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Adolescence is the bridge from childhood to adulthood, a time when peers become increasingly important sources of support and influence.

Parents are still important. Teens with close relationships with their parents don’t experiment as much with drugs and risky sexual behaviors. Both peers and parents play important roles in identity formation, which is one of the most important developmental tasks for young people. Identity formation in the teen years includes ethnic and cultural identity, gender identity, sexual identity, and health, body image, and learning to handle adult responsibilities. These years are critical for a young person’s character and moral development.

Adolescent development

Adolescence is a time of rapid change and many challenges as young people transition from childhood to adulthood. It can seem like teens have one foot in childhood and one in adulthood as they navigate the changes in their bodies and minds.

Some of the normal changes going on for teens:

  • With the onset of puberty, preteens and teenagers experience rapid growth and changes in their bodies, develop sexually, and become increasingly aware of their body image
  • Teens develop their own morals, values, and self-direction; they test limits and “try on” different points of view; they develop a conscience
  • Social skills continue to develop and include romantic relationships
  • Teens have an increased awareness of self, which can include feeling self-conscious and fluctuating high or low self-esteem
  • Teens continue to develop cognitively, with increased capacity for problem solving, decision making, and abstract thinking; however, their thinking is still more impulsive than adults; for example, the mere presence of peers can encourage them to engage in risky behavior

Common misconceptions

Talking about sex and sex education gives teens ideas and leads them to experiment with sex.
Research has found that teens who do not have access to complete sexual and reproductive health information are just as likely to be sexually active as those who do. However, they are less likely to practice safe sex that will protect them from unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. On the other hand, teens whose parents talked with them about sex are more likely to delay becoming sexually active and more likely to practice safe sex when they do become sexually active.

Abstinence-only education and purity pledges help ensure that teens delay sexual activity.
There is no evidence that abstinence-only education delays teen sexual activity. One study found that teens who pledge to wait for marriage are just as likely to have premarital sex as teens who don’t, but they are less likely to practice safe sex when they do become sexually active. Moreover, abstinence-only educated teens are less likely to get treated for sexually transmitted diseases.

Everyone’s doing it.
Teens often overestimate how many of their peers are sexually experienced. This can make them feel pressured to become sexually active themselves.

More teens are having sex, at a younger age, and more are practicing oral sex.
The trend is that teenagers are waiting longer to have sex. Recent research that studied teens’ sexual practices found that they are not substituting oral sex for intercourse, and are not usually having oral sex with multiple partners.

Teen pregnancy rates are going down because of an emphasis on abstinence.
After a 38% decline in teen pregnancy rates from 1990 to 2004, recent research shows that the rate started increasing again in 2006. Even after the period of decline, the teen pregnancy rates in the United States remain much higher than in other developed countries.

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