This term is often vaguely used; still more vaguely perhaps is the word adolescent, as used to describe older boys and girls.
Adolescence is that period of life during 475 which the child ceases to be a child and becomes a man or woman. Approximately, we may say that it covers the yeara between 12 and 20. During these years profound physical, mental and emotional changes take place. These changes are all concerned with sex in some way or another.
Though as in all human growth one stage merges gradually and imperceptibly into the next, adolescence is generally regarded as having begun when the first sign of reproductive power is shown. This in girls is easily recognizable; it is signified by the onset of menstruation. It is not so easily or so definitely to be established in boys; the appearance of hair on the face and the breaking of the voice are obvious signs we go by.
We call this time, puberty. The age at which puberty is attained varies greatly with individuals: it varies also with race, climate and intelligence. It is attained by girls about one year earlier than by boys; the average age for girls is about 13½ years. The attainment of puberty in girls is of course preceded for a more or less lengthy period by signs and changes which herald it. The process is equally gradual in boys. This period is sometimes called pre-adolescenca.
The physical ohanges during the pubertal period of adolescence are very marked. There is usually a striking inorease in height and weight – four or five inches, fifteen to twenty pounds in a year, are not uncommon. Hands and feet grow very quickly. The traditional picture of the boy with his trouser legs half-way up his calves, his coat sleeves shrinking up to his elbows, is a true picture of a boy during puberty.
The nose grows disproportionately in like fashion, often to ugly dimensions, especially in boys. The pores of the skin grow large und often got clogged, thus causing those distressing and unsightly pimples so typical of early youth. In the case of the boy hair begins to appear on the upper lip, the chin, and in front of the ears; while a downy growth may show itself on the girls upper lip. Hair grows more strongly all over the body.
The voice breaks, that is, the vocal chords grow in length, with a consequent drop in the pitch of the voice, in both boys and girls, but muoh more noticeably with boys, who often are troubled for two yeara or so with an uncontrollable and disagreeable voice – now high, now low, now hoarse, now soft and whispering.
The girls pelvis (the girdle of bones supporting the lowest cavity of the trunk) broadens, and the breasts develop. The boys muscles increase in size, the arms becoming hard and sinewy, the shoulders broad. As yet, both sexes normally remain quite slender. Internal organs – heart, lungs, stomach – assume adult proportions. Subject to Disorders
It is easy to see that while some of these changes (e.g. the first appearance of a beard, and increase in muscular strength) will delight the young adolescent, the majority are calculated to worry and frighten. The boy or girl thinks the hands or feet are going to grow to enormous size; spends hours before a mirror trying to slim a nose which seems to threaten to blot out all the other features; buys ointments, lotions, pills and powders to remove pimples. Owing to this rapid and lopsided growth, the body becomes ungainly and slumsy; the adolescent is acutely aware of it. Girls whose mothera do not prepare them gently and fully, can suffer agonies of fear. This period of rapid growth is, like previous ones, particularly subject to illness and slight disorders – headaches, lassitudes, digestive upsets.
Mental changes are intimately connected with the physical ones. Bright, clever children as a rule attain puberty earlier than average children, dull and feeble-minded mature late. It is no exaggeration to say that the mental and emotional changes during puberty are as great, if not greater than the physical changes; but they are not so immediately obvious, particularly as the young adolescent invariably becomes extremely shy in the presence of adults, and hides his hopes and his fears, his desires and ambitions from everyone.
Importance of Hobbies
Intellectually, the most striking change is the development of special aptitudes. Hitherto, a boy or a girl has been generally good at lessons, in games, in behaviour. Now his ability shows more and more in one special direction, and the scientist, the engineer, the classical scholar, the artist, the writer, the musician, the craftsman, and so on begin to show themselves unmistakably.
Up to a point, the more gifted the child the more clearly will the bent be shown; but a very great deal depends upon the encouragement which has been and is shown at home and school. Hence the importance of observing and sympathizing wisely with the hobbies of the ten or eleven year old .
It used to be believed that children could not reason logically until adolescence. This, modern science has shown to be quite incorrect, the first glimmerings of reasoning power being shown at a very early age. But the old belief has this much of truth in it, that during adolescence the youth begins deliberately to make reasoning the foundation upon which he builds his knowledge. His brain, in fact, is approaching maturity, so far as we know; scientific knowledge of the growth of the brain is surprisingly limited. If intelligence tests are to be believed, there is a rapid growth in intellectual ability between about 12 and 15, but practically none after sixteen.
The emotional changes during adolescence are profound. It is impossible to separate completely or even distinctly emotional from intellectual changes; the interplay is intimate. But under emotional we would class all that goes to make the character, as opposed to ability. In this respect, the adolescent experiences what is virtually a re-birth. His attitude of mind, his desires, fears, hopes, sorrows, become adult.
Preoccupation with Self
The earliest manifestation is an intense preoccupation with self; not the gay, self-assertive preoccupation of the eleven-year-old, when self exists to shout down everyone else, but a shrinking, shy, critical preoccupation. Youth realizes it has got a life to live, a living to make, a world to face, and wonders how it is going to do it. It feels very young, very ignorant, very insignificant. Dreading Reality
So youth turns to hero-worship, either in the actual person of some adult, or in stories and romances of the great. For-tified with courage drawn from example, youth builds castles in the air, day dreams, plans. Usually the plans ignore all the difficulties, most of which are indeed unknown; in the extreme forms of castle-building and day-dreaming the mind is instinctively shrinking from reality, which it dreads, and finding relief in phantasy. Many adolescents dread growing up.
Meanwhile a new and dominating emotion comes into life, the urge towards which all these changes, physical, mental, and emotional, have tended. The boy becomes conscious of the girl, the girl of the boy. At that moment adult life is begun.
We have spoken so far, chiefly of the changes which occur during early adoles-cence, and only of the more obvious of those. There are a thousand amplifications and ramifications – the strange habits acquired by some adolescents to hide what they consider defects, the weird escapades to which others are prompted by their imaginings, the unhappincss which can happen through misunderstanding even in most careful homes, the physical, mental and emotional strains.
Reference to these will be found in the following articles; it is necessary to point out, however, that adolescence is so complicated a period of growth, and its incidence is so different in individual cases, that only the most general and elementary observations can be made in a brief summary such as this.
Normally, the pubertal period of adoles-cence is completed for girls between fourteen and fifteen, for boys between fifteen and sixteen. This is followed by the third, and last, period of steadier growth and development which results in adult maturity, ending in girls about 21, in boys about 25. There is, during this period, frequently a short, troubled period between 16 and 17, duo almost entirely to intellectual disturbances.
While many children pass through early adolescence without great upset of any kind, the possibilities of danger during these years can never be ignored, and careful parents will exercise the utmost vigilance concerning health, and will aim to achieve the most difficult task of all, to develop without repression, to allow freedom but not licence, to help children to achieve that liberty within the law, which makes for happy and useful adult fife.
Anaemia in Girls. Anaamia, and sometimes chlorosis (green Bickness), are common among girls during the pubertal period, though thanks to freer, more open- air life of modern girls, and their more sensible clothes, chlorosis seems to be practically disappearing. Anaemia is characterized by unhealthy paleness and listlessness due to lack of blood or deficiency of red corpuscles in the blood. Chlorosis is shown by anaemia, irregularity or suppression of the period, and pale, greenish complexion. Outdoor life and exercise, and a diet in which milk, vegetables and fruit predominate, are the best remedies. It is of first importance to establish during the early months of puberty a regular periodicity.