You are here

Adolescence & Puberty

Adolescence is a critical time in a person's life. Young people experience physical, cognitive, emotional, and social changes during adolescence (ages 13-24). They explore and further develop their identities as individuals, within communities and the greater society, and related to their sexuality.

Role of Community in Healthy Adolescent Development

People working with adolescents, including parents, community members, and peers, play important roles in supporting healthy development and preparing them to lead healthy adult lifestyles. This often means helping young people navigate the complex changes they are experiencing. Adolescents need medically accurate health education to learn about:

People working with adolescents, parents, and community members can also support healthy development by engaging youth and providing opportunities for young people to be volunteers and employees in their schools, organizations, and communities.

Applying Life Course Approach to Adolescent Development

According to the Maternal and Child Health Bureau, understanding and applying a life course approach to adolescent health will promote healthy development across adolescents' lives, promote health equity across communities and populations, and, ultimately, improve healthy development across generations. HIV prevention programs can apply life course theory approaches by:

  • Screening program participants for adverse childhood experiences (e.g., economic hardship, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse). This allows programs to tailor activities and services and better meet the needs of the young people they serve.
  • Supporting healthy adolescent sexual health behaviors (such as condom use) to enhance present and future health habits and reduce HIV risk across a young person's life.
  • Partnering with other organizations in your community to address the family, peer, community, societal, and cultural factors that affect adolescent health. Education, safe and supportive families and schools, and access to education and sexual health care are examples of factors influencing adolescent health.
  • Collaborating and building partnerships with other youth-serving organizations (for example, teen-friendly sexual health clinics) to ensure adolescents are supported throughout the community.
Testimonial Headshot
We want to make sure that young people are educated across the board and have that knowledge."

Cicely - Atlanta, GA


Puberty is the stage of adolescence during which an individual becomes physiologically capable of sexual reproduction. In addition to gaining the ability to reproduce, adolescents develop physically, cognitively, emotionally, and socially. Many of these changes are related to the still-developing prefrontal cortex of the brain that is related to planning, behavior, and social interactions. All of these changes influence young people's relationships and sexual behaviors.

Biological sex is a person's anatomy as female, male, or intersex (having characteristics not exclusive to either sex). Biological sex is established at conception (when an egg is fertilized by a sperm). Usually, males ejaculate two types of sperm, one with X chromosomes and the other with Y chromosomes. When the sperm fertilizes an egg, the X or Y chromosome combines with the X chromosome of the egg.

  • Biologically female people have XX chromosomes and female sex and reproductive organs. During puberty, females will produce hormones that cause breast growth, menstruation to begin, and other female characteristics to emerge.
  • Biologically male people have XY chromosomes and male sex and reproductive organs. During puberty, males will produce hormones that cause sperm production and other male characteristics to develop.
  • Intersex people have sex chromosomes other than female (XX) or male (XY). They may have sex and/or reproductive organs that are not completely female or male.

Youth HIV Facts

In 2014, 50% of health education programs taught students how to get condoms. Only 35% taught how to use them.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Toolkit Resource

This Adolescent Health Initiative Spark training on adolescent brain development contains presentation slides and activities for both youth-serving organizations and health centers.

Page last updated: April 2018