A Child’s Growth to Adolescence
An adolescent’s view of the world and, more importantly, of self is shaped largely by two factors; how they are viewed and how they want to be viewed. Changes that occur in the adolescent’s life can affect both of these factors. During a child’s growth to adolescence, changes occur within the body. Hair sprouts in places it never has before. Body parts grow that were not seen before. Acne pops up, muscles grow and strange smells become more apparent. With these physical changes, come social changes. No longer is a child’s playground an actual playground. The social dynamics have changed as well as the arena. These changes are not limited to external areas, however. The new adolescent is concerned with what others think. Are the choices the adolescent make good ones? Is he or she good enough? So much peer pressure and scrutiny from everyone can make the adolescent question everything that was once easy and known. The child is gone and the adolescent is ready to tackle the world. But first they have to come to grips with their changes.
Biological changes come unbidden to the adolescent. Hair grows, sexual organs develop, and other changes that were unnecessary to the child begin to blossom, preparing the adolescent to face the world, at least physically. But some of these changes can present a problem for a budding adolescent. A male may grow facial hair before others in his class. A girl may develop breasts before other girls in her class. Sometimes these changes can be a good thing. Many adolescents view peers who are more developed than themselves as somehow being more mature or more capable. Societies’ pressure to look good, especially for women, can be a stressor for the adolescent girl. Already confused by her body’s changes, she also has to cope with scrutiny from everyone. One of the biggest and most noticeable things that can affect an adolescent’s looks is acne. Acne can cause many changes to the adolescent. It changes how they feel, look, view themselves, and how they feel others view they as well. In a study that was done in 2011, it was shown that adolescents and adults viewed adolescents with clear skin more favorably than those with acne. Shy, less successful, more likely to be bullied, and less socially active were all used to describe an adolescent with acne. The study showed the negative effect acne has on the way people are perceived by others. It makes sense for adolescents to be concerned with what other people think of them.
As adolescents develop, they become more independent. They begin to develop a socially structured sense of self. However, they still rely on how others perceive them. Psychologists have called this the Looking-Glass self (Charles Horton Cooley, 1902). Adolescents see themselves how others see them. Peer pressure can affect an adolescent’s self-esteem more than a parent’s praise. The need to fit in can cause strong behaviors to come out in adolescents. Even more than when they were children, adolescents watch their behavior and attempt to mimic people they wish to be like. They hope these behaviors will make them more socially acceptable. While it is normal for adolescents to be concerned with what peers think, some adolescents become overly preoccupied with peer examination. This preoccupation can become excessive and interfere with and even sabotage the very relationships the adolescent wishes to foster. This obsessive preoccupation can result in clinical level anxiety. And unlike when the adolescent was a child, they more feel the need for these social relationships. Many of these social stressors can lead to psychological stressors for adolescents.
There are many stressors that adolescents face. Besides the ones caused by social dilemmas, adolescents must deal with problems that affect them psychologically. Any kind of a loss, whether it be a death in the family or a break up with a boyfriend/girlfriend can adversely affect an adolescent. The loss can be profound and leave a void that they have a hard time filling. The closer the adolescent was to the departed, the more difficult the issue. Arguments with family and friends can weigh heavily upon an adolescent’s mind. Trouble in school can also give an adolescent more issue than just the school trouble. They may get feelings of inadequacy if they are not doing as good as their classmates. Their self-esteem can suffer as a result which could become a social stressor as well.
In 1985, there was a study done informally of 60 adolescents. They were asked what the major stressors were in their lives. The main stressors mentioned were; their relationships with friends and family, meeting self-expectations and those of peers, pressure to do well in school from teachers, getting good grades and finishing homework, financial pressures, and loss of family and friends in the form of death, divorce and disease. When one stressor is active, it can effect or start a stressor of another kind. For example, an adolescent experiences the loss of a parent (psychological). The loss hits the adolescent hard and he or she falls into a depression. The adolescent begins to neglect his or her appearance and health. He or she stops bathing and gets sick (biological). Because the adolescent is depressed and has not showered, friends no longer want to be with the adolescent (social). The adolescent is alone and falls into a deeper depression or even becomes suicidal (psychological). If the adolescent attempts suicide, their health and life are in danger (biological). Some peers make look at the adolescent in an unfavorable light once it is known suicide was attempted and rumors can begin to circulate (social). Thus, the loop can continue. It is easy to see how biopsychosocial stressors can all be intertwined.
Comparisons to children
Children and adolescents react to stressors in different ways, depending on their life experiences. Reacting to the death of a loved one can be the same, even though the child may not fully understand what is happening. Psychologically, the adolescent and the child can feel similar stress. How they deal with it is where they can differ. Socially, children and adolescents differ vastly. Children do not have the cognitive ability of an adolescent and may misinterpret the actions of other children. Adolescents normally are able to interpret actions of their peers much better than children. Adolescents can see the cause and effect of actions better than children. When it comes to physical stressors, children have different stressors than adolescents while remaining similar. Adolescents find their bodies are going through changes, changes they do not fully understand. In comparison, children are learning what their bodies can do. Both are learning new things about their bodies. In contrast, adolescents look at the changes their bodies are going through and worry what peers may think. Children do not have that stressor; though as children are becoming more and more aware of things around them in a less egocentric way, they are aging faster than they should. Society and peer pressure are stealing the youth from our children.
When a child knows something is not right, and they feel their body is not correct, parents need to pay attention to their child. Science has shown that children have a developed sense of gender identity by age 4 (American Association of Pediatrics). Not only are these children confused by their biopsychosocial changes, they have to deal with other things that cisgender children do not. There is Gender Dysphoria, isolation, added depression and anxiety, feeling the need to hide their struggle, and increased suicidal ideations to name just a few. They may have a sense of their gender identity but do not think they can share it with anyone because of the societal stereotypes imposed upon them. When it comes to them growing up, parents truly need to be open and pay attention.
Children and adolescents both go through changes that they must deal with. They can appear similar but there are differences. Children are egocentric and are concerned with how things affect them. Adolescents are concerned with the way things will affect them, but they are also painfully aware about how others will view them. Children are eager to please, but adolescents want to please while retaining their new found identity. They want to maintain a balance between internal and external views of the self while children are more intent upon the internal view. No one said growing up was easy. But it is something everyone must eventually do.
Paul Gross, MFTC
411 Lakewood Circle Drive
Colorado Springs, CO 80910