( By Dr. Vithal Prabhu )

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‘Adolescence’ is the French word derived, from ‘adolescere’, which means growing up. It is the age group of 10 to 19 years. Since every individual is different and develops in his/her unique way, it is difficult to fix a particular age group. The bridge between the childhood and the adulthood is adolescence. The beginning of adolescence is known as ‘puberty.’ It is marked by menarche (first menstruation) in girls, which generally occurs between the age of 11 and 13 years; and by first nocturnal emission (wet dream) in boys, which generally occurs between the age of 12 and 14 years. The period of growing up is of about 4 years. Girls become mature at an early age than boys. There are physical as well as psychological changes. The physical changes precede psychological changes.

In some, the puberty may be delayed upto 16 years and in some it may be as early as at 10 years. Physical Changes (Secondary Sexual Characteristics) The physical changes in girls at puberty other than menarche are development of breasts, pubic hair, hair in the armpits, pimples on the face, appearance of vaginal secretions, functioning of sex glands, increase in height, broadening and rounding of hips and getting an attractive look.<> The physical changes in boys other than wet dreams are development of hair on face, in armpit and on pubis, change of voice, development of Adam’s apple in the neck, pimples on the face, painful swellings in the breasts, enlargement of penis and functioning of sex glands. The height increases, the body looks muscular and the shoulders broaden. Pattern of Sexual Maturation Age in Boys Girls Years 11 – Pubic hair appears Budding of breasts 12 Pubic hair appears Growth of sex organs. 13 Growth of testes, Hair in the armpits, penis and sex glands menarche (first men- struation). 14 Wet dreams, hair in – armpits, change of voice 15 – Pimples 16 pimples End of bony growth. 17 End of bony growth.

Psychological Changes Adolescence is a period of psychological and emotional upheaval. Adolescents feel concerned about how they look and might spend hours in front of the mirror, caring for outward appearance. There is a need to be attractive and to dress like others of their age group. They like to spend more and more time with the friends of their age and of their own sex. Their conversation on phone may go unending. As they grow they may want to make friendship with the person of opposite sex. They like to fall in love. They become moody, at times elated and at times depressed, and have a feeling that nobody cares for them. They want to have freedom. They may become rebellious and be argumentative with their parents.

At times there is confusion of thoughts. They would like to be left alone. Sometimes, they become very sociable. They feel that their parents are not treating them like adults and hence the parents do not take their opinion into consideration. They take more interest in novels, films or music and dance. They like to fantacise. They become irresponsible and stubborn. Parents get disgusted. They think only of today, lack in maturity and farsighted thinking. Though both boys and girls are attracted towards each other, the boys are interested in having sex, while the girls desire love and romance. The expectations of boys and girls differ during the phase of attraction. Boys try for sexual satisfaction and girls long for tenderness and attention. However, each assumes that the other feels as he or she does. Boys have much more sex drive than girls and they seek an outlet through masturbation (manual stimulation of sex organ).

Among girls, masturbation is not so common. During the teen years girls find satisfaction in romantic dreams and fantasies rather than in masturbation. Though parents get depressed and worried about the future of such misbehaved, disobedient adolescents, in reality the situation is not hopeless. These behaviours are transient. As the age advances, the same adolescents change into ideal citizens. The parents forget that they too had behaved the same way during their adolescence.

There are several plus points in the adolescents. There is a lot of creativity amongst them. They are honest and sincere. They love their society and country. They are always hopeful. They may strive hard for bringing about social changes and may fight against injustice. They devote hemselves for a good cause. Their physical health remains at its best. They have the ability to get adjusted to the changing circumstances. They are jovial and like humour. They undertake activites that need daring. Many who sacrificed their life for freedom of our country, were young adolescents. They are our hopes of tomorrow. Adolescents too have their own doubts, myths, misconceptions and problems. Many of them require information, counselling, guidance and assurance. Boys and girls who attain maturity much earlier or much later than others in their class are singled out. They may be subjected to ridicule and may suffer deeply. They need to be assured that this is a natural variation. Some boys develop a feeling of guilt and shame about masturbation and wet dreams, though they cannot control these activities. They need to be reassured.

Menarche (first menstruation) comes as a shock to the girls who are not informed about it. Many have a feeling of becoming ‘impure’ during the menstruation. Girls get worried about the size of their breasts, if they are too small or too big. Though they feel that the breasts are one of the signs of beauty, nature has a purpose of production of milk for the nutrition of the future child. Any size of breast can produce sufficient amount of milk during the lactating period.

Whatever has been gifted by nature needs to be accepted with a sense of joy. Insecurity, fear, anger, frustration, peer pressure and drive for freedom may be the causes for the youngsters to get addicted to smoking, drugs and alcohol. This has become a global concern. We all collectively have to establish a good communication with them, supply them with the information they need, care for them, guide them and give them moral and emotional support; because they are our future.

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