Adolescence is commonly defined as the interval between the onset of puberty and the transition to adult roles (Steinberg et al., in press). The temporal borders of this developmental period are not precise. At the lower boundary, the onset of puberty involves a series of overlapping physiological changes, including a rise in hormones, the onset of menstruation for females, and the maturation of the ovaries or gonads. These changes may begin as early as ages 6 to 8 and may not end until ages 15 to 17 (McClintock and Herdt 1996). However, on average, menstruation begins at approximately 12–13 years of age in industrialized nations and later in nations plagued with malnutrition and disease (Eveleth and Tanner 1990; Herman-Giddens et al. 1997). The age at which youths reach the upper boundary of adolescence and take on adult’s roles, such as self-supporter, spouse, and parent, also varies considerably across people and cultures.
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In this article, we adopt the conventional view that adolescence is roughly synonymous with teenager, or ages 13–19. Note, however, those studies indicate that the period of adolescence has lengthened in the United States. In particular, many scholars argue that adolescence begins at approximately age 10 and does not end until the early 20s. Research shows that boys and girls report feeling sexually attracted to others at around age 10, an age that corresponds to maturation of the adrenal glands in many children. Most youths manage the transition to adulthood successfully, but adolescence is undoubtedly a period of heightened susceptibility to many disorders. Many behavioral and emotional problems, such as substance abuse and eating disorders, are rarely observed before adolescence. Others, such as major depression or bipolar illness, increase in prevalence in adolescence.
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