In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Adolescence

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Sleep
  • Affect and Emotion
  • Autonomy
  • Contexts of Adolescent Development
  • Religion and Spirituality
  • Work
  • Leisure Time
  • Mass Media
  • Problem Behaviors
  • Obesity, Dieting, and Eating Disorders
  • Positive Youth Development
  • Driving
  • Emerging Adulthood

Psychology Adolescence
Robert D. Laird
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 November 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0008


Adolescence is the developmental period occurring between childhood and adulthood. Although no standard definition of adolescence exists, due largely to the lack of a clear demarcation between adolescence and adulthood, adolescence is often considered to be the second decade of life or the period between puberty and legal adulthood. Adolescence is a transitional period marked by substantial changes in physical maturation, cognitive abilities, and social interactions. Physical maturation most clearly distinguishes adolescence from childhood. Pubertal development is the hallmark of early adolescence and combines rapid physical growth with the maturation of the reproductive system. Many of the developmental challenges initiated during childhood, such as becoming autonomous, establishing an identity, and forming and maintaining relationships with others continue into adolescence but earlier progress on these challenges can be transformed by adolescents’ newly obtained physical and cognitive abilities. Although the popular characterization of adolescence as a troublesome time caused by raging hormones is not an accurate characterization of the experience of most adolescents, rates of involvement in many antisocial and risk-taking behaviors increase during adolescence and peak in late adolescence or early adulthood. The extended educational period that is common in modern society has raised questions about whether adolescence has been lengthened or whether a new developmental period has emerged between adolescence and adulthood.

General Overviews

Several comprehensive overviews of adolescence are available. Most are written primarily for researchers and advanced students. A two-volume set, Lerner and Steinberg 2009 provides the most comprehensive coverage of adolescent development. Adams and Berzonsky 2003 presents research on topics and areas traditionally viewed as important for adolescent development. The five chapters on adolescence in Weiner, et al. 2012 provide a more condensed treatment of adolescence. Feldman and Elliott 1990 summarizes much of the early research on adolescent development in chapters that are more accessible to undergraduate students and nonacademics. Rather than attempting to provide a comprehensive review, Steinberg and Morris 2001 emphasizes new research findings on traditionally studied topics and newly emerging topics in the study of adolescence. Spear 2010 treats neuroscience and links between neuroscience and adolescent behavior in a very accessible manner. Smetana, et al. 2006 focuses a bit more narrowly, emphasizing a range of interpersonal and societal contexts that have been studied due to their relevance for adolescent development. Finally, Steinberg and Lerner 2004 discusses the history of research on adolescence in noting changing themes and a shift toward using research to inform public policy.

  • Adams, Gerald R., and Michael D. Berzonsky, eds. 2003. Blackwell handbook of adolescence. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

    This edited volume includes chapters by leading researchers covering topics traditionally viewed as important for adolescent development.

  • Feldman, S. Shirley, and Glen R. Elliott, eds. 1990. At the threshold: The developing adolescent. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

    This edited volume summarizes much of the early research on adolescence in chapters that are more accessible than those in most of the other comprehensive works.

  • Lerner, Richard M., and Laurence Steinberg, eds. 2009. Handbook of adolescent psychology. 3d ed. 2 vols. New York: Wiley.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470479193

    This comprehensive two-volume edited work includes chapters by leading adolescence researchers across a broad range of topics emphasizing cutting-edge research developments. Each edition of the handbook is independent of the others and the three editions show a substantial broadening of the scope of research on adolescence.

  • Smetana, Judith G., Nicole Campione-Barr, and Aaron Metzger. 2006. Adolescent development in interpersonal and societal contexts. Annual Review of Psychology 57:255–284.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.psych.57.102904.190124

    This review focuses on interpersonal and social contexts, including adolescents’ family, peer, and community relationships and interactions.

  • Spear, Linda. 2010. The behavioral neuroscience of adolescence. New York: Norton.

    This book considers many of the major themes of adolescence from the perspective of a behavioral neuroscientist. The first half of the book describes the major biological developments during adolescence, emphasizing puberty and brain development, while the second half of the book discusses connections to cognitive skills, risk-taking, emotion, social behavior, and problems.

  • Steinberg, Laurence, and Richard M. Lerner. 2004. The scientific study of adolescence: A brief history. Journal of Early Adolescence 24:45–54.

    DOI: 10.1177/0272431603260879

    This article provides a historical review of research on adolescence denoting three phases characterized by different research themes and practices.

  • Steinberg, Laurence, and Amanda Sheffield Morris. 2001. Adolescent development. Annual Review of Psychology 52:83–110.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.psych.52.1.83

    This review covers the major topics of study in the 1990s and notes emerging directions.

  • Weiner, Irving B., Richard M. Lerner, M. Ann Easterbrooks, and Jayanthi Mistry, eds. 2012. Handbook of psychology. Vol. 6, Developmental psychology. 2d ed. New York: Wiley.

    This comprehensive volume on developmental psychology features five broad chapters written by leading adolescence researchers.

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