As teens approach the later years of adolescence (15–18) and move closer to adulthood, their role in the family begins to change from child to young adult. This transition brings with it changes in the social-emotional world as well. Moving into adulthood usually means less reliance on parents and some movement towards establishing their own independent life (at least in some ways). These changes can be difficult for parents and teens as they mark a new phase of life. With your support, your teen can move through this phase and you can begin to see a glimpse of the adult your child is becoming.

What to Expect

During the high school years, teens continue to have social-emotional changes and areas of growth: 

  • Have more interest in romantic relationships and sexuality.
  • Go through less conflict with parents.
  • Show more independence from parents.
  • Try to find their place in the world. They are figuring out “Who am I?” and “How do I fit in?”
  • May have emotional swings from day to day.
  • Seem mature at times, but still have periods of childish behavior.
  • May rebel and have difficult behavior.

Tips to Foster Social-emotional Development:

  • Help Them Find Purpose: As older teens continue to discover their identity and uncover their talents, you can guide them to find purpose in their life. Research shows that individuals with a strong sense of purpose tend to thrive in life. They have better physical and mental health, more hope and life satisfaction, and tend to live longer. However, research shows that only one in five teens has a strong sense of purpose. You can help them get in touch with their purpose by focusing their attention on their deep interests and passions. What issues and causes are they passionate about? What activities really spark their interest and motivate them? This purpose-finding mission may also help them solidify their identity as well.
  • Work Opportunities: It is common for teens at this stage of development to seek out employment opportunities. Encouraging older teens to find work outside the home can be a wonderful way to foster greater responsibility, help teach money management skills, and give them an opportunity to explore different interests. You can assist your teen in this endeavor by providing job-search advice and tasks such as resume writing.
  • Peer Pressure: Although older teens are more mature, they still may face negative peer pressure. Be aware of your teen’s friends and the types of activities they are doing together. In today’s world, it’s also helpful to monitor teens’ social media and online presence. Discuss with your teen the dangers of online predators or bullying. Recent surveys find that over half of teens have experienced some form of online bullying. This can be dangerous for teens as it puts them at a higher risk for mental health problems and suicide ideation. Model effective balancing of online and offline activities for them so that they are not overwhelmed by media usage. 
  • Time Together: It may seem like all your teen wants is to spend time with their friends. While friends remain a crucial part of teens’ lives, it’s helpful to prioritize family time as well. Although teens may not express it openly, they still need and value time with you and the rest of their family. In general, teens who have close family bonds tend to have stronger emotional and mental health. Although nagging teens to spend time with you does not usually work well, you can try to synchronize your schedules so that time together happens organically. You might try organizing meal times together, working on chores or household activities together like yard work or cleaning, or even walking or driving to school together can provide extra bonding time.

Your teen’s transition from child to young adult can come with some noticeable changes in their social-emotional life as well. Although they may spend a lot of time with their friends, older teens still value and need family time. You can support your teen’s development by helping them find ways to balance their desire for independence with a need for emotional closeness with their family. With a strong family foundation, they will soon be prepared to take their first steps into the adult world.

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.


Mott Children’s Hospital (2020). Milestones for Ages 15 to 18. Mott Children’s Hospital, University of Michigan. May 27, 2020.

Bronk, K. C. (2017). Five Ways to Foster Purpose in Adolescents. Greater Good Magazine, University of California, Berkeley. Dec. 21, 2017.

Anderson, M. (2018) A Majority of Teens Have Experienced Some Form of Cyberbullying. Pew Research Center, Sept. 27, 2018.

 Zuzanek, J. and Hilbrecht, M. (2018) Do parents matter? Teens’ time use, academic performance and well-being. Enfances Familles Générations (EFG), Vol. 29, 2018.

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