Adolescence is the developmental phase or period that takes place in all individuals between childhood and adulthood. Adolescence may appear to begin at different times and occur at different rates for different individuals. It is important to note that ‘unseen’ changes, such as psychological and cognitive changes may happen before physical changes so it is difficult to know exactly when a child enters adolescence. Therefore, all young people between the ages of 10 and 19 are considered adolescents.
Adolescence represents one of the critical transitions in the life span and is characterised by a tremendous pace in growth and change including physical and sexual maturation, movement toward social and economic independence, development of identity, the acquisition of skills needed to carry out adult relationships and roles, and the capacity for abstract reasoning. Many types of behaviours that adolescents acquire early on during this process will last a lifetime, and will affect their own health and well-being and that of their future children.26
As adolescent girls transition from childhood to adulthood, they experience rapid physical and psychosocial changes. They acquire new experiences, develop new capacities and face many new situations and challenges. It is also a time of behavioural experimentation and risk-taking, when young people want to try new things. At the same time these adolescents may not yet have the critical thinking and decision making skills that help them to make safe decisions. Therefore, this period of rapid development is a time of increased risk but also a time of great learning that prepares them for how they will live their future lives as men and women in society.
Research shows that in many countries there are increasing rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV among young people in addition to high numbers of unwanted pregnancies among girls. Therefore, as practitioners and educators, we must ensure that adolescent girls have access to accurate information and the assistance they need to make informed choices about a wide range of issues, including their SRHR. Supporting those adolescents and young people requires investment, commitment and creativity. But it brings significant results. The changes multiply beyond the individual to benefit a community and, in turn, a country’s society, health system, economics and stability.