18- to 19-year-olds: Ages and stages of youth development

Understanding the different stages of youth development supports youth programming efforts as it encourages relationship building between youth and adult volunteers.

The final age bracket in this series will examine the older teens: 18- to 19-year-olds, who much prefer to be called “young adults.” This is the age where physically the growth and development has slowed, but socially and emotionally they are transitioning from what has been somewhat of a routine and protective environment to the unknown.

Much like the four previous articles looking at the characteristics and implications of working with 6- to 8-year-olds, 9- to 11-year-olds, 12- to 14-year-olds and 15- to 17-year-olds, we will be looking at the physical, social, emotional and intellectual development of 18- to 19-year-olds.

For a point of reference, physical development refers to the growth of the body and development of motor skills. Social development is the interaction between children and their ability to function in social settings. Emotional development looks at how youth handle their feelings and express them. Finally, intellectual development is all about how individuals learn.

Young adults ages 18 to 19 are developing in the following ways:


  • Their growth has tapered off
  • They are not as preoccupied with body changes
  • They have adult bodies, but are not always prepared entirely for adult hood


  • They value committed relationships
  • They’re looking for more adult social settings, looking at moving on from “teen” activities
  • They make their own decisions
  • They want support from adults, but only in guidance
  • They are developing community consciousness


  • Previous activities have lost their appeal
  • They enjoy looking back on their achievements
  • They look for recognition in bigger picture accomplishments
  • They feel as if they have reached the stage of full maturity
  • They expect others to treat them as if they are “fully” grown


  • They’re making future plans
  • They’re setting long-term goals
  • They make their own schedule, plans, etc.


Implications of working with youth 18 to 19 year olds:


  • Avoid comments that criticize or compare stature, size, or shape
  • Encourage healthy activities that provide exercise but not competition


  • Provide activities that are just for older teens, young adults
  • Provide opportunities for them to plan, facilitate and carry out their own program
  • Involve them as spokesperson around reflecting on their involvement/accomplishments


  • Provide them with next step opportunities to stay involved
  • Give them opportunities to “try” on the “adult hat”
  • Provide opportunities for learners to talk about their own beliefs


  • Involve them in planning and carrying out programs, allow them to teach or be the leaders
  • Involve them in advisory groups, decision making groups, giving them major roles
  • Offer vocational/career exploration activities
  • Plan group time where learners can discuss ideas and concepts

As adults support youth in moving on to the next step in their lives, remember that every child is unique. Regardless of their age, all youth have basic needs that adults and youth development programs should support:

  • To experience a positive self-concept
  • To experience success in what they attempt to do
  • To become increasingly independent
  • To be accepted by people of different ages – peers as well as those in authority
  • To give and receive affection
  • To experience adventure

For more information regarding understanding the ages and stages of child and youth development, contact your local Michigan State University Extension educator.

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