The adolescent period is commonly considered to be paradoxical due to the cognitive changes that young people undergo during this period. Hence, this age is notable for the development of formal cognitive operations that allow adolescents to construct the so-called “contrary to fact” propositions (Coleman, 2011, p. 41). The appearance of the new cognitive option prompts young people to come up with an alternative hypothesis in opposition to any thesis even if this hypothesis does not express their true opinion. As a result, their statements often appear paradoxical and contradicting.
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Akhtar (2011) likewise notes that the paradox of adolescence is determined by the onset of puberty that brings together the contradicting elements of young individuals. The paradoxical character of adolescence might be explained by the acute need for adaptation that young people tend to experience at this age. Thus, both biological and psychological changes that their organisms undergo make them change their behavior patterns and reshape their response to the environment. As a rule, the adaptation does not flow smoothly which is why adolescents experience many difficulties in their social relationships, and their general conduct appears to be paradoxical.
The adolescent period is likewise notable for an increased emotionality. Aggarwal (2002) explains this phenomenon by the fact that young people have to adjust to the new social roles they play at home and school, while their parents often ignore the effort and continue to follow the common behavior pattern. This indifference to the crucial changes that a young personality undergoes meets a highly negative emotional response that often contains aggressive implications.
As a result, adolescents have been characterized as incapable of self-control for a long time. In the meantime, this view on the problem has been gradually changing so that modern psychologists warn against labeling adolescence with a judgmental assessment like stressful and nervous. Thus, for instance, Martin, Volkmar, and Lewis (2007) point out that even though stress is particularly intensive during the adolescent period, its extent differs significantly depending on the environment, cultural background, and social relations.
The authors note that this approach to the interpretation of the adolescents’ psychology is too biased as it focuses on the negative aspects of adolescents’ behavior patterns. Therefore, it would be more accurate to characterize this period as heightened mood shifts that comprise a wide array of varied emotions both positive and negative.
Therefore, the analysis of the essentials of adolescent brain development is the major clue to understanding the paradox associated with this stage. Hence, for instance, Wright and Kutcher (2016) refer to the “rise and fall pattern of change in grey matter volume” (p. 25). According to the authors, the instability of the neurons composing the grey matter is the key trigger of the mood shifts and excessive emotionality that adolescents are exposed to during this development period.
Another peculiarity of adolescent brain development that provides some insights into their behavior patterns is the abnormal increase in the white matter volumes and the so-called “neuron pruning” – both processes result in the reduced capacity to control emotions and resist the mood shifts (Wright & Kutcher, 2016, p. 27). These few examples of adolescent brain development illustrate the extent of the impact this process has on behavioral and emotional spheres. As a result, the examination of brain development offers an alternative approach to understanding adolescents.
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Aggarwal, J. C. (2002). Essentials of educational psychology. New Delhi, India: Vikas Publishing House.
Akhtar, M. (2011). Play and playfulness: developmental, cultural, and clinical aspects. Plymouth, England: Jason Aronson.
Coleman, J. C. (2011). The nature of adolescence. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.
Martin, A., Volkmar, F. R., & Lewis, M. (2007). Lewis’s child and adolescent psychiatry: A comprehensive textbook. New York, NY: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Wright, L., & Kutcher, S. (2016). Adolescent brain development. New York, NY: Biota Publishing.