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The impact of developmental change

In this video Donna Pendergast talks about the impact of developmental change on adolescent social and emotional wellbeing.
As young people enter early adolescence, they’re learning how to manage more complex relationships and experiencing increasing demands at school. At the same time, they’re also trying to navigate new and intense emotions. Changes in brain structure and increased hormone activity can make even minor social difficulties like peer rejection extremely painful and hard to deal with. These biological changes also create a more intense thrill from risky behaviour, especially when it may win peers’ admiration. Young adolescents also pay more attention to social cues that signal possible threats to their personal status or respect. The development of social and emotional skills is not only important for individuals, but also for families, communities, and for society as a whole.
Research shows that young people with poor social and emotional skills may experience increased incidences of substance abuse, demonstrate anti-social behaviour, and have relationship problems, such as bullying or being bullied, or not easily making and maintaining friends. They also experience difficulties in finding and maintaining employment. The personal and social costs can be very high. Social and emotional skills such as speaking, listening, perseverance, empathy, mindfulness, courage, and leadership, are all important personal skills that are necessary to be able to connect and meet the challenges of life. These skills are the glue that bind us together. Having strong social and emotional skills helps young people adapt to change and to be resilient.
They can be resourceful and find innovative and creative solutions to problems, and know how to show respect and work well with others. Having strong social and emotional skills also means being able to make reasoned decisions and to take personal responsibility for actions and choices. We know that preparing students with technical skills or academic skills alone will not be enough for them to achieve success and to have a sense of wellbeing in their future lives.

Biological changes such as changes in brain structure and increased hormone activity impact on adolescents’ thinking and behaviour.

Impacting adult life

There is a large and growing amount of research that clearly shows links between social and emotional competencies in children and young adolescents as being predictors of adult outcomes. Well-developed social and emotional skills can be a positive predictor of success in a range of areas in adult life, however, the inverse is also true.

Being aware of the complex changes during adolescence, we can better understand and capitalise on this impressionable period and support young people during this stage of development. Substantial lifelong benefits are possible if we are able to enhance the development of young adolescents’ social and emotional skills. In particular, skill sets that promote self-control and self-regulation, as well as social skills and emotional wellbeing can have positive effects in their adult life.1

Self-control and self-regulation

Self-control and self-regulation, which are often described as externalising behaviours and conscientiousness, are associated with:

  • positive mental health and life-satisfaction and wellbeing
  • higher qualifications
  • better physical health, including reduced incidences of obesity and lower rates of smoking and drug taking
  • lower representations in criminal activity
  • lower mortality rates

Positive self-esteem

Importantly, developing a positive sense of self (self-efficacy) and self-awareness enables young people to feel in control. When young adolescents have a sense of ‘I can’, it supports educational attainment leading to:

  • career success
  • improved socio-economic status
  • positive mental health and wellbeing

Positive self-esteem is also important for outcomes such as personal life satisfaction.

Social skills and emotional wellbeing

Social skills are important to support positive relationships with family, peers and others. These relationships provide a strong support network that results in an overall sense of wellbeing and supports mental health and other health behaviours. Emotional wellbeing has been found to be a powerful predictor of mental wellbeing and socioeconomic outcomes.2

Your task

Watch the video about the impact of developmental change on adolescent social and emotional wellbeing.

Combine your new knowledge, with what you learned from Step 1.12 Emotional responses in the brain, to answer the following questions.

List some ways you can support the development of:

  1. self-control and self-regulation (the ability to regulate feelings and behaviours)
  2. self-efficacy and self-awareness (the ability to reflect and have a positive sense of self)
  3. social skills (the ability interact and communicate positively with others)

Share your answers in the comments.


  1. Steinberg L. Age of opportunity: Lessons from the new science of adolescence. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 2014. 

  2. Goodman A, Joshi H, Nasim B, Tyler C. Social and emotional skills in childhood and their long-term effects on adult life. London: Institute of Education; 2015. 

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