Adolescent Development Explained

Close up picture of four teens smiling at a camera

Adolescence is a time of enormous transition. Although adolescence may appear to be a turbulent time, it is also a period of great potential as young people engage more deeply with the world around them. Adolescents typically grow physically, try new activities, begin to think more critically, and develop more varied and complex relationships.

The Office of Population Affairs worked with the Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Center for Adolescent Health to create Adolescent Development Explained, a guide that examines the major developmental changes that occur in adolescence and provides suggestions on how parents and caring adults can support young people as they navigate through this critical period. It builds on The Teen Years Explained: A Guide to Healthy Adolescent Development1, the seminal report also developed by the Center for Adolescent Health, as well as on other important sources of information. The guide specifically focuses on five areas of adolescent development:


Physical — hormonal changes and development


Cognitive — changes in the way the brain functions


Emotional — how adolescents process emotions and stress


Social — changes in familial, social, and romantic relationships


Morals and values — how adolescents view and approach the world

These five areas often overlap and intersect. For instance, adolescents who are struggling with depression and/or anxiety also can experience problems with their school work, parents, peers, and physical health, and may lose interest in activities they used to enjoy. Adults need to understand this complexity, respond in a supportive way, and seek professional help for such adolescents if needed.

For each of the five areas of development, parents and professionals will learn about:


Changes that are a normal and necessary part of adolescence


Different ways that adolescents experience these changes and reasons for this variation


How adults can support adolescents’ optimal health and development by guiding young people and helping them build the skills they need to thrive

Parents and other adults who care for and work with adolescents must learn about adolescent development and continuously educate themselves about the realities of adolescent lives today. Teens’ lives are complex, can change quickly, and can present issues that did not exist (e.g., social media) or were not fully acknowledged (e.g., mental health disorders) for prior generations of adolescents. If parents and caring adults understand the challenges and opportunities that adolescents face today, they can provide more effective support and encouragement for young people in their professional and personal lives.

Adolescent Development Explained Guide

Cover image for Adolescent Development Explained guide

Adolescent Development Explained Webinar Series

Becoming an Adult
In this webinar, experts describe how the mind and body change during adolescence.
ADE: Becoming an Adult slides

Emotional Changes
In this webinar, experts discuss emotional development during adolescence.
ADE: Emotional Changes slides

Social Connections
In this webinar, experts explore the social roles, networks, and relationships of adolescents.
ADE: Social Connections slides


1 McNeely, C. and Blanchard, J. (2009). The teen years explained: A guide to healthy adolescent development. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Center for Adolescent Health, Baltimore. back to top