Parenting Teenagers – Adolescent Development & Parenting Tips (13 – 18)


There is no doubt that for most families, the teen years present a challenge for both parents and children.

Middle School is not fondly remembered by most who attend.  It is often fraught with scary body changes, bullying by peers and a new surge for independence.  This leads to passive-aggressive behavior (“I’ll do it in a minute”), self-consciousness (“What are you staring at?”) and self-doubt (“I’m not good at anything.”) and/or over-confidence (“Well, I thought I could do that.”) and of course moodiness (“Leave me alone.”).

High School is usually better for most.  It is a time to really begin defining one’s self and realistically contemplating the future.  Skill development is accelerated to prepare for college or job training programs.  Talents are perfected.  Social skills are honed and relationships take on more of a serious nature.  Peer pressure is at its max and in today’s teen society there are more tempting sidetracks than ever.

During adolescence, kids need their parents more than ever.  Research shows that a positive family environment including fun family activities, open parent-child communication and the encouragement to participate in positive extracurricular and community activities, teens are able to navigate these years with relative ease.

Moving Onwards (Encouraging Development):

Tips for Parents
Recommended Books for Parents
Videos on Adolescent Development

Adolescent Developmental Milestones


PhysicalIntellectual - CognitiveSocial - Emotional

12 – 15 years of age

  • Puberty: Rapid growth period
  • Secondary sexual characteristics appear: grow body hair, increase perspiration and oil production in hair and skin
    • Girls – breast and hip development, the onset of menstruation
    • Boys – growth in testicles and penis, wet dreams, deepening of voice Tremendous physical growth: gain height and weight
  • Body Image
    • Preoccupation with physical changes and critical of appearance
    • Anxieties about secondary sexual characteristic changes
    • Peers used as a standard for normal appearance (comparison of self to peers)

15 – 18 years of age

  • Secondary sexual characteristics advanced
  • 95% of adult height reached
  • Puberty is completed
  • Physical growth slows for girls, continues for boys
  • Body Image
    • Less concern about physical changes but increased interest in personal attractiveness
    • Excessive physical activity alternating with lethargy

13 – 14 years of age

  • Growing capacity for abstract thought
  • Mostly interested in the present with limited thought to the future
  • Intellectual interests expand and become more important
  • Deeper moral thinking

14 – 18 years of age

  • The continued growth of capacity for abstract thought
  • Greater capacity for setting goals
  • Interest in moral reasoning
  • Thinking about the meaning of life

12 – 15 years of age

  • Struggle with a sense of identity
  • Feel awkward about one’s self and one’s body; worry about being normal
  • Realize that parents are not perfect; increased conflict with parents
  • Increased influence of peer group
  • Desire for independence
  • The tendency to return to “childish” behavior, particularly when stressed
  • Moodiness
  • Rule- and limit-testing
  • Greater interest in privacy
  • Autonomy
    • Challenge authority, family; anti-parent
    • Loneliness
    • Wide mood swings
    • Things of childhood rejected
    • Argumentative and disobedient
  • Peer Group
    • Serves a developmental purpose
    • Intense friendship with same-sex
    • Contact with the opposite sex in groups
  • Identity Development
    • “Am I normal?”
    • Daydreaming
    • Vocational goals change frequently
    • Begin to develop own value system
    • Emerging sexual feelings and sexual exploration
    • Imaginary audience
    • Desire for privacy
    • Magnify own problems: “no one understands”

15 – 18 years of age

  • Intense self-involvement, changing between high expectations and poor self-concept
  • Continued adjustment to changing body, worries about being normal
  • The tendency to distance selves from parents continued the drive for independence
  • Driven to make friends and greater reliance on them, popularity can be an important issue
  • Feelings of love and passion
  • Autonomy
    • Conflict with family predominates due to ambivalence about emerging independence
  • Peer Group
    • Strong peer allegiances – fad behaviors
    • Sexual drives emerge and teens begin to explore their ability to date and attract a partner
  • Identity Development
    • Experimentation – sex, drugs, friends, jobs, risk-taking behavior