Adolescent Development

Part I: A Time of Change

Alice Catlin, AMI, M.Ed

Adolescence is a time of tremendous change, a time of social awkwardness as young people consciously and unconsciously seek to discover who they are in relation to humanity. The brains of adolescents are building new connections and pruning old ones. Their frontal lobes, the area that enables humans to reflect and analyze before acting, lag behind their rapid physical growth and increasing strength. Adolescents are no longer children and have not yet become adults.

Dr. Maria Montessori described the stages through which children develop as The Four Planes of Development: infancy (I), childhood (II), adolescence (III), and maturity (IV). Adolescents are in the third plane: a stage critical for the formation of the adult which the child will become. Dr. Montessori wrote, “…above all it is the education of adolescents that is important, because adolescence is the time when the child enters on the state of manhood [or womanhood] and becomes a member of society”.* Adolescents are social newborns. Leaving childhood behind, the young person desires to find a place as a valued member of society.

Adolescence is a time of physical and social awkwardness due to rapid growth and sexual maturation. Laurie Ewert-Krocker explains this challenging time well: “Adolescents are often not yet strong enough, courageous enough, or clear-thinking enough to take moral risks. They are afraid of rejection—and often in their fear cannot consider moral obligation”.** The foundation that adolescents constructed during the first two planes of development, infancy through childhood, is the stable element on which they may build.

During this phase of self-construction, adolescents seek “valorization” (value and validation) of their individual personalities and contributions to society so they may confidently enter the world as an adult. The home and educational environment for adolescents must respond to their needs socially, emotionally, physically, and intellectually so they may realize their individual potential.

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*Montessori, Maria. Childhood to Adolescence. Oxford, England: Clio Press, 2000. Page 60.

**Ewert-Krocker, Laurie. “The Moral Development of Adolescents: A View From the Farm.” The NAMTA Journal, Vol. 30, No. 1. Winter, 2005.