becomes a source of joy or despair, of challenge and success, or failure and defeat- depends on many factors, ranging from the complexities of early parent-child relationships to contemporary social standards and values [Conger, 1984]. In terms of a cross-cultural perspective, in a recent investigation by Daniel Offer and his colleagues [1988] , the sexual attitudes of adolescents in 10 countries were sampled: Australia, Bangladesh, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Japan, Taiwan, Turkey, and the United States.
Adolescents in two countries- Turkey and Taiwan- showed extremely conservative attitudes toward sex.

In traditional cultures such as Turkey and Taiwan, adolescents feel very uncomfortable about sex and feel extremely anxious about it. Nonetheless, in all of the countries studied, having a boyfriend or a girlfriend was viewed as important by the adolescents, especially in West Germany [where 82% rated this important compared to only 73% of the United States adolescents].
Blum [1945] contends that sexual maturity brings in its wake a wave of disturbances not only in the sexual realm but also in the broader phenomena of social behavior. The adolescent, flooded by his own resurgent impulses, must regroup the defensive forces of his ego in an attempt to meet his new onslaught.

According to psychoanalytic theory, individuals at any age may experience an inability to handle impulses, subdue anxiety or to delay gratification, but the maturation of sexual impulses, makes adolescence especially stressful.
A review of research [Swanson, 1996; Roger, 1969; Hill, 1998; Hendry, 2001] suggests that adolescent girls experience more emotional disturbances about sexuality than boys. However, Fiedenberg [1996] believes boys are more emotional and female less emotional than commonly believed.
Boys are moodier, more intense, and more mystical almost.

If either sex experiences stress due to sexuality, the question is what sort of help is required? Is it society itself that needs adjustment for its failure to provide a suitable niche? Sexuality in definition is an aspect of self-referring to one’s erotic thoughts, actions and orientation. As children acquire knowledge about male and female and about the roles sexuality expects them, they also become increasingly aware of their own sexuality. During adolescence, the lives of males and females become dominated by sexuality.
Sexuality as may be noted, involves the development of sexual identity, attitudes and sexual behavior.

Adolescence is a time of sexual exploration, experimentation and investigation into sexual fantasies and realities. Adolescents have high curiosity about their sexuality. They continually think about whether they are sexually attractive, whether anyone will love them or whether they will ever have children or whether it is normal to have sex. For most adolescents sexual experiences can be both enjoyable and painful. However what is important is the development of correct sexual attitudes and responsible sexual behavior among adolescents.
The development of correct sexual attitudes and behavior among adolescents is critical, because adolescents should be able to act responsibly and prevent themselves from the negative effects of sex such as unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease and other social-moral problems.



In many societies including Malawi, families have undergone tremendous transformation in size, structure, and nature of relationships between parents and their youths. These changes have tended to affect adolescent trends of development significantly at home, and in the school and as they become adults. One thing that is noteworthy is the process of socialization between parents and their adolescents. Until recently, the process was viewed as a one way process in which adolescents were considered to be the product of their parents’ socialization techniques. In contrast, the socialization process between parents and their adolescents is now viewed as reciprocal in which adolescents socialize parents and parents equally socialize adolescents.
This process is known as reciprocal socialization. Reciprocal socialization is dependent upon the nature of parent-adolescent and the way that the relationship revolves.

In Malawi, the family with its social structure has experienced a marked decline in reciprocal socialization. This, as may be conceived has resulted from socio-economic development and the influence from foreign cultures.
For instance parents now spend less time with their adolescent children than before. The major changes in Malawian families that have a major impact on parent-adolescent relations are.

·        The working parents
·        Growth of the nuclear family
·        Divorce, single parenthood and foster parenthood
·        Changing parenting techniques
·        Gender issues in the family


Socio-economic development in Malawi has led to urban growth and an increase in migration from rural to urban areas in search of employment and better life. However due to the decline in family income and the increase in poverty in most families both parents are forced to work in order to increase their income. Consequently, employment causes parents to leave their children unattended to or in the care of paid workers/housemaids.
As may be appreciated, this is not the best for children since working parents do not have sufficient time to talk to their children and advise them ----hence leaving this big task under the responsibility of teachers and the school.


Affluence especially in the urban areas and poverty in rural areas have forced many families in Malawi to have fewer children and small size families commonly known as the nuclear family. This development which happens to be becoming common in many urban dwelling families discourages the growth of the extended family system which provided for foster parenthood. As a result, a significant number of adolescents such as orphans and the disadvantaged children may not benefit from any form of parental care if the development of the nuclear family continues as a trend.


Another change in Malawian families that has significant impact on the development of adolescents is the increase in divorce, death of a parent and the resulting single parenthood and step parenthood. Single parenthood and foster parenthood have become a familiar experience to many adolescents in Malawi because of the rising divorce rate and premature death of one parent.
Although divorce may come as a relief in strife-ridden families the great majority of adolescents find the separation of their parents and divorce a very painful and disruptive experience with long-term psychological effects.
Single parenthood is an integral part in society directly resulting from divorce and premarital childbirths.

However, it may come as a relief to note that the effects of divorce are not always bad. In some circumstances adolescents from divorced parents may experience less anguish and less maladjustment than those growing up within intact conflict-ridden marriages. Significant proportions of divorced people remarry and adolescents are likely to grow up in step parent families.


Single parent families may be created by death of a parent but in most cases they may result from divorce, separation and desertion [Papalia and Olds, 1990]. According to Atwater [1992] divorce and separation almost always bring drastic changes in the amounts and sources of income. For example, a typical single parent family tends to suffer from financial deprivation.
This is particularly true in single parent families headed by women.
Here the absence of a father, as may be conceived, has the following implications:

·        Less father support
·        Less family cohesion
·        More sibling conflict
·        More house hold responsibility

As a result, young adolescents, according to Papalia and Olds [1990]:

·        Feel anger, depression, guilt and despair
·        May worry about money or become very active sexually
·        May begin to compete with the parent of the same sex or play man or woman of the household
Some effects of one-parent family on schooling which studies carried out so far indicate that students from one-parent homes:

·        Achieved less in school
·        Liked school less
·        Had more problems with peers
·        Were likely to need disciplinary action than students with two parents

 Teachers therefore need to look at ways to co-operate with single parents so as to assist affected students effectively. Finally although most children and adolescents initially experience stress when their parents divorce and they are at risk for developing problem behaviors, divorce can also salvage children and adolescents from conflicted marriages. Many children and adolescents emerge from divorce as complete individuals. Furthermore, in general Papalia and Olds [1990] quoting Ruther[1983] state that children are better adjusted when they have a good relationship with one parent than when they have grown up in a two parent home characterized by discord and discontent. This is in support of the view many developmentalists in recent times adopted that single-parent children do not necessarily breed problem children.

 Perhaps another dramatic change that has taken place in the Malawian family is the growth of gender issues and the notion for women to share domestic responsibilities equally with their husbands. Women’s push for equity with men in the family is culturally influenced by the Western world particularly North America and Western Europe. This probably explains why the issue of equity in the family is confined largely to the families of affluent-educated Malawians who are exposed to Western cultures through the print and electronic media. In the absence of any documentation about its impact on adolescent development in Malawi it may be dangerous to speculate at the moment.


Also noticeable, to a greater degree in Malawian families is an increase in parent-adolescent conflict. Conflicts with parents increase in early adolescence. Such conflict is usually moderate, taking the form of defiance towards parental orders. The increase in conflict can be associated with positive developmental function of promoting developmental transition that occurs when parents push an adolescent to leave home and become independent. It may also be noted that parents also tend to change their techniques of parenting from being authoritative to becoming more permissive or a mixture of the two extremes.


Social ecology implies a balance between love and limits; support and control. There are basically four parenting techniques.

·        Indifferent
·        Autocratic/authoritarian
·        Indulgent
·        Authoritative


·        Parents give little support and control or non at all.

·        Adolescents are ignored by the parent.

·        Adolescents are treated as though they don’t exist and thus engage in attention seeking behavior either good or bad.

·        Parents are mostly dysfunctional, alcoholic or drug abusers.

·        Single parentage where the parent has to undertake a dual duty of roles may result in indifference.

·        Adolescents are impulsive and more prone to delinquent behavior.

·        Adolescents are precocious-----they experiment with sex, drugs and alcohol.


·        Parents give high support but little control to their children.

·        Material support is high.

·        Parents don’t set any rules or standards for their children.

·        Adolescents lack self control are less mature and more irresponsible.

·        Adolescents are more conforming to peers and less able to assume positions of leadership.


·        Parents give a lot of control and little support.

·        Parents give a lot of control and the child reacts rather than respond.

·        Adolescents are more dependent and more passive.

·        Adolescents are less socially adept, less assured and less intellectually curious.


·        There is a balance or equilibrium between support and control.

·        Equilibrium creates the greatest self concept.

·        There is a sense of security in the family.

·        Adolescents are socially skilled and self assured.

·        Adolescents are adaptive and creative.

·        Adolescents are responsible and curious.


Authority----------- administered with love provides boundaries for making right choices and develops a sense of self-decisiveness.

Accountability------------by being accountable to children, parents teach them to be accountable, which develops a sense of self discipline and self control.

Affection-----------------caring words and actions develop a sense of lovability in the child.

Availability---------------------taking time for the children develops a sense of importance.

Appreciation---------------sincere praise and affirmation develops a sense of significance.

Acceptance------------------unconditional love develops a sense of security and self worth.

Love is the superstructure, supporting unit and protective covering of a family.




In the first place, adolescents are neither children nor adults. As children reach adolescence, they spend more time with their peers. Peers in most cases are members of the same age and level of maturity. Such being the case they influence each other very much in most of their activities since they are away from adults. Adolescents are primarily influenced by their peers through the process of social comparison. Social comparison, according to Atwater [ 1992] means seeking out peers with whom to evaluate one’s self, abilities characteristics, and reactions. This process of social comparison is a life long process which involves everyone, that is, children as well as adults.

This process becomes more critical during adolescence when individuals get busy establishing themselves and not simply refining themselves as in adulthood. It is worthy knowing that adolescents at this time can not compare themselves with children because that would be retrogressive.
Again they can not make adulthood comparison because that would be inappropriate. As a result, they turn to their peers as a primary reference group for defining themselves and their social identities. The role played by peers in adolescence is especially critical.

Relations with both same and opposite-sex peers during the adolescent years come closer to serving as prototypes for later adult relationships in social relations, in work, and in interactions with members of the opposite sex.
Adolescents are also more dependent upon peer relationships than are younger children simply because ties to parents become progressively looser as the adolescent gains greater independence. In addition, relations with family members are likely to become charged with conflicting emotions in the early years of adolescence- dependent yearnings exist alongside independent strivings, hostility is mixed with love, and conflicts occur over cultural values and social behaviour.

Consequently, many areas of the adolescent’s inner life and outward behaviour become difficult to share with parents [Conger, 1984]. A mature, warm, interested, and above all, non-exploitative adolescent peer may play an important, sometimes crucial role in helping a boy or girl to gain a clearer concept of self, problems, and goals; a feeling of personal worth; and renewed hope for the future. Because of the heightened importance of the peer group during adolescence, motivation for conformity to the values, customs, and fads of peer culture increases during this period.
Peers belong to two groups---cliques and crowds.

Cliques in most cases are small groups that meet mostly for personal communication and sharing. Members engage in activities which are usually spontaneous and membership is on the basis of similar interests, personality, schools, neighborhoods or religious affiliation.

Crowds, on the other hand, are larger size groups that meet primarily for organized social activities like parties or dances. Activities in this group usually occur during weekends. However, research has shown, that some adolescents do not either belong to cliques or crowds. These adolescents are known as loners or outsiders. Loners do not join groups. This maybe because they have either been rejected or choose to do so. Peer relationships whether in cliques or crowds have a tremendous influence on adolescents and some of these are:

·        Satisfying adolescent needs

An adolescent may engage in activities like drinking or smoking, so as to win approval of his or her friends. If an activity is done is acceptable and part of the group norms, the adolescent feels good, accepted, excited and wins companionship.

·        Peer relationships expose the adolescent to information about the world outside the family

You may agree that adolescents come from different and varied environments as well as from different backgrounds. As they meet they share information with one another which may even include adult values.
In addition, adolescents receive feedback about their abilities. In more elaborate terms, adolescents learn whether what they do is better or worse than what other adolescents do.

Learning this at home can be difficult because of age differences among siblings.

·        Peer relationships may also be necessary for normal social development

Adolescents learn for instance to be fair and just by working through disagreements with their peers. They also learn to be skilled and sensitive partners in intimate relationships with selected peers. These relationships if carried forward help form the foundation of later dating and marital relationships. Research has shown that in late adolescence, the crowd begins to dissolve as couples develop more serious relationships and make long-range plans that may even include engagement and marriage.

Other factors

Much as the above social aspects are appreciated, peer influence can also have a negative effect on adolescent development.

·        The groupings into cliques or crowds means that certain adolescents are left out either through rejection or being overlooked by their peers. These tend to have feelings of loneliness and hostility and if this can continue, it can lead to individual subsequent psychological, health and criminal problems.

·        As adolescents interact in groups, they have their own culture and this culture is sometimes regarded as a corrupt influence that undermines parental values and control.

·        Peer relationships can introduce adolescents to alcohol, drugs, delinquency and other forms of bad behavior.


As children become adolescents and as adolescents develop and become adults, they experience many transitions in schooling. Transitions from primary school to secondary school can have an effect on the adolescent child since he/she has to face new challenging tasks, make new friends, receive instructions from new teachers and so on. Everybody’s life is affected in one way or another by teachers. As a teacher-learner you may wish to know that you will meet groups of individuals who are still searching for their identity, trying to seek approval, making new friends and even struggling with psychological changes taking place in their bodies.
These are none other than adolescents.

With the same concern, psychologists and educators have for some time tried to compile a profile of a good teacher’s personality traits and some, among others, according to Santrock [1993] are:

·        A good teacher should produce a sense of industry rather than inferiority in students.
·        A good teacher is respected and trusted by the community and know how to alternate work and play, study and games.
·        A good teacher knows how to recognize special efforts and to encourage special abilities.
·        A good teacher knows how to create a setting in which adolescents feel good about themselves and knows how to handle those adolescents to whom school is not important.
·        A good teacher is affable but not lax, stern but not harsh.

It should be borne in mind that meaningful teaching can only take place when teachers understand the:

·        Developmental characteristics of the age group they are dealing with.
·        When trust has been established.
·        When adolescents feel free to explore, to experiment and make mistakes. [Santrock, 1993].

Adolescents respond best to teachers who exercise natural authority based on greater age, experience, and wisdom rather than arbitrary authority or abdication of authority by being pals with the adolescents. A question may come to our minds what all these characteristics have to do with adolescent development in schools. It is pertinent to know that teachers are part of the schooling process. Apart from teaching, teachers also indulge in counseling as well as administrative work. All these take place within the school setting.
If teachers know their roles and understand students’ problems and background, they can offer necessary assistance which can later on assist the adolescent socially, morally and even academically.

For adolescents peer groups in schools are an important source of status, friendship and belonging. They are also a learning community in which social roles and standards related to work and achievement are formed.
In general, we might say that schools provide the locus for many of the adolescent activities after school and during weekends. The peer group that an adolescent joins depends partly on the socio-economic status, partly on values picked up from home, and partly on their own personality.
As a teacher-learner, you need to know that an adolescent who joins a troublesome group will eventually become troublesome. Again if they join a group that has an interest in academic work they will also do the same and this can assist them to improve their academic performance.


The media of mass communication is yet another important aspect that has a bearing on adolescent development. Santrock [1993] argues that:

‘If the amount of time spent in an activity is an indication of its importance, then there is no doubt that the mass media plays an important role in adolescent development’.

Research has shown that adolescents spend most of their time with some kind of mass media either as a primary focus or as a background to other activities. The question then is what these mass media are? These are like television, music media like radios, tapes, records and music videos and print media like comic booklets, newspapers, magazines and periodicals as well as the internet. These media of mass communication have positive as well as negative impacts on adolescent development. Some of the negative implications of the media are:

·        Watching of videos and television and use of the print media can lead to pollution of the mind.

This happens when adolescents watch or read anything without censorship e.g. pornographic films and material.

·        Certain plays on video and television can teach violence.

Violence in some cases is depicted as a way of life and sometimes police are shown using violence in their fight against crime.

·        Watching TV and video films can be deceptive as well.
           Santrock [1993] states that such media may teach adolescents that
           problems are easily resolved and that everything turns out all right
           in the final analysis. For example in a film, adolescents may watch a
           fight where someone is injured severely but after a few seconds
           he/she gets well. This in real life is not so. It might take an individual
          months or even years to recover or even fail to recover. Television and
         video can take adolescence away from the printed media e.g. books
          thus killing the reading culture. Research has shown that television
          can train adolescents to be passive learners and eventually lead to a
           passive life-style.

Much as the mass media may have negative implications, research has shown that they also show positive traits for example:

·        Music meets a number of adolescent personal and social needs for example,

-Mood control
-Silence filling
-Providing knowledge about the outer world
-Expressing adolescent concerns against authority

·        Television and printed media also expose adolescents to the outer world different from the one they are living in, as a result they learn other cultures, clothing fashions, career possibilities and even patterns of intimate relationships.

·        Mass media assist adolescents in improving their communication and writing skills.

·        Watching a play for example or reading a novel can help them check their use of language and grammar and make necessary changes or adjustments.



Adolescents due to the developmental crisis that they are prone to face a myriad of psychosocial challenges. Among the major challenges are:

·        Juvenile delinquency
·        Drug and alcohol abuse
·        Early pregnancy
·        Sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS

These are considered in this unit.


Juvenile delinquency refers to the predisposition to and indulgence in criminal or unlawful activities by children under the age of 18. According to the U.S Bureau of the census [1992] when just serious crimes are considered 28% of these were committed by persons under age 18. This included:

·        14% of all murders
·        15% of all rape cases
·        24% of all robberies
·        43% of car thefts

In the Malawian scenario, theft, vandalism, teasing and bullying are extremely rampant.


A myriad of factors have been postulated as causing delinquency among adolescents. However there are three major categories of factors namely:

·        Psychological
·        Sociological
·        Biological


There have been efforts to determine whether certain personality factors predispose the adolescent to delinquency [Holcomb et. al, 1991].
Generally speaking, no one personality type is associated  with delinquency, but those who become delinquent are more likely to be impulsive, destructive, suspicious, hostile, resentful, ambivalent to authority, defiant, socially assertive and lack self control [Ashfort et. al, 1990].
Aggressive conduct is associated with delinquent behavior.
Delinquency is sometimes a manifestation of hostilities, anxieties, fears or deeper neurosis. In some cases, delinquency is the result of poor socialization that results in adolescents not developing proper impulse control [Sagi, 1982]. Health adolescents may also be mislead by others into delinquency.


Family factors, such as strained family relationships and lack of family cohesion, are important sources of delinquency [Kroupa, 1988]. Broken, dysfunctional homes have been associated with delinquency, but are no worse than, and sometimes not as detrimental as, intact but unhappy or disturbed family relationships. Family environment is more important in delinquency than family structure [Leflore, 1988]. One study demonstrated that parental controls are significant inhibitors of delinquency.

Juvenile delinquency is distributed through all socio-economic status levels.
Tygart [1988] for example found that youths of high socio-economic status [SES] were more likely to be involved in school vandalism than youth of low SES. Community and neighborhood influence are also important.
Most larger communities have areas in which delinquency rates are higher than in other neighborhoods e.g. shanty towns. Shanty towns are typified by antisocial behaviours as gambling, prostitution, theft and robberies, alcoholism and drug abuse. In Malawi such communities include Ndirande in Blantyre; Chinsapo and Mchesi in Lilongwe; and Masasa in Mzuzu.
Some adolescents become delinquent because of antisocial influences of peers.

A high degree of peer orientation is sometimes associated with a high level of delinquency. Modern youth are also influenced by affluent and hedonistic [pleasure seeking] values and lifestyles in their culture. Youth may be encouraged to keep late hours, get into mischief and become involved in vandalism or delinquent acts just for adventure [Renner, 1981]. Violent youth may also have been influenced by the violence they see in the media.
May [1986] found that youths who behave in a violent manner give more selective attention to violent cues. They tend to choose to attend movies that are more violent, and imitate what they have seen and heard. Today’s adolescents are also living in a period of unrest, disorganization, and rapid cultural change, all of which tend to increase delinquency rates. Alcohol and drug abuse tends to be strongly correlated with delinquency [Stuck, 1985].

The level of school performance is also correlated with delinquency.
Inability getting along with teachers and administrators, difficulty adjusting to the school program, classroom misconduct, poor grades and a lack of school success are associated with delinquency.


Biological causes may play a role in delinquency [Anolik, 1983].
Mednick and Christiansen [1977], showed that the autonomic nervous system in criminals recovers more slowly from environmental stimulation as compared to that of non-criminals. Slow recovery time reduces the ability to alter their behavior through punishment; thus it becomes more difficult to unlearn delinquent behavior. There is also a possibility that a maturational lag in the development of the frontal lobe of the brain results in neuro-physiological dysfunction and delinquent behavior [Vooless, 1985].
The prefrontal area of the brain is responsible for impulse control.
Juveniles are not able to act on the basis of the knowledge they have- they are unable to control their impulses.

According to Sheppard [1974], at least 25% of delinquency can be blamed on organic causes. Hyper-activity from hyper-thyrodism, hyper-glycemia and Diabetes mellitus or Type 2 diabetes can also result in delinquency.
Other research indicates a definite relationship between delinquency and health problems such as neurological, speech, hearing, and visual abnormalities.


There are several strategies that can be used to mitigate delinquency among adolescents:

·        One way to prevent delinquency is to identify children [such as hyperactive ones] who may be predisposed to getting into trouble during adolescence and then plan intervention programs to help.

·        Another preventive measure is to focus on dysfunctional family relationships and assist parents in learning more effective parenting skills.

·        Anti-social youth may be placed in groups of pro-social peers, such as at day camps where their behavior is influenced positively.

·        Young children may be placed in pre-school settings before problems arise.

·        Social skills training may be helpful with some offenders.


Drug and alcohol abuse is one of the risky-taking behaviors among adolescents. Drugs are capable of providing pleasure by giving relaxation and prolonged heightened sensation. Alcohol for example is posited to reduce anxiety. It is argued that this anxiolytic effect works in three dimensions-

·        By impairing the encoding of information in terms of self-relevance---intoxication decreases self-awareness.
·        By effecting on attentional capacity.
·        By effecting on the initial appraisal of stressful information [Sayette, 1993].

Needless to say drug and alcohol abuse stand as a high correlate in other risk behaviors like delinquency and promiscuity. Drugs most commonly abused may be grouped into a number of categories:
·        Narcotics
·        Stimulants
·        Depressants
·        Hallucinogens
·        Inhalants

Out of these groups the most frequently abused drugs and substances are alcohol, tobacco, marijuana in that order as well as cocaine although not very commonly abused.

A number of psychological theories have been developed to explain alcohol use and alcoholism. Generally, these theories state that people drink alcohol to increase pleasant feelings [positive reinforcement] or to decrease unpleasant feelings [negative reinforcement]. An attributional self-handicapping model asserts that alcohol can be used in some cases as an excuse for undesirable behavior or negative outcomes.

This approach maintains self-perceptions of competence by providing external attributions for negative behavior [e.g. I was drunk]. Alcohol is most effective as an anodyne, and is most likely to be consumed, following a stressful experience due to the fact that it replenishes endorphin levels following a stressful event [Volpicelli, 1987]. Often consumed to produce positive effects such as enhanced arousal and positive mood. Can enhance feelings of power- this euphoric effect generally appears while blood alcohol concentrations are rising [Marlatt, 1987].


A distinction must be made between physical addiction or physical dependency and psychological dependency. Physical addiction is the body’s physical dependency on drugs; such that the human body fails to function properly in the absence of an intoxicating drug. An addictive drug is one that causes the body to build up a chemical dependency to it, so that withdrawal results in unpleasant symptoms [Ralph & Morgan, 1983]. Psychological dependency is the development of a powerful psychological need for a drug resulting in a compulsion to take it [Capuzzi & Lecoqu, 1983].

Drugs become a means of finding relief, comfort, or security. The use of alcohol, for example becomes self-reinforcing when individuals come to believe that it enhances social and physical pleasure or sexual performance, leads to arousal, or to increase in social assertiveness, or reduction in tension [Webb et. al, 1992]. Some individuals become psychologically dependent on drugs that are also physically addictive, such as crack cocaine, alcohol, heroin and nicotine. Dependence is strongly reinforced by the desire to avoid the pain and distress of physical withdrawal. Sometimes physical dependence is broken, but individuals go back to drugs because of psychological dependency on them. It is a mistake, therefore, to assume that the only dangerous drugs are those that are physically addictive.
Youth are trying drugs at tender ages in both rural and urban areas in Malawi.


Five patterns of drug use may be identified according to Pedersen [1990].

Social recreational use

Occurs among acquaintances or friends as a part of socializing. Usually this use does not include addictive drugs and does not escalate in either frequency or intensity to become uncontrolled.

Experimental use

Is motivated primarily by curiosity or by a desire to experience new feelings on a short-term basis. Users rarely use any drugs on a daily basis, and tend not to use drugs to escape the pressures of personal problems. However, if users experiment with physically addictive drugs they may become addicted before they realize it.

Circumstantial – situational use

Is indulgence to achieve a known and desired effect. A person may take stimulants to stay awake while driving or studying e.g. amphetamines or may take sedatives to relieve tension and go to sleep. Some persons use drugs to try to escape problems. The danger is that such use will escalate to intensified use.

Intensified drug use  

Generally involves using drugs at least once daily over a long period of time to achieve relief from a stressful situation or a persistent problem. Drugs become a customary part of the daily routine. Use may or may not affect functioning depending on the frequency, intensity and amount of use.

Compulsive drug use

Involves both extensive and frequent use for relatively long periods, producing psychological dependence and physiological addiction with discontinuance resulting in psychological stress or physiological discomfort.
The threat of psychological and physical discomfort from withdrawal becomes the motivation for continued use.


Family origin

The following family factors correlate closely with excessive drug use by adolescents while growing up:

·        Drug abusers less likely to have open communication with parents [Kafia & London, 1991].

·        Abusers are usually not as close to their parents, are more likely to have negative adolescent-parent relationships, and have a low degree of parental support.

·        Abusers are more likely to have parents who drink excessively and/or use other psychotropic drugs [Mc Dermott, 1984; Wodarski, 1990]. Research by Sher [1991] indicates that children of alcoholics are at a heightened risk to develop alcoholism.

·        Abusers are more likely to come from broken homes or not to live with both parents [Dolerty & Needle, 1991].

·        Abusers’ parents less often praise, encourage, and counsel as well as set limits to adolescents’ behavior [Noam et. al, 1991].

These types of family situations create personality problems that cause individuals to be more likely to turn to drugs. Numerous other studies associate drug addiction and dependency with dysfunctional family relationships and personality problems.

Other social & psychological correlates

·        Those who abuse drugs are more likely to have peers who use and approve of drug use.

·        Abusers are more likely to be associated with deviant peers [Simons, 1991].

·        Abusers are more likely to be in rebellion against social sanctions [Kaplan & Fukurai, 1992].

·        Abusers are more likely to be truant from school [Pritchart et. al, 1992].

·        Abusers are more likely to have frequent sex, a greater number of coital partners, and show a greater percentage of unprotected sex [Jemmont 1993].

·        Research has also documented the relationship between certain personality traits such as impulsivity and habituation to stimuli and the development of alcoholism [Sher, 1991].


Alcohol is an extremely powerful drug which is found in beer, wines and spirits such as whisky. It acts primarily to slow down the brain’s activities. In low quantities alcohol is a stimulant. It has also been proven that alcohol consumption can reduce the risk of developing hypertension as well as heart attack. However taken in large quantities alcohol can damage or even kill biological tissues including muscle and brain cells. The major mental and behavioral effect of alcohol on adolescents is reduced skilled performance. Skills of intellectual functioning such as reading, writing, memory and recall become impaired while behavioral control and judgment become less efficient.

Dementia tremens or alcohol dependence syndrome characterized by strong addiction is the worst effect with an individual failing to function without alcohol. It is characterized by

·        Continued drinking despite aversive consequences
·        Liver damage
·        Peripheral neuropathy
·        Memory loss

Management of alcoholism

A number of pharmacological treatments continue to be developed to treat alcoholism. Disulfiram [antabuse] has long been used to deter persons from drinking. When alcohol is consumed, antabuse produces an accumulation of the toxic metabolite acetaldehyde, causing nausea and hypotension. If antabuse is reliably used these extremely unpleasant sensations act as aversion therapy----deterring an individual from drinking. Fluoxetine and naltrexone have been posited to reduce alcohol craving and drinking.

Psychosocial interventions

·        Relapse prevention
·        Skills training
·        Self help groups
·        Cue exposure
·        Couples therapy/family therapy
·        Motivation enhancement
·        Alcohol expectancies


With their developing idealism and ability to think in more abstract and hypothetical ways, young adolescents may get caught up in a mental world far removed from reality. One that may involve a belief that things cannot or will not happen to them and that they are omnipotent and indestructible.
These cognitive changes have intriguing implications for adolescents’ sexuality and sex education. Having information about contraceptives is not enough- what seems to predict whether or not adolescents will use contraceptives is their acceptance of themselves and their sexuality.

Most discussions of adolescent pregnancy and its prevention assume that adolescents have the ability to anticipate consequences, to weigh the probable outcome of behavior, and project into the future what will happen if they engage in certain acts, such as sexual intercourse. That is, prevention is based on the belief that adolescents have the cognitive ability to approach problem – solving in a planned, organized, and analytical manner. However, many adolescents are just beginning to develop these capacities, and others have not developed them at all [Holmbeck, Gasseloski & Crossman, 1989].
The personal fable may be associated with adolescent pregnancy. The young adolescent might say,

‘Hey, it won’t happen to me’.

The combination of early physical, maturational, risky-taking behaviors, egocentrism, the inability to think futuristically, and an ambivalent, contradictory culture makes sex difficult for adolescents to handle.

The net increase in premarital sexual intercourse accompanied by a lack of efficient use of contraceptives has resulted in an increase in the incidence of out of wedlock pregnancies. Unmarried motherhood among young teenage girls is a tragedy in most instances.


The physical, economic, and social hazards that face young mothers and their babies have aroused the concern of many researchers. When the mother is younger than sixteen, her risk of dying during pregnancy or childbirth is extremely pronounced. Extremely young mothers face special risks because their pelvises are immature. The fetal head is often unable to pass safely through the immature pelvis, and so young teenagers are likely to have complicated deliveries and caesarean sections [Killarney, 1983]. No matter what the adolescent’s age, her chances of developing complications are increased.

Compared with other babies, more babies of adolescent mothers are born dead, and there are more cases of premature birth, low birth weight, respiratory distress syndrome, and neurological defects [Bolton, 1980].
Adolescents face further hazards if they breastfeed their babies. Even though they take dietary supplements, they tend to lose large amounts of calcium and other minerals from their bones [Thomas, 1982]. Because their bones are still growing, it is difficult for adolescent girls to take in enough additional calcium and phosphorus to meet the simultaneous demands of milk production and new bone growth.

Other physiological problems include pregnancy induced hypertension, fistula, anemia, vulnerability to HIV/AIDS and other STIs. Economically most young mothers drop out of school and these young women find themselves trapped in economic insecurity.


Adolescents who are sexually active may be susceptible or exposed to sexually transmitted disease including HIV/AIDS.

STD’s may include;

·        Gonorrhea
·        Chlamydia trachomatis
·        Urethritis
·        Chancroid
·        Herpes
·        Syphilis
·        Donovanosis
·        Warts
·        Candidiasis

Statistically about 1 in 4 cases of gonorrhea involve an adolescent.
Genital herpes is found in 1 out of every 35 adolescent cases. Syphilis and other STD’s are also common among adolescents. Those between 20 and 24 years of age have the highest incidence of STD’s followed by the 15-19 age group. With their confounded risk perception, adolescents are vulnerable to contracting HIV/AIDS due to their involvement in unprotected sex. It has been argued that bearing in mind that most AIDS cases occur among the young adults [20-29 and early 30’s] and that the incubation period for AIDS may be from a few years to up to 10 years [Wallis, 1987] many with AIDS may have been infected as adolescents.


Sex education

Fears in some quarters that sex education courses increase sexual activity and pregnancy among adolescents seem groundless and unfounded. Compared with adolescents who have not had sex education courses, adolescents who have completed courses show no additional sexual activity.
These students also are less likely to have intercourse without contraceptives [Zelnik & Kim, 1982]. But sex education by itself cannot solve the problem of teenage pregnancies. In the absence of a vaccine or efficacious cure, the prevention of the spread of HIV will for many people require changes in risk-taking behavior.

Behavior modification strategies depend on an appreciation of the complexities of social context, risk and relationships, as well as some impediments to discussing sex and negotiating safer sex practices. This includes an understanding of self-efficacy and social support as sexual behavior is not necessarily the outcome of a consensual and rational decision [Wight, 1992].

Life options approach

Life skills such as assertiveness, communication, positive self concept negotiation, decision making can help the adolescent to refrain from unprotected sexual debuts. Involvement of adolescents in activities as games, sporting activities, drama, and extracurricular clubs like AIDS Toto and Young voices can help ease the sexual tension and take their time from idleness and the drive for sex. This invokes the defense mechanism of sublimation by which adolescents may be encouraged to channel their sexual impulses into activities other than sexual risky behaviors as highlighted above.


·        Life skills---------negotiation, assertiveness, refusal, communication.

·        Cognitive skills---------problem solving, critical thinking, decision making.

·        Coping skills-------------stress management, increasing internal locus of control.

·        Practical skills---------abstinence, using a condom.



According to Cole [1963] in his provocative book ‘Psychology of Adolescence’, there are some basic elements that teachers of adolescents need to bear in mind in the course of their profession. To begin with, adolescents of high school age are rather impatient of drill or monotony.
They want an ever-shifting variety and excitement in their lives. The teacher who day after day simply assigns the next ten pages in the textbook allows the preparation of lessons to become unbearably monotonous. That does not imply that no drill subjects should be taught. Work involving drill should absolutely be directed toward some purpose the adolescent wishes to achieve. Thus the boy who has become interested in attending a foreign university willingly spends countless hours in mastering the necessary language. The girl with ambitions to become a private secretary will spend similar amounts of time in monotonous drill on stenography and typing.

The point to remember is the difference in motivation between children and adolescents. Children will memorize addition combinations either to please the teacher or to have a gold star placed after their name on the blackboard.
During adolescence however, the students must be stimulated to drill themselves because they can see, through the drill and monotony, a goal they are eager to reach. The work in high school must be interesting.

This statement is not made in defence of a painless education. Classroom work must compete with all the other things a boy or girl likes to do.
The adolescent will spend time in studying only if the work is as interesting as the other things to which the same time might be put. If class work is not interesting it will be neglected in favour of athletics, extracurricular activities, individual schemes of various sorts, money-making tasks, reading of light fiction, dances, or other such diversions. The adolescent can no longer be controlled, as the child can be, by mere authority, and he is not yet old enough to be controlled by economic pressure. In the intervening years he will therefore follow his interests. It is part of the teacher’s business to capitalize on them.

Classroom work must furnish adolescents with an opportunity to exercise their minds. Naturally, the assignments appropriate for the more capable are too difficult for the dull, but for pupils of all levels of ability there must be a real opportunity for mental effort. Boys and girls of this age spontaneously spend hours in solving all kinds of puzzles or in playing games that demand quick thinking and cleverness in outwitting one’s opponent [e.g., chess, monopoly, drafts]. Assignments therefore need to present puzzles that will intrigue the adolescent into thinking. Whenever possible, subject matter should be approached through the emotions and imagination rather than through impersonal logic.

Adolescents are stimulated by anything in which there is a bit of romance.
They show this inclination clearly in their choice of movies or reading matter and in their hero worship of some idealized historic or fictional character. The chemistry teacher might bring about more learning of chemistry if he would start his course with the reading of Crucibles; the biologist would be well advised to begin his elementary classes with the reading of The Microbe Hunters. The languages teacher may read, Romeo and Juliet. Such reading is stimulating to the imagination and ideals of youth and serves to maintain adolescent effort through the hours of drill.  
Naturally, a profound arousal of the emotions is undesirable, but too little stimulation is equally fatal to schoolwork.

One of the adolescent’s favourite illusions is his conviction that he is now an adult. Pupils in high school should therefore be allowed, within reasonable limits, to plan their own work and the means of getting it done. Some guidance must, of course, be given- but primarily when asked for.
Arranging his own work not only gives an adolescent a feeling of independence but arouses responsibility for getting the work done. This gives a sense of self-direction.

Thus if an English teacher wants pupils to read part or whole of an epic, he may either assign a particular epic or he may tell the pupil to find out what epics there are and then to select for himself which one he will read. The second type of assignment is decidedly preferable. Discovery learning should be encouraged where students can do research on their own and present to their counterparts.

The task of the teacher then becomes that of the ‘translator or guider’ who has to present the curriculum content on such a level and in such a way that it corresponds to the cognitive structure of the adolescents. The goal is to correlate the curriculum systematically with the adolescents’ logical, abstract and deductive reasoning abilities as highlighted by Piaget’s theories [Muuss, 1996]. More specifically, the formal operations found in the adolescent constitute the prerequisite for teaching geometry, proportionality, propositions, and probabilistic reasoning. Sex differences between boys and girls may be there especially with boys performing better on some tasks that have a strong spatial reasoning component.

 However, overall, on all other basic abstract logical competencies sex differences are minimal or non-existent. Finally, teaching should emphasise, insofar as adolescents being taught can appreciate, the general implications, conclusions, and theories inherent in the facts under consideration. For the first time in his life, the high school pupil is able to regard a general principle as something more than a series of words to be memorised.
When he discovers that theories give him an explanation of otherwise puzzling facts, he is eager to have more of them and thus achieve further enlightenment. Most adolescents want explanations of why things happen in contrast to the child who is content to know what happens. Teaching in high school should, then, have the following eight characteristics if it is to motivate the learner into getting his work done:

·        It must relate drill to some desired purpose and must eliminate sheer monotony as much as possible.
·        It must be interesting.
·        It must give the adolescent mental exercise.
·        It must stir his imagination.
·        It must allow him to feel and develop his independence.
·        It must socialise him.
·        It must give him insight into his daily life.
·        It must provide him with as many explanations as he can understand.

Work that lacks these characteristics simply does not get done because learning cannot be brought about without the earnest co-operation of the learner.


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