Adolescence (10-19 Years) is a vital stage of growth and development. It is a period of transition from childhood to adulthood and is marked by rapid physical, physiological and psychological changes. This period results in sexual, psychological and behavioural maturation. Adolescents are a diverse group and are in varying situations of risk, status and environments. For example, they could be married or unmarried, in-school or out-of-school, living in urban or rural areas or have a different sexual orientation. Some young people are especially vulnerable. For example, street children, those engaged in sex work, and/or affected by disaster. Each of these groups has varying concerns and need to be appreciated as distinct segments of the population .
During adolescence, hormonal changes lead to onset of puberty, sudden and rapid physical growth and development of secondary sexual characteristics. Psychological and emotional changes like assertion of self identity and independence, sex drive, and attraction towards the opposite sex take place simultaneously. Adolescents begin extending their relationships beyond the family. They feel an inclination for distancing themselves from parents and expanding their social circle to carve an important place amongst peers. If young people are not well informed or guided, they are likely to make decisions that could harm them . Adolescents are particularly inclined to try out new ideas. While this is a positive trait, lack of abilities , particularly life skills to assimilate multiple stimuli from media and peers, could encourage them to experiment with risky
behaviours. They could engage in smoking, substance abuse, consumption of alcohol, unprotected sex, and while these behaviours may start on an exploratory note, many young people get trapped for a lifetime, and are not able to realise their potential.
Often, young people are not informed and/or prepared for the rapid pace of physical, emotional and psychological changes that they undergo during adolescence. Misconceptions about issues related to sex and sexuality, especially those related to masturbation, nocturnal emissions and menstruation make them anxious. Their anxiety and confusion is further compounded by adults who expect them to conduct themselves in a more mature manner without preparing them for their new role. Adolescents, and more so girls, have extra-nutritional requirements that are often ignored, leading to a number of health hazards. This has been a major cause of widely prevalent anaemia among women. Further, girls are forced into early marriage that seriously undermines their health and limits their opportunities for personal development. Unwanted pregnancies, risky abortions, haemorrhage, obstructed deliveries, low birth weight of the baby, and anaemia are some of the health risks attached to early marriage of girls. Additionally, restricted mobility of girls often limits their access to health services and information on reproductive health. Insensitive attitudes of healthcare providers also prevent them from accessing services. In most cases, they hesitate to seek medical help for treatment of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)
Improvement in health status of adolescents has inter-generational impact. Youth comprise a substantial proportion of the country’s population. India can take advantage of this ‘demographic dividend’ by investing in young people to achieve a healthy, socio-economically productive and poverty free society.
There is an urgent need to provide age/experience– appropriate and accurate information to young people as they are accessing unreliable sources that often misguide them. Along with this it is important to link young people with appropriate services. Certain social realities need to be changed. For instance, early marriage and childbearing reduces educational and employment opportunities for both mother and the child and is associated with higher levels of fertility, more complications.
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