identity issues, concern over heterosexual relationships, and capacity for abstract cognitive activity (see Brown, 1990; Eccles et al., 1998; Harter, 1990; Keating, 1990; Simmons and Blyth, 1987). Simmons and Blyth (1987) argue that young adolescents need safe, intellectually challenging environments to adapt to these shifts. In light of these needs, the environmental changes associated with the transition to junior high school seem especially harmful, in that they emphasize competition, social comparison, and ability self-assessment at a time of heightened self-focus; they decrease decision making and choice at a time when the desire for control is growing; they emphasize lower-level cognitive strategies at a time when the ability to use higher-level strategies is increasing; and they disrupt social networks at a time when adolescents are especially concerned with peer relationships and may be in special need of close adult relationships outside the home. Consequently, the nature of these environmental changes, coupled with the normal course of individual development, is likely to result in a poor fit between early adolescents and their classroom environment, increasing the risk of negative motivational outcomes, especially for low-achieving adolescents.
Youth-serving organizations can use this information to design more developmentally appropriate activities and settings for early adolescents. By so doing they may be able to counteract the experiences in many schools that undermine early adolescents’ academic motivation and school engagement, through activities such as tutoring younger children and having a real voice in program decision making.
In this chapter, we have provided a general overview of adolescent development and summarized the major changes associated with adolescent development. We stressed the fact that adolescence itself is not a static stage of life. Early adolescents (between ages 10 and 14) are much different from older adolescents (between ages 15 and 18). In many ways, early adolescence is likely to be the most stressful. It is during this period that youth are dealing with the most dramatic changes on all levels—from the biological changes associated with puberty to the social changes linked to the onset of roles and norms linked to adolescent culture. Many also have to deal with major transitions at school. During this period we see the most dramatic increases in problematic behaviors and decreases in school engagement, the most evidence of family conflict, and the most evidence of negative peer influences. By middle ado-