Developmental maps: adolescence (13–19 years old)

A circle split into four equal parts in different colours. Each part represents the different developmental domains of human growth: cognitive (yellow), emotional (green), social (blue) and physical (purple). The cognitive part of the circle is larger.

Cognitive development

Brain-Based Development
What is happening?How can I tell?How can I help?
Capacity for complex thought, planning and impulse control increases

Begins to show improved abilities to organize thoughts, plan ahead, control impulses and direct attention to the task at hand while ignoring distractions (for example, a young person of this age may begin to rely on organizing school commitments in an agenda)

May also be more able to postpone enjoyable social activities in order to keep commitments to school or work

Begins to rely less on external forms of regulation (such as parental rules) and is more able to regulate behaviour independently

  • Provide help, support and advice to keep youth motivated and on task
  • Invite youth to take a leadership role in carrying out tasks
  • Introduce challenges that require problem-solving skills (for example, a scavenger hunt)
  • Provide opportunities for youth to plan and organize activities and events (for example, planning a bake sale, dance or group outing). Older adolescents are able to tackle these initiatives with progressively less direct support
The brain becomes more specialized and efficient

Ability to process complicated information and learn new concepts is growing

  • Encourage exercises that allow youth to organize abstract ideas and draw reasoned conclusions (for example, developing a “pros and cons” list)
  • Inspire youth to try new experiences (for example, going to a museum, producing music, trying a new sport, participating on a committee)
  • Teach youth to utilize the technology around them to stay organized and develop transferable skills for employment (for example, using the calendar option on a cell phone to stay organized and meet deadlines)
The ability to assess risks and rewards improves

Ability to effectively assess risk versus reward is improving

May engage in thrill-seeking and risk-taking behaviour such as:

  • extreme sports (such as sky diving, dirt biking)
  • drinking alcohol or smoking

May be especially motivated by risks and thrills when in the presence of peers

Sensitivity to pleasure and reward is further increasing, particularly in the presence of peers

May be more sensitive to criticism and peer rejections

  • Maintain open communication and promote honesty and mutual respect
  • Talk about how to assess risk using personal examples
  • Share your own experiences with risky situations (reflecting on your own good and bad choices) to demonstrate trust and respect
  • Encourage youth to take small steps and practice
  • Encourage youth to take positive and reasonable risks (for example, applying for a job) and participate in activities that are adventurous but safe (such as travel or organized sports)
  • Participate in a new, thrilling activity alongside youth
  • Demonstrate interest in youth’s activities (this can help them feel comfortable approaching you for information or guidance)
  • Provide guidance and access to tools (for example, protective equipment, a cell phone or a map) and information from a variety of sources (for example, online forums, others who have had similar experiences) to help them learn and be prepared
  • Encourage youth to make decisions in a calm frame of mind and be realistic about their personal abilities and potential consequences
  • Encourage and reward taking safe, small steps (for example, practice)
  • Encourage relationships that are positive and supportive to improve peer-support for pro-social behaviour (acting in ways that benefit others)
  • As youth age, encourage them to stop and think about potential consequences of their behaviour. Motivations to avoid negative consequences are becoming stronger at this stage and may play a larger role in decision making
The ability to control impulses and regulate behaviour improves

Under conditions of low emotional stress, can anticipate consequences, control impulses, and act on rational choices

Under conditions of emotional or physical stress (for example, break-up, lack of sleep) the capacity to make sound decisions is diminished

Is able to better organize and plan

  • Be patient and compassionate and acknowledge sources of stress (such as a recent argument with friend) that may be influencing a young person’s emotions and behaviour
  • If it appears that an adolescent is under emotional stress, give them time and space to de-escalate before introducing additional demands
  • Help youth appraise their emotional state by posing questions like: “Are you feeling calm enough to make such an important decision?”; or “Maybe you should sleep on it?”
Development of Reasoning Skills
What is happening?How can I tell?How can I help?
Abstract thought matures

Becomes more able to think abstractly and hypothetically

Begins to suspend beliefs in areas of expertise

Develops systems for organizing abstract ideas

  • Encourage exercises that allow youth to organize abstract ideas and draw reasoned conclusions (for example, developing a “pros and cons” list)
  • Provide experiences to train and improve skills using spatial working memory (for example, play a memory game)
  • Promote perspective-taking (for example, have youth describe the major changes they would implement if given the opportunity to act as mayor for the day)
  • Introduce diverse perspectives, concepts, and lifestyles through movies, books, biographies, guest speakers, case studies and music
  • Stimulate debate and discussion on contentious issues (for example, conflicts, modern medicine, poverty, justice)
  • Encourage youth to “probe a little further” into the sources of their beliefs, opinions, motivations, and aspirations (go beyond what? and ask why?)
  • Offer counter-arguments to stimulate further reflection
Logical thinking skills improve

More able to think about possibilities, form and evaluate hypotheses, deduce and induce principles that guide decision making

Working memory continues to improve

Improving ability to manipulate information held in working memory (for example, solving multi-step math problems or planning and then packing for a trip)

Better able to maintain, attend to, update and evaluate information

Beliefs about knowledge and facts continue to evolve

May adopt a sceptical approach to knowledge in some domains

Stops believing that all “facts” exist independently of people’s perspectives

Begins to question universal social “facts” (for example, speeding while driving is wrong) and see that some truths are relative (what if the driver is a doctor on their way to an emergency?)

Begins to think about and question facts and ideas and is sceptical about answers

May insist that every answer is as good as any other answer

Accepts an authority figure’s position (dogma) in areas of uncertainty

A picture of a circle split into four equal parts in different colours. Each part represents the different developmental domains of human growth: cognitive (yellow), emotional (green), social (blue) and physical (purple). Emotional part of the circle is larger.

Emotional development

Experience of Emotions
What is happening?How can I tell?How can I help?
Emotional responses increase

Continuing to experience heightened emotions

Emotional information becoming more important and meaningful

May be experiencing mood fluctuations

May be more vulnerable to stress

  • Spend time listening, talking and practicing healthy communication (for example, staying calm)
  • Provide youth with the opportunity for their own time and space to reflect and relax in a way they choose (for example, music, reading, drawing, writing)
  • Provide motivation, support and encouragement through difficult times
  • Create/promote opportunities to help youth redirect their energy to something productive (such as exercising or helping to organize and run an event)
  • Provide support on how to cope with stress. Stress reduction techniques like relaxation and meditation can help to improve mental health and also immune function
  • Talk openly about mental health issues. If you are concerned about a young person’s emotional stability, connect him or her with available supports and information (such as Kids Help Phone, family physician, websites, an appropriate mentor or counsellor)—the negative stigma around mental health often discourages people from seeking support
Emotional self-regulation matures

Becomes better able to use thinking strategies for emotional self-regulation (for example, trying to put a positive spin on things, focusing thoughts on things that are more happy and pleasant, planning and developing solutions, or accepting the situation)

Begins to believe in their ability to regulate emotions and becomes aware of the personal strategies that work best

  • Spend time listening, talking and practicing healthy communication (for example, staying calm)
  • Provide youth with the opportunity for their own time and space to reflect and relax in a way they choose (for example, music, reading, drawing, writing)
  • Provide motivation, support and encouragement through difficult times
  • Create/promote opportunities to help youth redirect their energy to something productive (such as exercising or helping to organize and run an event)
  • Provide support on how to cope with stress. Stress reduction techniques like relaxation and meditation can help to improve mental health and also immune function
  • Talk openly about mental health issues. If you are concerned about a young person’s emotional stability, connect him or her with available supports and information (such as Kids Help Phone, family physician, websites, an appropriate mentor or counsellor)—the negative stigma around mental health often discourages people from seeking support
The ability to read body language further improves

Is better able to read and understand other people’s emotions, including displays of fear and anger

  • Continue to clearly communicate feelings through words as well as through body language
Motivation is increasingly internalized

Demonstrates ability to set their own goals and stay on task with less prompting from others

  • Provide encouragement. Youth of this age want to know that parents, teachers and other role models are interested in their activities and ambitions but still need the freedom to set and achieve goals on their own
  • If it appears a youth is struggling, offer to help them get started but don’t complete whole task for them
Development of Empathy
What is happening?How can I tell?How can I help?
Empathy continues to develop

Able to understand information from differing perspectives

  • Promote perspective-taking to encourage the development of empathy, and help a youth recognize the difference between their own experience and that of others (for example, someone from a different cultural background)
  • Encourage youth to spend time focusing on other people and/or topics (for example, volunteering with a community organization)

A circle split into four equal parts in different colours. Each part represents the different developmental domains of human growth: cognitive (yellow), emotional (green), social (blue) and physical (purple). The social part of the circle is larger.

Social development

Identity Formation
What is happening?How can I tell?How can I help?
Identity is actively explored

Actively exploring identity options (for example, questioning parents’ values, and seeking information about potential career choices)

  • Provide structured settings outside of the family (for example, at a youth centre, youth council or school club) so that self concepts and identity can emerge through the association of positive like-minded peer groups and their supporting influence
Gender role flexibility increases

Begins to become less rigid about gender stereotypes as gender identity continues to evolve (for example, may be more empathetic to gender identity of others; may begin to express gender identity through clothing and image)

  • A warm, supportive relationship with a caregiver can allow young people to explore their varied identities without fear of being judged or criticized
Social group-esteem continues to increase

May seek information about their social groups by reading, talking with other group members, learning cultural practices, or attending cultural events

  • Support the exploration of cultural and social group traditions to help youth develop their sense of cultural identity and social group-esteem
Exploration of spiritual beliefs may increase

Begins to question and explore the foundations of spiritual beliefs

  • If appropriate, support the exploration of religious/spiritual traditions to help develop a sense of spiritual identity
The concept of self becomes more complex and situation-dependent

May start to notice that different contexts affect how they behave and perceive themselves (for example, I am deferential with my parents, a leader among friends and shy in class)

May notice conflicts between the way they think of themselves and behave in different contexts (for example, I am quiet in class but vocal at soccer practice)

May struggle with diverging self-concepts and express anxiety or stress about this internal conflict

  • Explain to youth that it is okay to have diverging views about who they are
  • Encourage youth to focus on their more positive self concepts
Self-appraisal skills improve

Demonstrates ability to think critically and be reflective (for example, able to see one’s self from other people’s [peers, parents] perspective)

  • Encourage self-reflective activities (such as Career Trees as ways to begin considering potential career paths)
  • Encourage youth to seek leadership roles (for example, through event organization) but to also understand that leadership requires cooperation and partnership with adult allies and other peers
  • Be relatable—when helping set attainable goals relate to your own personal limitations and/or challenges
  • Provide constructive feedback to encourage the development of self-appraisal skills
Self-efficacy increases

Beliefs about the ability to achieve goals grows stronger

  • Encourage youth to create a list of short-term goals to foster an increased sense of accomplishment
  • Model a confident understanding of your own skills and capabilities. Youth learn to be self-efficacious from the role models in their lives
  • Promote the setting of goals and support attempts to reach those goals
  • Provide realistic challenges for youth to tackle and provide support and counselling through these challenges
  • Encourage youth to seek leadership roles in executing a challenging task (for example, family activities, social events, social justice projects) but to also understand that leadership requires cooperation and partnership with adult allies and other peers
Self-esteem continues to decline

Begins to feel less self-confident and more negative about themselves than they did in childhood or early adolescence

  • Celebrate achievements and encourage youth to pursue interests, talents and hobbies
  • Consistently demonstrate concern about a young person’s well-being by making time to discuss successes and issues that arise
  • Remember that having someone available who is willing to listen is very important to young people who are experiencing periods of stress
Development of Relationships
What is happening?How can I tell?How can I help?
Understanding of varied perspectives deepens

Begins to understand the effect of social roles in perspective-taking

Begins to understand that “neutral” perspectives on a situation are rare, and that everyone’s perspective is coloured by their context, beliefs and background

  • Encourage understanding of the experiences, challenges, and issues of others
Peer relationships are increasingly important

Continues to engage in friendships that become closer and more intimate, and involve sharing of confidences and mutual support

  • Encourage relationships that are positive and supportive, particularly in difficult times
Early romantic relationships emerge

Begins dating in groups (forming couples but spending time together within the context of larger groups)

Bases romantic relationships, either with the same or opposite sex, not necessarily on emotional intimacy but more often on fun and camaraderie

Some expressions of emotional intimacy beginning to emerge

May acknowledge same-sex romantic interests to trusted friends or family members

  • Provide support and help guide decisions with romantic partners rather than trying to decide on behalf of youth
  • Be aware of factors that may influence decisions about relationships (such as religion, media, past experiences, family and friends) when seeking to understand the choices being made by youth
  • Stay connected and approachable, providing opportunities for questions and help when needed
Family relationships continue to evolve

May experience intensified disagreements with parents as their sense of individuality and independence continues to develop but occurrences will begin to decline

  • Give youth space and time to reflect about disagreements
  • Listen to the problem, help them to analyze it and propose potential solutions
Moral reasoning shifts to a focus on maintaining order

Makes moral decisions on the basis of a “law and order” orientation

May feel the need to uphold laws in order to maintain order within the wider society

  • Be conscious of your own moral stances—youth will replicate styles of moral reasoning in role models
  • Encourage peer interactions to stimulate the development of higher forms of moral reasoning (for example, interactions in which adolescents and young adults engage in challenging conversations on relevant issues where conflicting views are raised and discussed) to promote and facilitate perspective-taking
  • Provide opportunities for active participation in deciding between conflicting alternatives or moral dilemmas to stimulate reasoning and problem-solving skills
  • Expose youth to moral dilemmas concerning discrimination, oppression and bias
Self-sufficiency increases

Demonstrates desire for independence in decisions about relationships and activities

Begins to gain financial independence through employment

  • Provide advice and share personal experiences related to gaining independence (for example, financial skills)

A circle split into four equal parts in different colours. Each part represents the different developmental domains of human growth: cognitive (yellow), emotional (green), social (blue) and physical (purple). The physical part of the circle is larger.

Physical development

Physical Activity
What is happening?How can I tell?How can I help?
Participation in physical activity is changing

May engage in less physical activity

May begin to focus on a few physical activities or specialize in a few sports

Choosing activities that reflect personal interests, abilities, ambitions, availability, and past experiences

  • Consider barriers to participation such as cost, equipment and transportation (for example, highlight low-cost options such as skateboarding, soccer, offer opportunities in central locations to ease transportation issues)
  • Motivation at this stage is beginning to become more internalized. Develop programs and activities that focus on helping youth develop knowledge, skills and attitudes for a healthy active lifestyle and promote the social and mental benefits of sports and leisure (for example, highlight the fact that sports like swimming can lead to a job as a lifeguard)
  • Work with youth to set realistic goals
  • Remind youth to balance their priorities (for example, school, work, social life)
  • Enjoyment is still critical to physical development at this stage—providing positive experiences can impact future healthy lifestyle habits
  • As youth age, provide more opportunities for empowerment and involvement in designing and implementing programs and activities so that they feel ownership and have a role in decision making
  • Ensure that youth are participating in activities in a safe and secure space. Provide opportunities that allow youth to feel comfortable trying new things (for example, without a fear of being teased for failure)
  • Provide opportunities for practice, proper instruction and encouragement—these elements are especially important during this stage of development to help ensure that youth can develop both skills and competence
  • Encouraging participation in whichever physical activities appeal to the youth (for example, some youth who are less interested in traditional activities may want to try extreme sports while others may prefer yoga or hiking)
Cardiovascular and muscular endurance, strength and flexibility are changing

In the absence of training, cardiovascular endurance peaks and levels off in females

Cardiovascular endurance continuing to increase gradually in males

In the absence of training, there are no further increases in muscular strength or endurance for females

Muscular strength continuing to increase gradually in males (muscle endurance peaks and begins to level off)

In the absence of training, flexibility continues to slowly decline

  • Encourage youth to learn about their bodies and abilities through experiences with different activities
  • Provide instruction and access to a safe environment where youth can learn about their changing abilities and establish their own healthy limits
  • Remember that activities should teach youth how to avoid and deal with injury (for example, learning stretching routines)
  • Provide access to information about positive and negative ways to increase strength and endurance (for example, information pamphlet on the dangers of taking steroids or supplements)
Growth & Physical Development
What is happening?How can I tell?How can I help?
Puberty produces further physical changes

Males may experience a growth spurt

For females growth may begin to slow down after the first menstrual period (most females reach adult height before the end of adolescence)

Sexual development beginning to mature

  • Encourage and create open communication that is two-directional and allows youth to ask questions and be provided with age-appropriate information about their changing bodies and emerging sexual characteristics (this can help youth to develop healthy attitudes about their own bodies and sexuality and can help to promote safe sexual choices)
  • Provide access to information from a range of reliable sources (for example, pamphlets, medical professionals and websites)
  • Normalize changes where possible (for example, remind youth that acne occurs for almost everyone at some point)
  • Share your own experiences (for example, the first time you shaved)
  • Provide routine reminders and information about hygiene as youth develop (for example, a reminder about the need for deodorant)
Hormonal changes cause sleep and waking cycles to continue to shift

Falling asleep even later at night and waking up even later in the morning (may result in sleep deprivation and contribute to moodiness and irritability)

  • Consider planning activities and programs at times that are comfortable for a later sleep cycle (for example, don’t hold events first thing in the morning)
  • Encourage the ongoing use of strategies and routines (for example, turning off the computer one hour before bed) to help youth wake up and go to sleep at appropriate times
Body Image & Nutrition
What is happening?How can I tell?How can I help?
Development of body image is ongoing

Males: may be maintaining more positive body image than females

Females: may be dissatisfied with parts of their body

Transgendered youth may struggle with body image

Negative perceptions of body image vary for youth from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds

More commonly making social comparisons about body type (comparisons to unrealistic ideals shown in media can play a role in the development of this dissatisfaction)

Placing greater importance on and forming opinions about style, clothing and appearance

  • Be aware that youth may have an increased sensitivity to messages about their bodies
  • Allow youth more independence in demonstrating their own style through clothing and decisions about appearance
  • Encourage youth to focus on the parts of their bodies that they like and can feel confident about
  • Lead by example—avoid making critical comments about your own body
Knowledge of nutrition and healthy eating expands

May be forming opinions about, and a desire for, independent control over eating and nutrition

  • Allow some independence around food preferences
  • Remember that nutrition plays an important role in healthy development during this time. Provide information about nutrition (for example, check out Canada’s Food Guide)
  • Encourage healthy eating habits and routines (for example, involve youth directly in grocery shopping or meal preparation)
  • Engage youth in conversations about healthy eating and be aware of dramatic changes in diets that may indicate eating disorders

Developmental maps: early adulthood (17-25 years)

A circle split into four equal parts in different colours. Each part represents the different developmental domains of human growth: cognitive (yellow), emotional (green), social (blue) and physical (purple). The cognitive part of the circle is larger.

Cognitive development

Brain-Based Development
What is happening?How can I tell?How can I help?
Concentration, complex thought, planning and impulse control have matured

Becoming more able to plan, anticipate consequences and make decisions

Continuing to improve and refine precision and speed when performing complex tasks, with fewer errors

Displaying more consistent and flexible use of these abilities

  • Model effective planning behaviour. If youth observe their adult ally setting goals, making plans, and achieving success, they will often emulate the behaviour
  • Create opportunities for youth to plan larger-scale events
  • Help young people to become financially independent by assisting them in preparing and following a budget
  • Encourage a realistic understanding of personal abilities and skill sets
  • Provide opportunities for independence and for leadership (summer jobs and volunteer opportunities as rewarding ways to gain these valuable experiences)
  • Provide freedom for youth to make mistakes as this is an important aspect of learning. If a youth experiences a setback, support efforts to get back on track
  • Provide guidance and knowledge while demonstrating trust and respect. Do not be surprised if a youth chooses not to follow your advice
Efficiency of brain functioning continues into adulthood

Able to understand and interpret complex and abstract ideas (for example, able to think hypothetically and create a number of possible scenarios instead of limiting their thoughts to what is real)

Able to learn new information quickly

  • Encourage youth to familiarize themselves with new ideas (for example, propose books, biographies, documentaries, movies and other resources that can lead to new discoveries)
The ability to assess risks and rewards increases

More able to effectively assess risk versus reward

May decrease thrill-seeking and risk-taking behaviour

May be less sensitive to pleasure and reward

  • Maintain open communication and promote honesty and mutual respect
  • Encourage youth to educate themselves about the potential outcomes or consequences of their actions
  • Reinforce strategies for effective self-regulation (for example, encourage youth to stop and think before making decisions and engaging in risky behaviours)
  • Demonstrate trust and respect for youth as they begin to make carefully considered decisions about activities they participate in
  • Share your own experiences with risky situations (for example, by reflecting on your own good and bad choices)
  • Show interest in the activities of youth (this can help them feel comfortable approaching you for information or guidance)
  • Encourage youth to take positive and reasonable risks (for example, applying for a job)
  • Provide guidance and access to tools (for example, protective equipment, a cell phone or a map) and information from a variety of sources (for example, online forums, others who have had similar experiences) to help them learn and be prepared
  • Encourage relationships that are positive and supportive to improve peer support for pro-social behaviour
There is greater capacity to control impulses and regulate behaviour

Even under conditions of high emotional stress, able to anticipate consequences, control impulses, and act on rational decisions

Has improved organizational skills and ability for long-range planning

  • Establish expectations for behaviour and allow youth to solve complex situations independently
  • Give more room for youth to work through their personal situations (for example, difficulty at work) with more independence
Development of Reasoning Skills
What is happening?How can I tell?How can I help?
Abstract thought matures

Able to compare and contrast different theories and ideas to draw their own conclusions

  • When a youth is learning a new theory (for example, supply and demand) have them walk you through their thought process. Probe their depth of understanding by:
    • Proposing alternative explanations (“But have you thought about…?”)
    • Posing alternative perspectives (“Would you think the same way if you were…?”)
    • Asking youth to generate analogies, comparisons and connections (“Do you think that’s similar to…?”)
Logical thinking matures

Improving ability to think about possibilities, form and evaluate hypotheses, deduce and induce principles that serve to guide decision making

Establishing abstraction and advanced reasoning

  • When a youth is learning a new theory (for example, supply and demand) have them walk you through their thought process. Probe their depth of understanding by:
    • Proposing alternative explanations (“But have you thought about…?”)
    • Posing alternative perspectives (“Would you think the same way if you were…?”)
    • Asking youth to generate analogies, comparisons and connections (“Do you think that’s similar to…?”)
Working memory matures

Further refining the flexible use of working memory (for example, when solving a puzzle, can keep track of the solutions that have already been tried)

  • Introduce diverse perspectives, concepts, and lifestyles through movies, books, biographies, case studies and music
  • Remember that even adults learn through experience and “doing” (for example, activities that engage the senses and allow learners to interact with the learning environment [such as travelling, volunteering, visiting art gallery] are powerful teaching tools)
  • Guide youth to continually ask questions and seek information about all aspects of life
  • Consider how games can be used to support problem solving and strategizing skills (for example, video games)
Beliefs about knowledge are more sophisticated

Acknowledges that truth, facts and ideas are often relative, and sees that some methods of evaluating truth are more reliable than others

Able to think about knowledge as being constructed. (for example, being able to think critically and question how it is we come to know “X” is true)

May become frustrated with a lack of “right answers” to issues and questions

Developing a mature understanding of the nature and limits of knowledge

  • Introduce diverse perspectives, concepts, and lifestyles through movies, books, biographies, case studies and music
  • Remember that even adults learn through experience and “doing” (for example, activities that engage the senses and allow learners to interact with the learning environment [such as travelling, volunteering, visiting art gallery] are powerful teaching tools)
  • Guide youth to continually ask questions and seek information about all aspects of life
  • Consider how games can be used to support problem solving and strategizing skills (for example, video games)

A picture of a circle split into four equal parts in different colours. Each part represents the different developmental domains of human growth: cognitive (yellow), emotional (green), social (blue) and physical (purple). Emotional part of the circle is larger.

Emotional development

Experience of Emotions
What is happening?How can I tell?How can I help?
Emotional responses are maturing and sensitivity to reward begins to decrease

Experiencing a decrease in mood fluctuations and becoming less emotionally reactive to situations

  • Recognize and support youth when they demonstrate greater ability to control, redirect or address their emotions in healthy ways (for example, staying calm, communicating effectively, meditating or exercising to reduce stress)
  • Provide youth with the opportunity for their own time and space to reflect and relax in a way they choose (for example, music, reading, drawing, writing)
  • Provide motivation, support and encouragement through difficult times
  • Encourage openness about mental health issues. If you are concerned about a young person’s emotional stability, connect them with available supports and information (for example, Kids Help Phone, family physician, websites, an appropriate mentor or counsellor)—the negative stigma around mental health often discourages people from seeking support.
  • Provide opportunities for independence and leadership
Self-Regulation
What is happening?How can I tell?How can I help?
Emotional self-regulation matures

Able to self-regulate emotions using thinking strategies

Able to override emotional responses and make reasoned choices

  • Provide youth with opportunities for own time and space to reflect and relax in a way they choose (for example, music, reading, drawing, writing)
  • Reinforce strategies for effective self-regulation (for example, encourage youth to stop and think before making decisions and engaging in risky behaviours)
Motivation is further internalized

Demonstrates ability to set their own goals and stay on task with less prompting from others

  • Provide encouragement. Youth of this age want to know that parents, teachers and other role models are interested in their activities and ambitions but ask for the freedom to set and achieve goals independently
Empathy
What is happening?How can I tell?How can I help?
Empathy reaches maturity

Can detect subtle signs of emotional distress in others

Is able to respond appropriately to the needs of others

  • Reinforce empathetic behaviour (for example, giving up one’s seat on the bus)
  • Promote perspective-taking to encourage the development of empathy and to recognize the difference between own experience and that of others (for example, someone from a different cultural background)
  • Encourage youth to spend time focusing on other people and topics (for example, volunteering with a community organization)

A circle split into four equal parts in different colours. Each part represents the different developmental domains of human growth: cognitive (yellow), emotional (green), social (blue) and physical (purple). The social part of the circle is larger.

Social development

Identity Formation
What is happening?How can I tell?How can I help?
A sense of identity is solidifying

May begin to commit to an identity after exploring various roles, values, beliefs and goals

May signal values, beliefs and goals through the opportunities and interests pursued

  • Support the opportunity to explore and participate in organized events, clubs and teams so that youth can identify their talents and potential career pursuits
Gender identity is more stable

May display a sense of confidence around gender identity—expressed through clothing/image

  • Talk about gender identity without making assumptions
  • Encourage youth to engage in opportunities without concerns about preconceived gender identity labels
Social group-esteem and social identity mature

May display a commitment or sense of belonging to social groups

Begins to feel comfortable with their own social identity and has positive feelings about social group membership

Has learned about their own social groups and has examined their own beliefs independently

Rejects negative views based on stereotypes held by others

  • Encouraging volunteer and other local structured opportunities, which can lead youth to a better sense of community and social inclusion
  • Support participation in cultural traditions to help youth develop their sense of cultural social group identity and social group-esteem
  • Promote opportunities for young adults to mentor other youth
Spiritual beliefs may be more internalized

May begin to integrate religious/spiritual beliefs into their larger identity

Motivated to act/behave to a greater degree by deeply held beliefs

Sense of place in, and connectedness to, the larger world beginning to emerge

  • Where appropriate, support youth participation in religious and spiritual traditions to help them develop their sense of spiritual identity
  • Support critical thought about religion
Self-concepts become more integrated

May be able to resolve conflicting self-concepts based upon differences in contexts

  • Encourage youth to focus on more positive self-concepts (integrate those activities they are good at into settings where youth are less sure about themselves)
Self-appraisal skills continue to improve

Continuing to refine ability to think critically and be reflective of one’s self

Is less reliant on/looking for the approval of others

  • Provide constructive feedback to encourage the development of self-appraisal skills
  • Encourage self appraisal through questions like, “how do you feel?”
Self-efficacy is increasing

Can take on more difficult and longer-term challenges, and persevere in the face of adversity or failure to achieve goals

  • Model a confident understanding of your own skills and capabilities—youth learn to be self-efficacious from the role models in their lives
  • Help youth set goals and support their attempts to reach those goals, to enhance self-efficacy
  • Provide realistic challenges for youth to tackle, and provide support and counselling through these challenges
Self-esteem improves

Feeling more confident and positive about themselves

Level of self-esteem continues to improve (this process is ongoing until late adulthood)

  • Create opportunities for youth to excel (for example, scholastic, vocational, volunteer, recreational)
  • Show interest in the opinions, ideas, beliefs, goals and life plans of youth
  • Provide an opportunity for young people to be leaders
  • Recognize achievements
Development of Relationships
What is happening?How can I tell?How can I help?
Understanding of multiple perspectives is maturing

May fully understand the effect of social roles in perspective-taking

Understands that “neutral” perspectives on a situation are rare, and that everyone’s perspective is coloured by their context, beliefs and background

  • Support understanding of the experiences, challenges, and issues of others
Peer relationships continue to evolve

Exhibits weakened influence of peers, greater ability to choose a romantic partner based on personal compatibility (as opposed to social standing as is often the case for younger teens)

  • Encourage youth to maintain connections with friends, even as they become more committed to school, work or their romantic partners
  • Keep in mind that while the influence of peers often shifts during emerging adulthood, friends continue to support the development of romantic relationships by sharing their social networks and being supportive when relationship troubles occur
Romantic relationships mature

Shifts focus in romantic relationships from fun/companionship to forming strong emotional bond with physical and emotional intimacy

May have longer-lasting relationships (often more than a year) and be working with a partner toward a committed and long-term relationship in which conflicts are negotiated and resolved.

Spending a large amount of time alone in couples, rather than in larger group (some may prefer to engage in shorter-term relationships as they explore their independence)

LGBTTQ youth may “come out” more fully in openly acknowledging a same-sex relationship

  • Give space to youth to develop relationships that are private and personal but stay connected and approachable, providing opportunities for questions and help when needed
  • Demonstrate respect for a young person’s relationships
Family relationships continue to evolve

Experiences a continuing decline in conflict with parents

  • Develop strategies and tools that can be used to stay connected at a distance (for example, phone, email, online messaging)
  • Try to stay in regular contact with youth (on a daily or weekly basis) to remain informed of each other’s lives
  • Establish routines or dedicate certain times as “family time” such as major holidays, specific meals or a chosen day of the week
  • Share experiences together (for example, shopping trips, vacations, going for walks)
  • Communicate that you are available so youth feel free to come to you for help or to ask questions
Moral reasoning may begin to shift to a focus on moral or ethical principles

May increasingly make moral decisions based on self-chosen moral and ethical principles

May begin to make decisions out of concern for equality, human rights, dignity, and life, regardless of the consequences for own self

May continue to make decisions based on a “law and order” orientation with a focus on upholding laws in order to maintain social order

  • Be conscientious in your own moral reasoning—youth are shown to replicate styles of moral reasoning in role models
  • Encourage interactions in which adolescents and young adults engage in challenging conversations on relevant issues where conflicting views are raised and discussed
  • Support opportunities for active discussion of moral dilemmas (for example, concerning discrimination, oppression and bias) to stimulate reasoning and problem-solving skills
Self-sufficiency continues to strengthen

Able to maintain close connections while still maintaining a separate sense of identity

May leave family home to live independently

Continues to gain financial independence

  • Remember that many young adults move in and out of their parental home before making a final transition to independence
  • Provide advice and share personal experiences related to gaining independence
  • Provide advice and share personal experiences related to “firsts”, like getting a first full-time job, moving out of the family home, buying a car or first major relationship break-up

A circle split into four equal parts in different colours. Each part represents the different developmental domains of human growth: cognitive (yellow), emotional (green), social (blue) and physical (purple). The physical part of the circle is larger.

Physical development

Physical Activity
What is happening?How can I tell?How can I help?
Levels of physical activity continue to decline

Less likely to engage in physical activities

  • Consider barriers to participation such as cost, time, equipment and transportation (for example, youth may no longer have the support of parents in paying for activities)
  • Continue to support youth in setting realistic goals and balance them with other priorities (school, work, social life)
  • As youth begin to master movement concepts, begin to focus more on the development of skills and techniques
  • Motivation at this stage has become primarily internalized. Programs and activities to promote physical development should focus on helping youth develop knowledge, skills and attitudes for a healthy, active lifestyle
  • Encourage emerging adults to feel ownership of their own development and provide them with opportunities to design and implement programs and activities
Cardiovascular and muscular endurance, strength and flexibility are changing

Females: in the absence of training, exhibit no further increase in cardiovascular endurance or muscular capabilities

Males: gradual increase in cardiovascular endurance and muscle strength is peaking, and begins to level off (there are no further increases in muscular endurance)

In the absence of training, slow decline in flexibility continues

  • Offer activities that teach youth how to avoid and deal with injury (for example, learning a stretching routine)
  • Provide access to information about positive and negative ways to increase strength and endurance (for example, information on the the dangers of taking steroids or supplements to improve athletic performance)
Growth & Physical Development
What is happening?How can I tell?How can I help?
Changes associated with puberty are concluding

Females: have often completed pubertal changes

Males: may continue to gain weight, height, muscle mass and body hair

  • Encourage and create open communication that is two-directional and allows youth to ask questions and be provided with age-appropriate information about their changing bodies and emerging sexual characteristics
Hormonal influences on the sleep cycle begin to reverse

Falls asleep earlier in the evening and wakes up earlier in the morning

  • Support youth in maintaining a healthy sleep routine—going to sleep and waking up at appropriate times (for example, turning off the computer one hour before bed)
Body Image & Nutrition
What is happening?How can I tell?How can I help?
Development of body image is ongoing

More apt to make social comparisons about body type

Opinions about style, clothing and appearance become important

  • Be aware that youth may have an increased sensitivity to messages about body shape and sexuality
  • Allow youth more independence in demonstrating their own style through clothing and decisions about appearance
  • Encourage youth to focus on the parts of their bodies that they like and can feel confident about
  • Lead by example, through sharing your own experiences
The need for making independent decisions about nutrition and healthy eating increases

Has more prominent opinions about, and a desire for independent control over, eating and nutrition

  • Encourage some independence around food preferences and knowledge of nutrition and food preparation
  • Nutrition plays an important role in healthy development during this time. Provide information about nutrition (for example, check out Canada’s Food Guide)
  • Encourage healthy eating habits and routines (for example, involve youth directly in grocery shopping or meal preparation)
  • Engage youth in conversations about healthy eating and be aware of dramatic changes in diets that may indicate eating disorders