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Early Adolescence

Early adolescence is heralded by the abrupt and rapid changes in growth and development due to puberty. Although this classically is thought to occur between the ages of 11-13, we recognize that in the Caribbean, young people at even age 9 can commence pubertal development; and also the accompanying holistic changes of adolescent development. As a result of their changing bodies, early adolescents become self-conscious and will begin experimenting with style and personal expression.

Another hallmark of early adolescence, is the onset of peer influence. For the first time,

young people will preferentially opt to spend time with friends and not family. This often leads to parental anguish and conflict, particularly given Caribbean parental styles. From the psychological perspective, early adolescents or “tweens” are concrete thinkers. This means that they cognition processes information in very ‘here and now’ or black and white terms. They often lack the ability to correlate the possible future result of a present action. This rigidity can be confused of insolence and yields yet another source of parental struggle. Of prime significance is recognizing the vulnerability of early adolescence to ridicule and perceived persecution.

During early adolescence, self-esteem is particularly fragile as young people contend with multiple changes coupled with emotional turbulence and insecurity. In the Caribbean, this stage also coincides with transitions from primary to secondary education, often through high-pressure, and high-stakes examinations. As such, it is a stage when body image concerns, disordered eating, self-injurious behaviour or aggression may manifest in response to inner turmoil and poor self-concept. Understanding early adolescent

development, and it stages, equips parents, educators and the wider community to support young people in the most appropriate ways, towards enhancing their overall trajectory.

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