The physical, social and emotional characteristics of high school students are often stereotyped in the media, but are these stereotypes accurate? Like all generalisation, they don't apply to every single teenager, but they are certainly based in truth. The familiar picture of the tortured, rebellious or awkward high-schooler may be an exaggeration, but it has identifiable roots in the changes that happen in a late adolescent's body and brain. So why do teenagers lock their doors and talk on their phones all night? It's all in response to their physiological transitions into adulthood.
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Although some areas of the brain continue to develop all through the teenage years, a high school student's body may appear to be fully mature. Girls in particular are likely to reach full sexual maturity by age 17, while some boys don't finish puberty until after high school. Depending on the students' stages of puberty, the physical characteristics of high school students often include acne, growth spurts, adult hair growth, voice register changes for boys and the beginnings of menstruation for girls.
High school students tend to prefer the company of their friends to that of their families. Teens are in the process of figuring out who they are as individuals, and this is a step in that process. One social characteristic of high school students is that they often take their behavioural cues from their peers; they may judge anyone who doesn't follow their peer set's rules as socially incompetent. This is the social phenomenon that leads to cliques and the teenager's desperate need to fit in. Along with their maturing bodies, high school students also have maturing sexual identities, and they may begin to experiment with sexual activity.
All the changes happening in the teenage body and brain can be an emotional strain on high school students. They feel awkward in their bodies, self-conscious about their appearance and misunderstood. It is emotionally characteristic for high school students to be highly preoccupied with what other people think of them, because their brains are developing the ability for meta-cognition, or thinking about thinking. This ability allows them to understand on a new level that other people may be judging them.
The common effects of these physical, social and emotional characteristics on high school students have become stereotypical -- the clique of judgemental girls, the rebellious teenager looking to assert his autonomy, the awkward courtships between people who are just discovering their sexual identities. The familiar image of the depressed, self-mutilating high schoolers or the teenage girls with eating disorders are also based in these characteristics, and, indeed, these are real problems that teenagers often face. Their newly found self-awareness can make high school students' lives much more complicated than they were in middle school.
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