As children approach the mid-teen years, they are quickly growing closer to adulthood. During this time, they may begin to earn their own money, have romantic relationships, and drive a car. These big changes may also come with some conflict as your teen exerts their independence and challenges boundaries. However, as a parent, it can be enjoyable to see your once-dependent child grow and mature into an independent adult.
By Age 16:
- Children usually enter puberty by age 15
- Most girls have had their first menstrual period
- Most girls are near their adult height
- Most boys are continuing to grow taller and gain weight (continues through their teen years)
- Boys are continuing to get stronger and more agile (even after puberty)
- Girls tend not to gain any more strength or agility after puberty
- Continuing to try and find their place in the world. They are figuring out “Who am I?” and “How do I fit in?”
- May have emotional mood swings from day-to-day
- Seem mature at times, but still have periods of childish behavior
- May exhibit rebellious behavior and be disrespectful at times as they exert their independence
- Begin to seek intimate relationships, which become an important part of their identity
- Have more interest in romantic relationships and sexuality
- Go through less conflict with parents
- Show more independence from parents
- Exhibit a deeper capacity for empathy and sharing, as well as develop more intimate relationships
- Spend less time with parents and more time with friends
- Uses complex thinking to focus on less self-centered concepts and personal decision-making
- Has increased thoughts about more global concepts, such as justice, history, politics, and patriotism
- Often develops idealistic views on specific topics or concerns
- May debate and develop intolerance of opposing views
- Begins to focus thinking on making career decisions
- Begins to focus thinking on their emerging role in adult society
Note: These guidelines do not constitute medical advice. Every child develops differently. If you ever feel your child is delayed in their development, discuss it with your pediatrician.
How You Can Help Foster Development?
- Discuss safety: Although older teens can be quite mature, there are many safety issues that can arise during this time. Though they are gaining independence, your teen likely needs guidance and support when it comes to considering the risks of common teen behavior. It’s helpful for parents to directly address issues like substance abuse, unsafe driving practices, and violence with teens.
Substance abuse and unsafe driving practices become more common in the late-teen years as adolescents begin spending more time with friends, some of whom may experiment with illegal substances or drive unsafely. Since teens still do not yet have great skills at self-control and seeing long-term consequences because their brains are still not fully developed, it is helpful for parents to walk through these decisions with teens. Making sure they know the dangerous (even deadly) long-term consequences of substance abuse or unsafe driving (like texting while driving) can help teens make smarter decisions.
Teens also experience violence more often than parents might expect. In the teen years, violence often takes the form of bullying or sexual violence. A World Health Organization study of developing countries found that 42% of boys and 37% of girls were exposed to bullying. Sadly, one in eight adolescents has also experienced sexual violence. As parents, we can prepare our teens for experiences they might face by being open about discussing possible scenarios, warning signs to look for and how to reach help if they ever find themselves in a dangerous situation.
- Encourage Community Service/Volunteering: Because the teen years can sometimes be filled with self-absorption and finding their way, it can be a great time to help seek out ways for them to get outside themselves and to serve the wider community. Teens often have an increased awareness of issues related to justice and equity. What better time to guide them through understanding the social and economic dynamics of your community? Consider helping them find ways they can serve members of the community that may need extra help⏤the elderly, the impoverished, or even younger children that need mentors. Teens can often be energetic and enthusiastic volunteers. These opportunities for service not only benefit the community but help teens see how their skills can be used for good and boost their self-confidence.
- Respect Their Privacy (but stay engaged): For parents, these later teen years present a challenge when it comes to respecting adolescents’ privacy. As they gain more independence and begin to have social lives separate from yours, it is difficult to determine how much privacy they should be allowed to have. In general, it’s helpful to think of privacy as a privilege that has to be earned based on a teen’s previous behavior. Privacy and trust are inextricably linked. If you feel your teen’s past behavior illustrates a level of maturity that warrants privacy, then more privacy can be granted. Research shows that less psychological control (which often means more privacy) in the teen years is linked to better well-being and self-esteem. Respecting teens’ privacy, however, doesn’t mean that you have to disconnect from them. Staying emotionally engaged and communicative is key to maintaining a healthy, open relationship.
Common Myths During This Period/What NOT to Believe
- They Don’t Want to Spend Time With You: Although the later teen years do come with a clear shift away from parents and towards peers, it’s not true that teens don’t want to spend any time with parents or extended family. When researchers talk to teens, many report that they do want to spend time with their parents, but they sometimes need gentle encouragement.
Additionally, we know from research that spending time with parents is a protective factor for teens’ development. One study found that time spent with parents during the adolescent years was associated with less risk-taking behavior. Similarly, another study showed that teens’ spending time with parents (particularly one-on-one time) was linked to higher self-esteem and better social skills.
While forcing family time on your teens isn’t helpful, look for opportunities to continue to spend time with them. Although they may not say it aloud, teens still need time with and support from parents.
- Teens Push Your Buttons on Purpose: One very common myth during the teen years is that children act in ways to purposefully “push our buttons.” In other words, the thought is that adolescents do things to intentionally irritate or annoy parents. Of course, this may happen occasionally, but for the most part, teens are generally not trying to make life difficult for parents. This developmental stage, not unlike toddlerhood, is ripe for misunderstandings and conflict. Many times, the teen habits that annoy parents, like leaving their room a mess or not remembering their homework, are signs of the developmental change that teens’ brains are experiencing more than an intentional stab at parents. With their higher-order thinking brain still coming online, teens are still not great at planning, organization, and thinking ahead.
Approaching teens’ irritating habits with a mentality of curiosity and questioning rather than reproach can help. Trying to understand the “why” behind your teens’ behavior can lead to long-term solutions and keep your relationship going more smoothly.
- All Teens are selfish: While some teen behavior during this time may seem selfish, much of it can be explained by a developmental phenomenon known as “adolescent egocentrism.” Due to the developmental stage of their brain, teens have a hard time distinguishing between their own perceptions of the world and others’ perceptions. In other words, they feel as though their understanding of the world is the only one. This idea can explain a number of common teen behaviors, including the feeling that everyone is watching or judging them or feeling the need to appear a certain way in public. This phase of egocentrism also underlies why teens often feel crushed by seemingly small setbacks or disappointments. They lack the sense of the “big picture” of life and don’t yet realize that one small disappointment or failure may not have the large consequences that they feel it does right now.
Although challenging to cope with as a parent, this phase of development will pass. This stage is often best coped with by a big dose of empathy towards your child and good communication. Although their struggles and perspectives on the world may seem frivolous to you, try to empathize with their feelings. Try to remember what it was like when you were a teen and transitioned from child to adult.
Common Challenges Parents Experience During This Period
- Teens Getting Jobs/Money Management: Another important step during this phase of development is that teens begin to get jobs and learn to manage their own money. Although every family handles money issues in their own way, it can be helpful at this stage to allow teens the opportunity (if possible) to earn money from a job and keep some of the money to manage themselves. This provides older teens a chance to “practice” budgeting and saving for items they want or need without huge financial repercussions. Parents can help by discussing their methods for managing money, being open about financial mistakes they’ve made (and how to avoid them), as well as the family’s values about saving, spending, and debt. This can also be a good time to help teens set up their first bank account. Additionally, allowing teens to face the consequences of overspending or financial mistakes can be a useful (if not painful) tool to help them see the results of their choices.
- Preparing for Further Education: By this stage of development, many teens are considering and planning for further education in their future. Whether it be a university, a trade school, a community college, or some other training, teens will have to consider (with their parents) their options. This can be a stressful time for teens as they often have to prepare for entrance exams, consider education costs, and think about living away from home for the first time. For parents, it is helpful to support teens through this process without adding any additional pressure. Discussing their options for education with an open mind to the possibilities and having realistic expectations can help. Many teens put a lot of academic pressure on themselves to get into the “perfect” school but helping them find the best option for their skills is helpful.
These middle teen years are a time for children to get “practice” handling more adult issues like money, relationships, and educational choices. Although they still need quite a lot of guidance from parents, they are gaining skills in decision-making and independence. Parents’ role changes somewhat during this time as they move more towards being supportive consultants helping teens make smart decisions.
The information provided on this site is NOT medical advice and is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, provide medical, or behavioral advice, treat, prevent, or cure any disease, condition, or behavior. You should consult with a qualified healthcare professional regarding your child’s development, to make a medical diagnosis, determine a treatment for a medical condition, or obtain other related advice.