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Adolescent Growth and Development

Adolescence is a critical period in the life span and provides opportunities to positively influence future health behaviors and health outcomes. In addition to the significant physical growth and development that takes place during this time, young people are increasingly expanding their social spheres, and begin to make their own choices about their health.

Knowledge of adolescent development empowers people who live or work with teens to help advance and support their positive development. And it allows us all to approach our teens with compassion and understanding of the joys and aggravations of adolescence. 

The literature and resources presented here are intended to provide professionals and families with a view of adolescent development: physical, social, mental and emotional. The following charts, fact sheets, articles and publications on adolescent growth and development are up-to-date, research-based, and dependable information for professionals working with adolescents, parents, and families.

Brain Development

Advances in research and imaging technologies have allowed us to learn more about development of the cognitive centers in the adolescent brain. During adolescence, the brain adopts a “use-it-or-lose-it” pruning system, sloughing unused connections and increasing the speed of others. Areas of the brain responsible for executive functioning (such as strategic thinking, weighing risks and benefits and impulse control) continue to develop and refine connections through adolescence and into the mid-twenties. While teens are able to discern right from wrong, research shows that when faced with an immediate personal decision teens will rely less on intellectual capabilities and more on feelings, but will make more rational decisions when asked about hypothetical scenarios. Emerging research indicates that environmental influences also impact brain development, and adverse childhood experiences or, ACEs, actually disrupt neurodevelopment and can have lasting effects on brain structure and function.

Resources on Adolescent Development

The Teen Brain: Still Under Construction, 2011
Prepared by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), this document details the physical changes in the adolescent brain and investigates the connections between brain function, development and behavior.

The Health and Social Impact of Growing Up with Adverse Childhood Experiences
A collaboration between CDC and Kaiser Permanente, the ACE Study is one of the largest studies ever conducted to investigate the relationship between adverse childhood events and later-life health and well-being. This overview presents key findings from the ACE Study and identifies the need for integrated approaches to preventing and mitigating the impact of adverse childhood events.

40 Developmental Assets for Adolescents (pdf)
The Search Institute identified a list of building blocks for healthy development that help young people grow up healthy, caring and responsible.

Scientific Publications

The Teen Years Explained: A Guide to Healthy Adolescent Development, 2009
This guide developed by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health provides a comprehensive look at adolescent development “in plain English.” It describes the changes that happen during adolescence and how adults can support and promote healthy physical, cognitive, social and emotional, sexual, and spiritual development.

Young Adult Development Project, 2005
The MIT Young Adult Development Project was created to capture powerful new research findings that are emerging about young adulthood and to make these insights more accessible to those who need them, including colleges and universities, employers, parents, human service providers, and young adults themselves.

Developing Adolescents: A Reference for Professionals, 2002 (pdf)
The American Psychological association (APA) has published Developing Adolescents: A Reference for Professionals, a document targeted toward professionals in various fields who work with adolescents. This text assembles research findings on cognitive, physical, social, emotional, and behavioral aspects of "normal" adolescent development in a way that is easily accessible. Each section presents basic information on what is known about that aspect of adolescent development and suggests roles professionals can play to support adolescents. This document provides scientifically sound, up-to-date information on what is known about today's youth.


Stages of Adolescent Development (pdf)
The State Adolescent Health Resource Center has compiled a chart describing the stages of adolescent development by listing characteristic developmental milestones and tasks around physical growth, autonomy, intellectual/cognition, body image, peer group, and identity

Fact Sheets

Adolescent Health Topic Series

The Center for Adolescent Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health produced a series of short fact sheets on topics related to adolescent health ranging from “The Teen Brain” to “Teens and Sleep” and “Effects of Drugs and Alcohol on the Teen Brain” just to name a few.

Facts for Families

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) has developed Facts for Families to provide concise and up-to-date information on issues that affect children, teenagers, and their families. Each adolescent is an individual with a unique personality and special interests, likes and dislikes. However, there are also numerous developmental issues that everyone faces during the adolescent years.

Middle School and Early High School

Late High School

The AACAP describes the normal feelings and behaviors of the middle and high school years in information sheets for two age groups. Feelings and behaviors covered include the following four topic areas: sexuality; future interests and cognitive development; movement towards independence; morals, values, and self-direction.


Research Briefs

Exploring the link between family strengths and adolescent outcomes, 2009 (pdf)
The brief from Child Trends reports on findings from Every Child Every Promise Study (2005), and found that family strengths across several domains improved adolescent outcomes (such as academic achievement, making healthy choices and developing prosocial behaviors).

Building a Better Teenager, 2002 (pdf)
In the brief Building a Better Teenager: A Summary of "What Works" in Adolescent Development, the authors identified ten findings to help program designers, policy makers and parents promote positive adolescent development.