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Supporting Your Teen’s Development – Ages 13 to 17

Your child is growing up. It seems like yesterday they were learning to walk and talk. Now your teen is inching toward adulthood and the door to be out with their friends. “See ya, ‘rents.”

Adolescence is a period of immense change for how your child thinks, feels, interacts with others and how their body grows.

There are plenty of books out there guiding parents on what to expect and how to support your teen’s development, yet there are some days where it seems you’re totally in uncharted waters. Instead of diaper changes and naptime, now you’re trying to figure out whether your child is ready to date, drive and even get a job.

These days are here, but you don’t have to face them with apprehension.

We spoke with Jerimya Fox, a licensed professional counselor and a doctor of behavioral health at Banner Behavioral Health Hospital, who broke down exactly what your teen is going through developmentally and how you can best support that growth.

Developmental milestones: What to expect in adolescence

When you think of developmental milestones, you may be acutely aware of the developmental milestones of your child’s first five years. The same is true in adolescence—and are just as important, Dr. Fox said.

“Developmental milestones are just as important in adolescence because they can tell you if your child is doing fine or if something is wrong,” he said. “Identifying and catching issues early on paves the way for early interventions and therapies to combat those later years.”

Here are some the changes your child is going through during adolescence:

Physical development

You might notice these changes in your teen:

  • They are going through puberty or nearing the end of their physical transition from childhood to adulthood. This includes a rapid gain in height and weight, along with other physical changes, such as voice changes, acne and body hair.
Cognitive development

You might notice these changes in your teen:

  • They start to make decisions based on their understanding of cause and effect (actions/consequences) and what is right or wrong.
  • They have more advanced reasoning skills and hypothetical, abstract thinking.
  • They are deeply influenced by their friends and peers.
  • They learn new skills and become more self-sufficient.
  • They show more concern about school and work plans.
Social development

You might notice these changes in your teen:

  • They search for their own identity and how they fit into the world. They might try on new things like clothes, music and even friend groups. Friend groups and peers might even influence your child’s choices and decisions.
  • They start to build a strong set of values and morals.
  • They seek more responsibility.
  • They explore their own limits and abilities and test boundaries.
  • They look for new experiences and engage in more risk-taking behavior.
  • Social media and mainstream media will influence how your child communicates with others.
Emotional development

You might notice these changes in your teen:

Changes in relationships

One of the biggest changes you might notice is that your child wants to spend more time with their friends and peers than with you and the family. It also might seem like you are butting heads more with one another, leaving you to wonder if every conversation is going to end in a fight. But don’t take it personally.

“These behaviors and changes are a normal part of the process,” Dr. Fox said. “Even if you feel like you’re arguing more, it isn’t likely to affect your relationship long-term. But you can help your child develop ways to manage conflict and get through this stage in your relationship.”

What parents can do to raise happy, healthy and responsible teens

These developmental changes are a part of your teen’s journey into adulthood, and you play a big role in getting there. Here are some ideas to help support your child’s development:

1. Stay close and connected.

The best way to build trust with your teen is to talk and listen to them more. There will be days when your teen may not want to talk and other days that they do. Whatever you do, don’t give up on those conversations and 1:1s. A simple conversation about their day or what they have planned for the weekend can go a long way to building a close and connected relationship.

“The very best thing we can do as parents is to be close and connected to our kids,” Dr. Fox said. “Actively listen to your child, try to understand their perspective or what they may be going through and remind them how much you love and care about them.”

2. Set clear limits.

When it comes to a child’s health and safety, parents have to set clear limits. Let your child know you are establishing rules because you love them and care for them and are invested in their safety. If your teen feels safe, they may approach challenges with more confidence—and less angst.

“Most young teens do well with specific instructions on what they can and cannot do,” Dr. Fox said. “Believe it or not, effective boundaries can help reduce conflicts with your teen.”

3. Let them make decisions (within certain limits)

As your teen grows, they will want more control of their own lives. Parenting will become less about control and more about guidance. Rather than making decisions for your child, give your child reasonable choices and help them weigh the pros and cons.

“For example, establishing a rule that they have to have their homework done and room clean before they can watch TV or be on social media but allowing them to decide when they will do it,” Dr. Fox said. “As well, this can work when you deny your teen something they want to do but suggest a reasonable alternative.”

4. Grant independent privileges

Dating? Driving? First job? It’s so hard to know when your child may be ready to do these things. There is no set age, per se, unless we’re talking the legal age for certain activities, but their level of maturity and responsibility are clear indicators.

“This all goes back to being connected and close with your child so you can see and decide when that stage has been reached,” Dr. Fox said. “For example, if you notice they can’t regulate their emotions, maybe your teen isn’t ready to handle the challenges of a job or a romantic relationship,” Dr. Fox said.

5. Protect their health and safety

At this age, your teen might believe they have a Herculean level of invincibility—that what happens to others won’t happen to them. Thankfully, with age, comes wisdom.

Let your child know what things could threaten their health and safety and put your foot down on things that could lead to an injury or death. “This may be an area of disagreement but remind them that this is out of love and concern for their health and well-being.”

6. Let them make mistakes

Your teenager will probably make mistakes that you could have avoided for them and that’s OK.

“Your job isn’t to protect your child from ever making mistakes or bulldozing obstacles for them,” Dr. Fox said. “Rather, our role is to teach them that mistakes are part of any learning process and are a critical part of being independent.”

Let your teen “fall” or make a mistake, provided the stakes aren’t too high and no one’s health or safety is at risk.

7. Give consequences for actions

A consequence is intended to teach or modify behavior in a positive way. Perhaps your teen isn’t abiding by the house rules, or they are lying. Then you need to find a consequence that will help change their behavior.

“If a consequence is threatened or expected, it is critical to follow through,” Dr. Fox said. “When you don’t follow through, you lose credibility with your child.”

Takeaway

Your child will undergo dramatic changes and shifts as they navigate their teenage years. There will be some emotional highs and lows, but you can play an important role in supporting and guiding them to feel good about themselves. When you understand what your teen might be experiencing, you can better prepare them to enter adulthood happy, healthy and independent.

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