Late Adolescence

18-24 years

The process of becoming an adult is more gradual and varied today than in the past. Young people take longer to achieve economic and psychological autonomy and early adulthood experiences vary greatly by gender, race and ethnicity, and social class.

This is a time of life when very little is normative. It is a period of frequent change and exploration that covers many aspects of their life: home, family, work, school, resources, and role.

Adjust to Physical and Emotional Changes

One of the biggest changes teens have to deal with is creating a sense of sexuality. This means developing a sexual orientation, dealing with new sexual feelings, and responding to how others view and react to their sexuality changes. They have to ask themselves what it means to be sexual, what to do and with whom. Teens figure out their sexuality by trying it out. They experiment by asking questions, changing their way of dressing, and acting on new physical sensations.

They also have to develop skills for romantic relationships. How to attract a partner, and manage and get out of relationships. Their relationships change frequently and there is a lot of drama in it. We have to remember that they are developing new skills, their brain is more emotional and it’s all new. During late adolescence teens are feeling in between – figuring out what it means to be in relationship as adult. Young adults are more serious about what they want in a relationship. Usually, they already know their sexual identity and most have had a sexual experience.

Adjust to a New Physical Sense of Self

During this stage, body changes are mostly complete. However, teen men may keep growing physically until turning 21. At this stage teens have a greater acceptance of their bodies and appearance.

What is “Normal” for a young adult?

Nothing! For young adults nothing is normal. All they know, all the things they count on – change. At the same time, we adults think that much of this change is completed.  They’ve made it. Wrong! This is stage of adolescence is characterize by real changes in life. Some of the changes that young people experience as they transition out of high school and on into their early 20’s are: Where they liveWhat they do – school, work, Relationships – now they interact much more with adults (in school, at work, where they live) – not so age segregated as before. There is no rite of passage to tell them that they’ve “made it.” It’s up to them to figure it out.

Develop & Apply Abstract Thinking Skills

During this last stage teens have developed the ability to:

  1. Understand and grapple with things that cannot be seen, heard, or touched. Topics such as faith, love, trust, beliefs, peace, racism, as well as higher mathematics.
  2. Think about possibilities – thinking about multiple options and possibilities (the age-old “what if…?” questions).
  3. Think ahead.
  4. Think about thinking –the ability to understand another person’s perspective.

Youth evolve from:

  1. There’s only 1 perspective – mine (concrete thinker/early abstract thinker).
  2.  There are 2 perspectives – mine and yours, but I can only think about 1 at a time (some skills in abstract thought).
  3. There are multiple perspectives and I can think about all of them (full abstract thought).
  4. At this age, teens have practiced and got abstract thinking down. They are able to find ways to organize all their ideas, to identify values and viewpoints that work better for oneself, while respecting that other viewpoints may fit better for others.
  5. Now, they can see many right answers to a problem and apply one abstract idea to other situations.

Late adolescents are the most idealistic.

Remember: physical development and ability to think abstractly are often not in sync with each other. Adults often get mixed up on this point.

Brain Development

Brain development is top discussion these days. That’s because there’s lot of change in the teen brain starting at puberty. The brain grows. There are more brain cells (neurons) and they connect better, they transfer information quicker and more efficiently. The growth is in all areas of the brain, so the communication across the brain improves. The brain is like a muscle, the areas that get used grow stronger, and the ones that don’t get used disappear. This growth happens for quite a while. It is not complete until somewhere in ages 25 -30.

Something important to point out is that this increase of communication across the brain provides the foundation for the development of the “higher level executive functioning” skills. What’s an executive function skill and why is it important for teens?  

Planning ahead. Strategizing. Organizing. Logical reasoning. Weighing risks and rewards. Making judgments. Making decisions. Working memory. Regulating moods. Managing impulses.

Teens are often drawn to emotional intensity (thrills, excitement, adventures, risk-taking) – activities like snowboarding off a roof! This can bring with it: RISKIER BEHAVIORS. Young people do understand the risk of these behaviors (research has shown this) but they often assess risks and benefits differently than adults.

  • What’s top for early adolescents? Fitting in, feeling normal with normal being their friends. Having fun.
  • They analyze the risks and benefits of behaviors differently than we do and assess their personal level of risk. Think about drinking at a party. What are the positive and negative consequences from adult and teen perspective?
Adults Teens
Fitting in Not very important Really important
Having fun Can have fun other ways Really important to have fun like my friends do.
Getting pregnant, crashing a car, losing place on sports team Big issue, life changing, AVOID AT ALL COSTS Not good but it didn’t happen to me last time (last 5 times) I drank, so I must be immune.

Add to all of this that teens are often inconsistent in planning & reasoning (those are skills they are learning). Also, teens are learning how to CONTROL EMOTIONS: Think of the teen who spews verbal emotional venom at you and then can’t tell you why. Along with emotions are 2 related signs: Being impulsive and focused on self (we’ve heard that before!) – This self-focus makes it hard for them to think about the effects of their behavior on other people. They look like they’re selfish and rude. But thinking of others requires insight, and insight requires a fully developed brain (still working on that one)

Just to be clear about brain development, it’s not about teens being unable to control their emotions and always making bad decisions, impulsive, self-focused. Instead, teens can control emotions, impulses, behaviors but just not routinely, consistently. They are still learning, and they really need PRACTICE!

Brain Development

Brain development is top discussion these days. That’s because there’s lot of change in the teen brain starting at puberty. The brain grows. There are more brain cells (neurons) and they connect better, they transfer information quicker and more efficiently. The growth is in all areas of the brain, so the communication across the brain improves. The brain is like a muscle, the areas that get used grow stronger, and the ones that don’t get used disappear. This growth happens for quite a while. It is not complete until somewhere in ages 25 -30.

Something important to point out is that this increase of communication across the brain provides the foundation for the development of the “higher level executive functioning” skills. What’s an executive function skill and why is it important for teens?  

Planning ahead. Strategizing. Organizing. Logical reasoning. Weighing risks and rewards. Making judgments. Making decisions. Working memory. Regulating moods. Managing impulses.

Teens are often drawn to emotional intensity (thrills, excitement, adventures, risk-taking) – activities like snowboarding off a roof! This can bring with it: RISKIER BEHAVIORS. Young people do understand the risk of these behaviors (research has shown this) but they often assess risks and benefits differently than adults.

  • What’s top for early adolescents? Fitting in, feeling normal with normal being their friends. Having fun.
  • They analyze the risks and benefits of behaviors differently than we do and assess their personal level of risk. Think about drinking at a party. What are the positive and negative consequences from adult and teen perspective?
Adults Teens
Fitting in Not very important Really important
Having fun Can have fun other ways Really important to have fun like my friends do.
Getting pregnant, crashing a car, losing place on sports team Big issue, life changing, AVOID AT ALL COSTS Not good but it didn’t happen to me last time (last 5 times) I drank, so I must be immune.

Add to all of this that teens are often inconsistent in planning & reasoning (those are skills they are learning). Also, teens are learning how to CONTROL EMOTIONS: Think of the teen who spews verbal emotional venom at you and then can’t tell you why. Along with emotions are 2 related signs: Being impulsive and focused on self (we’ve heard that before!) – This self-focus makes it hard for them to think about the effects of their behavior on other people. They look like they’re selfish and rude. But thinking of others requires insight, and insight requires a fully developed brain (still working on that one)

Just to be clear about brain development, it’s not about teens being unable to control their emotions and always making bad decisions, impulsive, self-focused. Instead, teens can control emotions, impulses, behaviors but just not routinely, consistently. They are still learning, and they really need PRACTICE!

Coming of Age

Adopt a personal value system

During this last stage of adolescence, way of thinking and decisions are less influenced by peers. Teens are able to identify viewpoints that work for them while respecting those of others. Teens better understand morals and justice. They have personal thoughts about religion, lifestyles, politics, etc.

Develop Healthy Peer Relationships

During this last stage of adolescence the peer network is more diverse. Youth relate to individual peers more than to groups. Their relationships are more mature, based on stability, intimacy and supportiveness. Now, the influence of family and peers becomes more equal.

Why does peer relationships matter?

It helps teens to:

  1. Develop their identity: “who am I”
  2. Practice social skills, try out new beliefs, roles and behaviors.
  3. Find acceptance, sense of belonging.
  4. Have fun, excitement.

Youth with close and supportive peer relationships tend to be:

  • More socially skilled.
  • Better sense of self-worth.
  • Emotionally healthier.
  • More motivated and active in school.
  • Less involved in behavioral problems.

The quality of peer relationships in childhood and adolescence may be one of the most important indicators of future psychological health. Actually, teens who are socially isolated or lack good social skills are at risk.

What do teens need to develop healthy relationships as adults?

  • Opportunities to develop relationship with peers.
  • Adults to think through these relationships.
  • Boundaries within which to bump into as they navigate.

Renegotiate Relationship with Parents/Caregivers

Teens change their relationship with their parents. When they were children, parents managed their lives, they were in charged. During adolescence, parents need to guide them and support them, as coaches. During this last stage of adolescence conflicts with parents often decrease. There is a renegotiation in parent-child roles, especially for those who live at home. At this age, teens change their housing more than any other age during adolescence. For example, some young people live at home, move out and live independently or with peers/partners, or move back home).

How do we help parents with all of this?

Regardless of family form, a strong sense of bonding, closeness, and attachment to family do better. It is associated with better emotional development, better school performance, and engagement in fewer high-risk activities, such as drug use.

Define a personal sense of identity

Figuring out your identity occurs throughout life – but really kicks in during adolescence. When we are children, our identity is tied to adults around us. But during adolescence is the first time we think about how identity may affect our life. Teens need to ask themselves:

  • Who am I?
  • Am I normal?
  • How or where do I fit in?
  • Am I lovable and loving?
  • What am I good at (my strengths)?
  • What do others think about who I am?
  • WHAT DOES ALL OF THIS MEAN FOR ME?

The sense of identity is influenced by relationships with adults, but increasingly by peers. Teens try on “new hats” or new faces until finding the one that fits them better.

During this last stage of adolescence, teens have a firmer sense of identity, but they go deeper especially as they explore their sense of self in relation to personal relationships, education, work, family, future.

Remember this is “Age of Feeling In-Between.”  This has an impact on their sense of identity – they see themselves as neither an adolescent nor an adult.

Meet demands of increasing mature roles and responsibilities

Teens start taking on the roles expected of them in adulthood. They learn the skills necessary for these roles and manage the multiple demands of the work as well as the expectations regarding commitment to family, community and citizenship.

At this age teens have:

  1. Stable interests.
  2. Ability to compromise.
  3. Self-confidence.
  4. Greater concern for others.
  5. Higher level of concern for the future.
  6. Thoughts about their role in life.

Teens also start an independent living, and work experiences become more focused on getting prepared for their adult occupation.