It is impossible to determine the exact date when puberty ends. Psychological and social maturation continues to physical maturity without a clear boundary. On average, adolescence begins at the age of sixteen; sometimes earlier, sometimes later. Just as adolescence does not have a clear beginning, so its end is indefinite. It is considered to last at least until the age of 21, and in economically highly developed countries for a few years longer, up to 24-25 years. The more primitive a community is, the shorter adolescence lasts. In more primitive people, so to speak, it does not exist, so it passes directly from puberty to adulthood.
Adolescents face big and difficult tasks. In this period of life, a person must become able to get in normal contact with people around them, must be trained for constructive cooperation in the community, must acquire sufficient knowledge and skills for productive and socially useful work, must learn to respect general human values, must accept ideology and morals of an advanced society, must learn to discipline and adapt its innate egocentrism and personal interests to the needs and rules of life in the community. These are all qualities that a young person must acquire if they want to come out of adolescence as a truly mature and adult person.
Equally difficult tasks await adolescents in the sexual area as well. Along with general maturity, psychosocial maturity for a completely satisfying, happy and socially positive sexual life should be achieved. This requires the young person to gain security in their own sexual role, to fully accept their gender, to view sexuality in a natural way, without prejudice and fear, and to approach persons of the opposite sex with a sense of equality, respect and trust.
Adolescents, therefore, face the biggest life problems such as choosing a profession, self-employment, sex life, choosing a spouse. But at the same time, they find themselves in a real thicket of contradictions that hinder them and make it difficult for them to orient themselves properly in life.
The main difficulty is that the young man and the young woman already have the appearance of adults and physically they are, so they feel that way, and the environment, especially the parents, still consider them children and treat them that way. However, these “children” have an instinctive need to get out of the narrow circle of the family and get involved in other, wider collectives, among their peers, in various youth organizations, in social activity. In this, educators often hinder them, appropriating the right to get involved in all the endeavors of young people. Adolescents are required to show a sense of duty to their environment, parents, school, to develop social awareness and responsibility, a collective spirit, patriotism and a sense of socialist humanism. But at the same time, rigid authority is imposed on young people, they are not given enough opportunities to develop their own initiative, they are not allowed freedom in decision-making, they are restrained and try to stumble into already prepared, traditional and somewhat shabby templates. Or, young people are left to fend for themselves, they are given full freedom, they are encouraged to be independent, but they are not taught how to use those rights, where to find a measure in their use and what to do with themselves.
Young people feel a great need to rely on someone, to be advised, to have a person they trust. But it is precisely those who are closest to the young person who often lose their trust because they do not even try to understand that person and enjoy their life interests. On the contrary, educators usually impose their life schemes, views, and understandings on young people or turn their backs on young people, shrug their shoulders in front of their problems, and let them manage on their own however they know.
Adolescents often hear one thing from the mouths of their educators and see another in their behavior, just the opposite of what is preached to them in the name of ethical principles and social morality. Such hypocrisy is most commonly encountered in the sexual realm. Young people are told about sexual abstinence, and around them, they often look at sexual promiscuity; they are told of the need to ennoble and breathe sexuality, and in reality, they often encounter a vulgar indulgence of the sexual urge; they are told about gender equality, and at every step, they have the opportunity to see various forms of gender struggle for supremacy or women’s neglect. All this confuses them. What will they accept as positive, realistic and moral? What principles will they adhere to? Who will they trust? Which is the truth and which is the lie? In this dilemma, a young person sometimes does not know how to cope, and does not opt for a positive, socially useful and ethically acceptable path through life, but moves along the line of least resistance, i.e. through primitive, neurotic and even antisocial behavior.
School curricula are sometimes at odds with the interests and mental needs of young people. For example, there is no practical psychology and characterology in them that would enable young people to know people and themselves. It would be essential to introduce a systematic and science-based sex education for young people that would prepare young people for a full and socially positive sexual, marital and family life. These are the basic problems of life and in addition the areas of science that young people are always very interested in. And it is said that we do not study for school, but for life!
The sex drive reaches its culmination in the years of adolescence, especially in men. A woman’s instinct wakes up a bit slower, so it manifests itself with the greatest force only during the third decade. The environment requires young people to abstain from any sexual activity until they are able to live independently, that is until they get married. Nature seeks its own, and society forbids it, or at least limits it. It is not easy to cope in such a situation, not to go astray, not to behave unreasonably, and not to be burdened with a series of mental conflicts and disappointments. In order for a young man to somehow preserve his mental balance despite the general life and especially sexual dilemma, which was brought to him by adolescence, he needs great psychological resilience and the healthiest possible views on life’s problems.
The problems of adolescence, and the various mental crises and behavioral disorders that may arise in connection with it, are not given by nature, nor are they related to the biological maturation of man, but are the fruit of civilization, its laws, its demands on the individual, but also its mistakes and misconceptions. . However, the right attitude towards young people can help a lot to get through the critical phase of adolescence without major upheavals. This can only be achieved if the difficulties of adolescents are viewed from their point of view. Sometimes young people do not understand themselves. Many motives of their ruling remain hidden from them. Hence the many contradictions and illogicalities in the behavior of adolescents, their so characteristic need to observe and analyze themselves, to penetrate into their interior and sometimes try to express it in diaries, scrapbooks and lyrical verses.
Society does very little to help young people cope with the many contradictions within themselves and their surroundings. Law Lewin says that adolescents in our culture do not yet have a certain status. In the past, the performance of adolescence was publicly celebrated. There was a ceremony in ancient Rome: «: at that time, sixteen-year-old boys were declared full-fledged men, so their boys’ costumes were replaced by» toga virilis «, clothes that only adult men were allowed to wear. Today, young people are somehow “on the edge of society,” Lewin notes. They has given up their childhood and are not yet fully accepted among adults. They only partially accept it into their circle and partially reject it. They mostly reject it because they often do not even try to understand the motives of young people’s behavior and the essence of their difficulties. That is why youth and adults remain two separate worlds, incomprehensible to each other and poorly prepared to adapt to each other.
The mental life of adolescents is very complex, dynamic and diverse. Their emotional life is ruled by one basic need that educators must not ignore, although it often remains hidden because young people hide it from themselves. It is the young person’s need for the environment to accept them with emotional warmth and understanding. There is no adolescent who would not carry within them the desire for someone to love and appreciate them, to show interest in them and to surround them with tenderness. Every person feels the need to find moral and emotional support in someone, and in adolescence, this need is especially strong. But the young person is often ashamed of it, thinking that it is an expression of weakness and mental immaturity, so they gladly choose rudeness, insensitivity and supposed emotional satiety.
The second basic need of the youth is the pursuit of personal freedom and independence from those people to whom the adolescent has hitherto been in a subordinate position, i.e. from parents, teachers and other educators. An adolescent needs to be a grown person, but they don’t know how to be that yet. That’s why they play the role of an adult-like person, like a very bad actor – awkward, with excessive gestures, unbalanced, without inner harmony. Striving to be equal to the adult environment, in a feverish effort to prove that they are no longer a child, they often show excessive resistance to educators, reckless defiance, and get entangled in unnecessary conflicts with the environment and get into a lot of trouble.
A further characteristic need of adolescents is an increased desire for affirmation. The youth wants to show themselves as original, they want to emphasize their “I”, which must be different from all other personalities in the environment. In puberty, the young person felt a strong desire to identify with a group of their peers, so they tried to be as similar to them as possible; now they are trying to single out something, to emphasize their individuality, to build their personal view of the world and lifestyle. But this strong aspiration of a young man to experience the value and meaning of their personality encounters its opposite: a deep insecurity in themselves that now comes to light with full force, as the adolescent faces a series of basic life tasks that they are not yet up to. It is precisely the great discrepancy between the demands placed on the adolescent by life, society and themselves, and their ability to satisfy these demands, that is the basic characteristic of their mental life. Demonstrative or emphatically rude behavior, smug behavior, bragging and boasting about sexual successes, aggressive dress and flirtatious behavior of girls, underestimation of everything and everyone, playing indifferent to moral attitudes and social norms are all characteristic symptoms of strong insecurity of adolescence.
In the mental life of young people, opposing aspirations, very contradictory motivations, very often clash. Thus, the need for personal freedom and independence collides with the desire to maintain parental love and to always find understanding and support in it. That is why the adolescent often oscillates between resistance and loyalty, rebellion and obedience, contempt and respect, or love and hate towards their environment. In the psyche of adolescents, alternate – says Fenichel – extreme selfishness and strong altruism, cruelty and nobility, the need for society and the desire for solitude, joy and sadness, childish mischief and excessive seriousness, sudden falling in love and equally abrupt abandonment of love, rudeness and tenderness.
The desire for originality and the need to stand out can, of course, be manifested in a very positive way, for example as diligent learning in school, affirmation in various youth clubs and organizations, success in sports, etc. Characteristic is the need for their own money. They often state that they try to earn money on their own, even when they have no objective needs for it. Sometimes adolescents steal from their parents, not considering it a crime. Namely, they see money as a symbol of their value and a means of affirmation in society. The irresistible need of a young person to experience the greatest possible value of their own personality drives them to build in their imagination some ideal image of themselves, the realization of which they strive for or only dream of. It depends on the overall life development of the adolescent whether this ideal of their “I” will be real or unattainable, as well as who they will imitate: a really valuable person, or a problematic hero, “or a negative, neurotic and even completely antisocial person. The need for idealization is not limited to fantasizing about oneself but refers to all the basic problems of life. That is why young people set high and often unattainable goals in the field of work, vocations, social relations, friendship, love and patriotism. As unrealistic, exaggerated, or simple as adolescents’ life views may sometimes be, they are nevertheless a source of characteristic enthusiasm, lively optimism, enthusiasm, and energy.
In their instinctive need to come out of the cocoon of childhood and free themselves from the shackles of immaturity, young people gladly reject the old, the established, the devoted to the authority of adults, or accepted as a good custom or praiseworthy conduct. The fight against conservatism, enthusiasm for new ideas, sacrifice, and even fanaticism – all these are typical characteristics of youth.
Boys and girls prefer to move in the company of peers rather than among their family members. It becomes uncomfortable for them to go on a trip or an event with their parents, they become closed to their family, they have their secrets, their personal intimate life. Although this phenomenon bothers many parents, it is still quite natural. By feeling emotionally separated from home, the young person is again trying to experience their independence. Emotional ties with the parental home will be broken to the greater extent the less they find understanding in those who must have been their closest friends, namely father and mother. When a young man or woman has not been accepted or loved at home, when they have not found warmth and support in the family, then they will look for the possibility of affirmation anywhere. Sometimes these are groups of peers, “crews” that can negatively affect the development of a young person. Here the adolescent, who was unusually submissive at home, will submit to the guidance of a young person without grumbling, and the one who could not adapt to the demands of discipline in the family will accept the rules of behavior in a group of peers without resistance. This happens because the person feels greater value and equality of their personality in the circle of their peers than they felt in the family.
In the sexual realm, adolescents of both sexes feel an increasing need for intimate contact with the other sex. In girls, this need is masked by a strong desire for love. This is also natural, because a woman can only sexually want a certain man, provided she loves him. The young man, on the contrary, desires sexual intercourse with a woman in general, and then approaches a certain woman first with sexual interest, and only later with love feelings.
This physiological difference between the sexes in the manifestation of their sexuality is followed by the influence of upbringing, which inhibits and suppresses female sexuality to a much greater extent than male sexuality. It is a consequence of both factors that male youth show much more lively sexual activity in adolescence than female youth. Admittedly, we do not have data on how it is with every youth, but in this regard, the data of the American sexologist A. Kinsey are interesting. He found that by the age of 20, 71% of young men in the United States had started having sex with people of the opposite sex. However, only 40% of girls by that age had sex.
In puberty, the sex drive is satisfied mainly by masturbation. In Kinsey’s material, 95% of boys and only 40% of girls masturbated by the age of fifteen. During adolescence, masturbation is gradually replaced by other forms of sexual gratification, predominantly sexual intercourse. This is because over time, the young man becomes confident in his sexual role, so he approaches girls more freely and becomes calmer and more composed in his behavior towards them.
In the phase of transition from masturbation to intercourse with a woman, i.e. from autosexuality to heterosexuality, homosexual interests often appear in male youth. They are an unconscious attempt to compromise in a situation where the masturbation of the young man is no longer satisfying, and he still does not dare to approach a woman and in contact with her he is timid, insecure and clumsy. Then the same-gender sexual activity is a temporary solution until a higher degree of maturity is reached. Adolescent homosexuality is expressed in different ways: in passionate friendship, in general physical contact and caressing, in showing each other, touching and irritating the genitals.
If a young man’s psychosexual development progresses in a normal way, then such same-sex activity, as well as masturbation, is only a transient phenomenon that disappears and does not leave a deeper mark on the person. But if a boy entered puberty as a distinctly neurotic or psychopathic person, or at that time his character began to deform, then even his psychosexual development cannot go the normal way. In this case, there is a likelihood that masturbation or homosexuality will be fixed and remain the main or even exclusive sexual activity. As much as it is natural for a young man to dwell on lower forms of sexual activity for some time, it is normal for a mature man to abandon them and strive for more perfect forms that can provide the greatest sexual pleasure, and that is sexual intercourse combined with eroticism.
The transition from autosexuality to heterosexuality occurs in girls in essentially the same way as in boys, only in other forms of behavior. The girl is initially insecure in creating a relationship with the male sex. Her sexuality is generally calmer, quieter and more discreet than that of a young man, so even her sexual insecurity and difficulty in heterosexual adaptation is not manifested in such a striking way as in a man. In the beginning, there is a pronounced shyness and timidity in front of young men or a repulsive attitude towards them. Sometimes there is a tendency to imitate male behavior or a coquettish and complacent demeanor. These are all signs of insecurity of girls in their sexual role. They suit puberty and adolescence, but are worried in adulthood because they eloquently say that they did not reach an emotional maturity that would suit their age, but it has turned into neurotic behavior.
During adolescence, girls sometimes have homosexual interests, but they are usually more discreet than boys. These are mostly passionate friendships, accompanied by general bodily touch and caressing. Such connections are created between girlfriends, but also between a girl and an adult woman. In the development of her sexuality, the girl focuses more and more on the male sex with her feelings, and at the same time, the sexual urge becomes more specific. There is an increasing merging of feelings of love with sexual desires and maternal aspirations into the whole of mature female sexuality, which allows a young woman to get along with a man with full pleasure.
There is no specific period when a man becomes capable of sexual love. Although the ability to love sometimes appears as early as puberty, it is not yet complete. Pubertal love cannot have the depth, strength, and perseverance that the love of an emotionally mature person has. It is therefore natural that young people of both sexes, even in adolescence, are often fickle in their love. It is characteristic of adolescents every hour to meet with a different person, even with multiple partners at the same time; they fall in love very easily, but also cool down very quickly. It is only in further development that their love feelings are fixed only on one person of the opposite sex and remain permanent. That is why permanence cannot be counted on in youthful love and sexual relations. Adolescents need a certain “wandering” in their sex life to find a partner who will suit them perfectly and become their spouse. In the years of adolescence, a person still does not have enough general life experience, nor do they know people enough, nor do they understand themselves enough yet, so that they can immediately notice a person of the opposite sex who will completely satisfy them. Therefore, it is wrong for adolescents to be blamed in instability in love relationships or to force them to turn a youthful relationship into a marriage.
For both boys and girls, the first “big” love is sometimes a fully grown or older person. It is usually the last remnant of sexual insecurity that drives adolescents to bond with a partner from whom they can expect some maternal or paternal indulgence, a protective attitude, and discernment for weaknesses and shortcomings. It is also the last reflection of a young person’s psychological dependence on their parents’ house because in a much older partner they unconsciously experience their parent of the opposite sex. Often only such sexual intercourse, which is usually transient, allows young people to later fully adapt sexually to an equal partner.
The cause of the problem in the behavior of the youth should be sought in the conflict between the young and the old generation. Above all, the young person should be surrounded by sympathy, warmth, friendly benevolence and full understanding for all their problems. Their outbursts and misdeeds should be reacted to calmly, and not engaged in a struggle for supremacy. When they complain about something, the educator should not show that he has been violated in his educational dignity. Rather, let them shed light on the adolescent’s error from an objective point of view, taking into account first and foremost their benefit and life interests. If they are not satisfied with the young person’s rule, they should not be punished or insulted at random, but rather look for the causes of their imbalance and try to help them get rid of them.
Young people should be recognized for their value, they must feel that they are considered equal, that they are allowed freedom of personality, but that they are also expected to feel responsible for their behavior. Only when they feel responsible can they really be equal. The young person needs to get used to the right discipline which is the result of the inner need of the personality. The feeling that they are valued and accepted will provoke in the adolescent the need to return to the adult environment with the same measure, i.e. to respect it, to be loyal to it and to love it. Mutual respect is the basis for constructive cooperation among people; it is also the secret of success in the attitude of educators towards the youth.
One of the most important tasks of the environment towards young people is a natural, real and open attitude towards sexuality. Educators must avoid, or at least minimize, all mistakes in sex education. The task of positive sex education is to develop young people’s attitude towards sexuality, provide them with knowledge about sexual functions, prepare them for the right choice of spouse, for family life and raising children, to acquaint them with all issues of marriage as a social institution; to teach them healthy behavior in sexual life, to train them to successfully adapt to the opposite sex and, finally, to develop a sense of social responsibility in sexual life.