Social development refers to how an individual interact with others around them. As developments occur the individual acquires various skills to enable them to communicate with others and be able to process their actions.

The adolescent phase; a period of transition when an individual is no longer a child and yet cannot be referred to as an adult is not only marked by noticeable physical changes but also has social changes (changes in how they interact) that occur at such phase. Their social development refers to the changes in how they interact with others and process their actions.


Adolescent social development processes have a shift from the limited childhood roles to the broader roles of adulthood. The transition includes: 

1. Expansion of social circles. Unlike the childhood stage where children spend most of their time with their family, adolescents extend their border beyond the family circle to accommodate others outside their family. As they resume school their networks also can include people from team sports, student organizations, jobs, and other activities. Adolescents spend less time with their families as their social circle expands because they now give more focus to their peers. A greater ability to form stronger relationships with other adults outside their family is also developed. Those adults most times function as mentors to them.

2. Expansion of social roles. The adolescent brain, emotion and body changes push them to involve in complex social roles. Better expression of emotions and deeper conversation are ensured by proper cognitive and emotional development. Physical development acts as pointers that adolescents are becoming adults and thus can gradually be entrusted with more responsibility. At the adolescence phase assumption of new roles may occur, for example taking up a leadership role in school, on a team, or at church; serving as a confidante; or being a romantic partner. 

3. New connection building and establishing identities: Socializing with others outside the family circle can help the adolescents maintain healthy relationships and it can also open their eyes to the various roles they can play successfully in the community. Nevertheless, adolescent need support as they take up new roles. Cooperation practices, communication, problem-solving, and decision-making skills of adolescents can be improved as they engage in role playing and imitating strategies modelled by mentors or peers. It can also help them to build up ways of guiding against peer pressure.

4. A Broad social network promotes the likelihood of adolescents to become more concerned about the feelings of others (empathy) and they also learn to appreciate the unique differences among people. Adolescents often learn to be compassionate, engage in active listening, and note nonverbal cues. However, difficulty occurs in the interpretation of body language and facial expression because of the non-fully developed prefrontal cortex. The ability for abstract thinking grows as the prefrontal cortex develops and the adolescent will be able to deeply empathize more with others. 


Young people feeling of connectedness to their family, home and school lessen their likelihood of becoming involved in health risky activities. Therefore, strong parental warmth with positive communication can go a long way in shaping adolescence to establish personal values and there by foster healthy life decisions.

As parents, be interested in your child’s activities. This creates an avenue to effectively monitor your child’s attitude in a positive manner. Parents who create standard, boundaries and high expectations, in conjunction with their children, may discover that their children’s capacity to live up to those standards and expectations grow.

MD et al. Protecting adolescents from harm: findings from the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health. JAMA 1997; 278:823-32.

Rice, P. and Dolgin, K. Adolescents in Theoretical Context from The Adolescent: Development, Relationships and Culture, 10th edition. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. 2002.

Steinberg L. We know some things: parent-adolescent relationships in retrospect and prospect. Journal of Research in Adolescence 2001; 11:1-19.


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