For this period in the child’s life, the most significant changes are in the appearance and structure of the body. Pubertal changes begin in girls earlier than in boys. Therefore, in female children, puberty ends on average two years earlier than in male children. At the end of this period, young people reach almost the final height of their body.
In puberty, the body acquires not only the appearance and functional maturity of adulthood, but also many characteristics of its sex that it has not had before. In childhood, boys and girls differ from each other mainly only in the so-called primary sexual characteristics, i.e. by the structure of the genital organs. Other parts of the body carry only slight or barely perceptible characteristics of a particular sex. Only in puberty do the so-called secondary sex tags appear. It is hairiness around the genitals, triangular in women, and deltoid in men, hair in the armpits, and in boys also on the face, then breasts in girls, and stronger growth of the hips and the accumulation of larger amounts of subcutaneous fat. Young men are characterized by an enlarged larynx, which causes changes in pitch (mutation), stronger growth of the shoulder girdle bones, and generally greater massiveness of the skeleton and musculature. Therefore, boys are characterized by greater muscle strength than girls. They grow longer, so on average they achieve higher body height and higher body weight.
Along with the sudden growth of the whole body, the sexual organs also grow. Then they get the final shape and size, and at the same time begin to function in a new and much more active way than before. The gonads in both sexes secrete much more sex hormones. These things cause the germ cells to mature for fertilization. In this regard, the first menstruation occurs in girls, and the first nocturnal emission (semen spillage) in boys. These two events are considered reliable signs that puberty has begun. Sex hormones support the development of secondary sexual traits and are the cause of these traits being maintained throughout life. They also eroticize the nervous system, causing increasingly clear manifestations of the sex drive.
The first menstruation (menarche) usually occurs between the ages of 11 and 15, and most often at the age of 13 and 14. The first menstrual bleeding rarely occurs after the age of 15, and even less often before the age of 11. The term menarche depends on many factors: on the health and nutrition of the girl, on her lifestyle, and on the hygienic conditions in which she develops. Healthy, well-nourished girls, who live in healthy circumstances, usually get their first period before peers that are weak and malnourished. Therefore, menarche occurs in urban youth on average one year earlier than in rural youth. The beginning of menstruation is also influenced by constitutional, hereditary factors, so there are great individual differences between girls. This also applies to boys, i.e. to their nocturnal emission. There are many individual differences among girls in the way their first menstrual periods occur. In some, menstruation is regular, painless from the beginning and lasts an average of 5-6 days. In others, they appear very irregularly, with a break of several months, and sometimes they are accompanied by severe and prolonged bleeding or cramps in the lower abdomen.
Menstruation and nocturnal emissionare the clearest evidence that young people are ripe for reproduction. Therefore, these functions should be important topics in the sexual education of youth. By properly preparing them for changes in puberty, especially the onset of menstruation and emission, young people can be saved from many emotional upheavals related to these new developments in their body. Thus, Conklin in the United States found that only 6% of girls receive their first menstruation with joy and pride, 13% react with depression and fear, and the rest welcome this important manifestation of their femininity with considerable indifference, often with a certain disgust. The girl sometimes reacts to the first menstruation with cramping crying, vomiting or some other neurotic phenomenon. In such cases, when a girl welcomes menstruation with extremely negative emotions, there is a danger that over time, psychogenic difficulties will appear in the form of severe abdominal pain, severe headaches, dizziness, vomiting and other disorders. They can become fixed and follow a woman for many years, even far into adulthood. Such subjective problems related to menstruation are called dysmenorrhea, and they are best prevented by proper sexual education of the girl during puberty, and even before it.
Boys sometimes also experience emotional upheavals related to emission. If, in addition to this manifestation of sexuality, fear or disgust become fixed, it can happen that a young man later in life is burdened with his sexual life in terms of potency disorders. And such difficulties can be prevented by properly preparing the boy for puberty.
Some girls have an enlarged thyroid gland, so their neck thickens in the shape of a mild goiter. It is usually a transient phenomenon that occurs in connection with major changes in the work of the endocrine glands. However, it is useful for parents to consult a doctor to ensure that their daughter’s goiter does not increase too much and that it does not remain a long-term phenomenon. Goiter, in fact, disturbs the appearance of a young person, and this can have a negative impact on her mental life.
Sometimes young people suffer from pimples (acne) on the face and upper chest. It is an expression of impaired sebaceous gland function in the skin, which is also related to changes in the work of the hormonal system. Boys and girls with a more pimpled face are exposed to emotional difficulties in social contact, just when they most want to please their surroundings and experience the value and recognition of their personality. This can seriously damage a young person and make it much more difficult for them to adapt to the environment, especially to the opposite sex. That is why it is necessary for parents to take the child to a dermatologist. Careful and systematic skincare and possible regulation of the diet can prevent the appearance of pimples, or these unpleasant changes on the face can be significantly alleviated.
A sudden increase in skeleton and musculature during puberty causes a transient mismatch of the young person’s movements. This phenomenon is more common in boys than in girls. It happens that the movements become clumsy and insufficiently measured, so every moment, something falls out of the young man’s hand or he overturns an object, spills ink, soup, and because of that, he experiences a number of inconveniences. In the case of youth, this fact should be taken into account, so that educators do not scold the child for mistakes for which it is not responsible.
A change in voice can also expose a boy to unpleasant reactions from the environment. The voice becomes hoarse, ugly, squeaky. If educators are also a bit ironic towards such a child, and make jokes about him, there is a danger that the child will suffer mentally. This can make him react negatively to the environment. Therefore, the child’s difficulty in changing his voice should be ignored in a tactical way. The child should be given the opportunity to affirm himself with other abilities.
Even before puberty, the boy’s reproductive organ (penis) occasionally stiffens. But in puberty, this happens much more often. This is no longer the result of any mechanical stimuli that have nothing to do with sexuality, but is an expression of a significantly intensified and day by day stronger sexual urge. The boy is confused by these stiffenings of the penis (erection), so he is ashamed of them and tries to hide it somehow. Fear, shame, feelings of discomfort or any negative emotions related to sexuality can make it difficult to cope with sexual activity later in life. Therefore, the boy should be spared from the emotional shocks associated with erections, through sex education.
Puberty is characterized by another physiological change. It is sometimes significantly enhanced sensitivity to various sensory stimuli, especially to various sounds. This sensory hypersensitivity may partly be the reason for the increased irritability of young people and their intolerance of the environment, but it is also partly based on the increased interest of young people in music. In interpreting these phenomena, psychological factors that only mimic sensory hypersensitivity should also be taken into account,
The intellectual functions of the child go through the last phase of lively development. At the age of 16, a young man’s intelligence generally reaches the final level. After that, by the age of 21, along with a slight increase in body height, there may be some progress in intellectual abilities, but only on a smaller scale.
The basic changes in the psyche of youth that occur during puberty are related to the fact that new needs, interests and aspirations appear on the mental horizon of a young person, and in connection with that, new problems, obligations and responsibilities. Pubescents no longer want to be children, but adults. Yet the environment in most cases still treats them like children, and this offends them, provoking in them a desire to rebel against adults. The lack of understanding of this instinctive need of the youth to feel like an adult and to recognize it as such is the cause of many conflicts between the young and the old generation. Many boys and girls behave in puberty in a conspicuous, demonstrative, overbearing and impudent way, precisely because the adult environment constantly lets them know that they are still children.
They still are, there is no doubt about that, but that name should not be constantly emphasized. With a little tact, discernment, and goodwill, both parents and teachers can easily meet the pubescents’ need to feel like adults. They are not and cannot be, and they know it well somewhere in the depths of their consciousness. But that’s exactly why they don’t want to admit it, thus they are fighting frantically to at least look like adults. Therefore, it is enough that educators do not act authoritatively, do not impose their will on younger people, do not insult them, do not underestimate them and do not deprive them of the opportunity to become independent, to show their initiative, originality and personal value. If nothing is done in the upbringing of pubescents but only the components of wrong, authoritative upbringing are avoided – which should be done in the upbringing of a younger child – the young person will feel accepted as a full and equal member of the community. Then their need for adulthood will be satisfied, so it will not manifest itself in defiant behavior, which sometimes turns into antisocial outbursts.
The desire to emphasize apparent maturity, which cannot be affirmed in a healthy way because educators do not give a young person the opportunity to do so, often seeks satisfaction in the habit of smoking and consuming alcoholic beverages. Such behavior, which should be evidence of supposed adulthood or even “masculinity,” is often an expression of young people’s resistance to authoritative educators and has nothing to do with alcohol and nicotine enjoyment or any passionate need for these narcotics.
The same is true for premature sexual intercourse and reckless sexual exploits by young people. According to many pubescents, sexual life is such a privilege of adults that they deny young people the most. That is why young people are so interested in penetrating the secret of “sexual life”, which their educators so jealously guard and appropriate for themselves. Pubescents do not engage in sexual intercourse because they cannot do without it, but only because they defy prohibitions, to prove to themselves and others that they still mean something. Strong feelings of inferiority, emotional poverty and general mental insecurity are the motives that most often drive young people to have sex. But such motives do not grow in the young person by themselves, nor are they characteristic of puberty. They are the result of the wrong upbringing of the youth, from early childhood.
Because they are still immature for a full sexual life, pubescents of both sexes cannot experience the full realization of their sexuality in a sexual relationship. They are not yet capable of true love, they cannot fully reconcile with their partner, they cannot completely conquer them, so they cannot completely surrender themselves either. Therefore, their sexual relationships are often short-lived and relatively superficial, and in addition, they are often burdened with disappointment in the opposite sex and dissatisfaction with themselves. Such negative experiences about sexuality at the very beginning of their sexual career have a bad effect on the further psychosexual development of a young person. Disappointment instills in them distrust of the other sex and their own sexual abilities, and this drives them to a series of new mistakes in sexual behavior that cause them new disappointments. These again deepen their distrust, so they become more and more entangled in a vicious circle of neurotic reaction that makes them mentally ill.
Superficial and often vulgar sexual activity of immature youth can be prevented by proper sex education. In addition, a proper general upbringing of a young person is needed, from the beginning of life. If the child gradually forms into a healthy, firm and balanced personality, it will not have the need to randomly surrender to sexual life, abusing it as a means of seemingly resolving its emotional conflicts. On the contrary, it will gradually approach the realization of its sexuality, manifesting its individual components in parallel with its entire psychophysical maturation.
If the youth of both sexes normally develop mentally, aversion to the opposite sex, which is so characteristic of the prepubertal period, will turn into an increasingly lively interest in people of the opposite sex in puberty. This will manifest first in a timid and restrained, and later in an increasingly confident approach to peers of the opposite sex. Both boys and girls will increasingly want to socialize with each other. It starts with friendship, collegial relationship in school and outside, in sports and cultural activities, on trips and parties. In some cases, friendship begins to imperceptibly turn into a deeper emotional interest, sexual sympathy and love. Then, from the group of girls and boys, who have been in the same company until now, couples begin to stand out. They become lonely so that they can get to know each other better in more intimate psychic contact, get closer and express their feelings. But because of insufficient emotional maturity, such pubertal loves “remain more on the level of a desire to experience love than they really grow into true love”. That is why, even in sexual terms, they do not go beyond the timid, still insecure and superficial love game in the form of hugs, caresses and kisses.
In girls, the sexual urge at the time of puberty is still vaguely expressed, hidden, so they are not even aware of it yet. That is why a mentally healthy girl at that age does not yet show a desire for closer physical contact with a boy. Her sexuality is manifested in the need for male company, in the desire for young men to court her, to be attractive in appearance, to feel a male interest in themselves. Physical touch attracts her only insofar as it is an expression of her partner’s tenderness. At that age, the girl likes to fantasize about marriage, about a future husband whom she already imagines in a certain way, but she still does not include the desire to have sexual pleasure with him. That is why masturbation, sexual masturbation, as a typical pubertal form of sexual life, is less common in girls of those years than in boys.
Boys become aware of their sexual desires earlier. Since they are still quite clumsy in approaching the other sex and rarely dare to clearly express their sex drive in the company of a girl, in the years of puberty this is characteristic of them, the so-called psychosexual dissociation. It consists of a young man vividly imagining the tumultuous gratification of sexual desires, imagining passionate love scenes, greedily reading pornographic literature, collecting images of erotic content and inflaming his imagination with drawings of naked women, while masturbating, limiting his contact with girls to shyness, restrained and insecure “dating”. For a girl whom he “dates”, he often does not feel a strong sexual need. Such a dichotomy of sexual behavior is normal for young men of pubertal age. Only later, in the years of adolescence, will this dissociation of the physical and the mental in the young man’s consciousness give way to a more mature sexuality, which will unite the emotional interest in a certain girl and the sexual desire for her into an inseparable whole.
Masturbation is a general and regular occurrence in boys, it is an expression of the separation of the sexual urge from the emotional component of sexuality. An already clearly expressed sexual urge requires satisfaction, and the immaturity of the personality does not allow this to be achieved in a full-fledged way. That is why pubescents find a compromise in masturbation, which is certainly a less valuable form of sexual gratification than intercourse, but it is not harmful to the physical or mental health of a young man; therefore it should neither be condemned nor persecuted. It is wiser to allow young men to successfully overcome the phase of psychosexual dissociation through masturbation and enter adolescence without major emotional conflicts in the sexual area. If violently suppressed, young men in most cases continue to masturbate, but with feelings of guilt, fear, and shame. Or they give it up, but then commit violence against their own nature, so they have to spend a lot of energy on suppressing the sex drive. Both are harmful because they hinder the young man’s further psychosexual maturation, making him insecure in his own sexual role.
In their quest to be adults, independent and original, pubescents of both sexes pay close attention to what other people think of them. That is why they like to identify with various people outside the family circle, whom they consider their ideals. They are usually personalities who serve as role models for the whole group of peers among whom the young man moves. By identifying with such an idol of the group, with some film actor, sports champion or pop music star, the pubescent also identifies with the whole group. Then his sense of belonging to his peers intensifies, and this is an expression of the strong need of the pubertal psyche. Therefore, the enthusiasm of young people for any of the above-mentioned personalities should not be criticized or underestimated, because such enthusiasm is not accessible to logic, but is therefore transient in nature.
Youth in its puberty is characterized by emotional instability. At this age, young people easily change their mood. Strong self-confidence is instantly replaced by severe discouragement, or joy turns into sadness. Affective reactions in puberty are calmer and more settled than in prepubertal age, but they are still lively and tend to go to extremes. Pubescents are very sensitive, easy to plan, they are offended or cry for a small thing. They are instantly enthusiastic about something, uncritical and fanatical, but their enthusiasm also easily subsides. Their emotions, however, become deeper, richer and more diverse day by day, and thus last more.
A certain emotional imbalance of youth in puberty is mostly an expression of their life insecurity. New and strong needs appeared before the young person – to be a grown person, to become independent, to experience sexual pleasure. But at the same time, the knowledge emerges that they are not yet fully capable of all this. New values of life, interest in nature, sense of art, sense of ethics, desire for love appear in their consciousness, but the pubescent does not yet feel enough strength in themselves to accept it all and experience it in a full-fledged way. The environment imposes new obligations on them, expects them to behave differently, demands seriousness, responsibility and good adjustment to its norms. And the young person is not sure that they is capable of satisfying all that is required of them.
This conflict between desire and possibility, between obligations, is a source of emotional difficulties in puberty, which will continue in adolescence. So it should come as no surprise that pubescents occasionally become sullen, depressed, and distrustful. Then they withdraw into themselves, become lonely, flee into imagination, trying to experience at least in the imagination the realization of all that they expect of themselves and what others expect of them. Retreating into themselves, young people discuss their attitudes towards life, analyze their past, fantasize about the future, build their life philosophy, take a certain attitude towards the environment. At the same time, their attitudes are extreme, because their evaluation of life phenomena is colored in black and white. Everything they see around them and in themselves they receive with enthusiasm and love or with utter disgust and hatred. There is still no tolerance or ability to compromise in their life philosophy. The consequence of building your inner world is a strong tendency to read, an interest in romance and running away from everything everyday, including school. Therefore, a certain indulgence in school success is a normal occurrence in puberty. It is more understandable if school curricula are markedly at odds with the natural interests and emotional needs of pubescents.
During puberty, children carefully observe their body, vigilantly monitor all changes in it and compare them with analogous phenomena in their peers. Therefore, the individual differences among children from when someone shows signs of physical maturity can significantly affect their mental life. A certain lag behind peers can cause both sexes to feel their own immaturity, inferiority and inability to keep up with other young people of the same age. Such an emotional reaction to the process of puberty maturity is manifested in the behavior of a young person. They try to stand out in any way possible, to draw attention to themselves, and they often do so in a negative way – with insolence, aggression, vulgar behavior, making excessive jokes – because they do not have enough self-confidence to compensate for their sense of inferiority in a constructive way.
Examinations by Jones H. E. have shown that such children are often restless, undisciplined, very chatty, do not understand a joke, are easily offended or withdraw into themselves. They sometimes have objective reasons for such behavior, because their peers often neglect them, underestimate them, do not recognize their leadership in the group, do not consider them equal to themselves. When educators notice that puberty occurs slowly and late in a child, they need to be especially careful in their upbringing. This means that such a child should be maximally encouraged, giving it as many different opportunities to affirm itself in a positive way, and point out to it the insignificance of individual differences in the time and intensity of pubertal changes in the body.
A marked ambivalence occurs towards parents and teachers. This means that young people want good emotional contact with their educators, they want their friendship and friendly attitude towards themselves. But at the same time they resist their influence, they no longer recognize them as the supreme authority, they do not want to be with their parents in the company of their peers, they are ashamed, fearing that their comrades will still consider them children. At that age, children carefully analyze their educators, take an interest in their intimate life, value them, and do so in black and white. In doing so, they justify their loyalty and obedience, but also their defiance of them.
The ambivalence of young people in relation to the adult environment contributes to the instability of their emotional life. When the need for tenderness and emotional warmth prevails, pubescents are attentive, affectionate, and sentimental towards their parents. But that doesn’t stop them from being rude, and rude and defiant a little later. At that moment, they gladly reject all the rules of cultural behavior, ignore house rules, and behave ruthlessly and rashly. If a strict regime in the family prevents them from expressing their defiance there, they will probably show it on the street, among their peers, or at school. This is the reason why teachers so often complain about the “impossible” behavior of young people in puberty.
Teachers sometimes cannot understand why excellent students suddenly start to get poorer grades and are negligent in their learning, much like their less ambitious peers. This is where the process of identifying a young person with a group of peers among whom they move, works. If the whole group is relatively poorly interested in school, and contemptuously calls more diligent learning “nerdship”, it is very likely that the current excellent students will give in to their ambition so as to not offend the group. In puberty, the solidarity of individuals with the group increases, so other people’s outbursts are silenced, other people’s guilt is concealed and teachers find it very difficult to find a ringleader of children’s mischief. They usually turn out funny when they persistently conduct an investigation, and the class reacts collectively and ignores the teacher’s threats.
It should be understood that such behavior of pubescents is normal and essentially positive, even when they hide some inconsistency with their solidarity. Identification with the group is a natural process in a young person. It is an expression of the young person’s intensified aspiration towards socialization, so it cannot contain anything negative. On the contrary, the fact that someone stands out from the group of average peers, that they act against their interests, is a sign that this individual is not developing into a healthy, socially positive personality. Teachers should not rely on such students nor should they support them against the class collective. It would be more useful for their authority to respect the solidarity of the student group, to ignore “traitors” and to abandon any investigations and administrative penalties that are usually pedagogically completely wrong.
Puberty is a time of great “discoveries.” Children discover themselves, their individuality, their intimate needs. In puberty, the other sex is discovered, new role models are found, new life values. In this series of “discoveries” a school subject, a scientific discipline, a sport or a form of artistic expression sometimes appears. Educators should support the new interests of pubescents, to provide them with value, regardless of whether they are in line with the life views of the older generation. By approving what the pubescent is interested in and directing their interest to as constructive a track as possible, but without authority and violence, educators can do much to mitigate or completely prevent defiant reactions from youth. And thus, they will enable themselves to further manage the mental development of young people.