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Adolescence: physical changes and neurological development

11 March 2021
7 min read
Volume 30 · Issue 5


This article provides a brief overview of adolescence. It highlights the key physical changes related to puberty and identifies the latest understanding of neurological development in young people. It is also recognised, within the article, that this period of rapid change can have an impact on social and emotional wellbeing. There are conditions that typically have an onset during adolescence, examples of this are offered. The term ‘adolescence’ is used to describe the stage of development and growth and ‘young people’ is used throughout to refer to the individuals.

Health professionals will care for young people in a variety of settings, across all fields of nursing and specialties. Understanding key elements of adolescent development will enhance practice and improve outcomes for young people (Colver and Longwell, 2013). Often young people's needs are overlooked, sometimes with fatal consequences (Pettit, 2014). Practitioners should have an awareness of young people's growth and development to be able to recognise and assess their physical, social, and emotional needs. This article provides an overview of adolescence and the implications for healthcare practice.

Adolescence is often characterised by biological growth and hormone changes, this period is commonly referred to as puberty (Sawyer et al, 2018). Sawyer et al (2018) claimed that this stage of development typically spans from 10-24 years old and is complete once there is epiphyseal fusion of long bones (Murray and Clayton, 2013). Adolescence is a period of immense change. These changes are physical, social and emotional, all of which have the possibility to present challenges and obstacles within a young person's life (Choudhury et al, 2008). Recent studies have also highlighted the importance of neurological changes in young people (Blakemore, 2018). To understand the complexity of adolescence, the sections below provide a brief overview of puberty, neurological, social, and emotional development.

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