ADOLESCENT HIV TESTING, COUNSELLING AND CARE
Implementation guidance for health providers and planners

How are adolescents different?

Health providers responsible for planning and delivering HIV services for adolescents need to understand the changes that take place during this period of life. Adolescence is marked by rapid physical, intellectual and emotional growth. Adolescents' bodies develop in size, strength and reproductive capability. Their minds become capable of more abstract thinking, and they develop more emotional control. Adolescents' social worlds expand beyond their families to include peers, other respected adults in the community and adult celebrities (e.g. in sports, music, film and television) who may become important role models.

It is important to keep in mind that there is significant variation in the timing of developmental milestones and in the timing and degree of changes in rates of growth during adolescence. This means that there can be great differences in development among adolescents of the same age, and that there are often significant differences between girls and boys.

All of these changes affect:

  • how adolescents perceive themselves;
  • how they understand information;
  • what information and which channels of information influence their behaviour;
  • how they think about the future and make decisions in the present;
  • how they perceive risk in a period of experimentation and first-time experiences;
  • how they perceive sex, which is common during late adolescence;
  • how they form relationships, respond to the social values and norms that surround them, and are influenced by the attitudes (or perceived attitudes) of their peers and others.