Adolescence is an Important Time of Change

Keeping young women healthy isn’t limited to the doctor’s office.

Ginny Ryan, MD, MA
Director of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology Clinic

“Adolescence” is tough to define. The only thing experts agree upon is that adolescence is a period of transition between childhood and adulthood. Beyond that, the definition and experience of adolescence varies greatly, especially between cultures and genders.

Biologically, adolescence is a period of development that stretches from the onset of puberty through the termination of growth; the Centers for Disease Control defines this period as between 10 and 24 years old. Cognitively, the end of adolescence is defined by the ability to reason and think abstractly. Socially, adolescence is a time when young people begin to take on adult roles.

No matter how you define it, adolescence is a time of great change and challenge, and girls have particular needs and concerns as their bodies change. The average age at the onset of puberty continues to drift lower such that girls younger than 10 years old are more commonly demonstrating signs of puberty. This means that the physical and emotional issues related to puberty are starting in earlier grades and at earlier stages of cognitive development, and parents need to be prepared with the tools to understand and explain these changes to their daughters.

Adolescence is a very vital period that will determine how a person will view and interact with the world as an adult. There are issues of general wellness, social wellness, and sexual wellness, all of which are linked. For teenagers, it’s important to have the resources, mentorship, and knowledge to make the right choices. Some key points:

  • It is important for girls and parents to understand that the onset and pace of puberty can vary greatly, even between sisters. However, if your daughter starts puberty before 8 or after 13, talk to your doctor.
  • Adolescents crave independence and often push the boundaries of safety in their search for independence. It is important to provide adolescents with opportunities to make independent decisions and take healthy risks, such as taking on a part-time job or trying out for a new sport.
  • One of the key predictors of a successful adolescence is having an adult mentor to talk with. This relationship may not be possible between parent and child; make sure you identify a trusted adult or adults to whom your daughter can go for honest feedback and answers to their questions.