Your child is now officially a teenager, and it can be a challenging time for both of you. They’ve come so far since those first hesitant steps but, though they might be striding more confidently, they have a way to go and still need your help.
Socially, your child is more reliant on peer relationships and less dependent on you. They can maintain stable relationships with adults and peers and, while they’re more likely to have friends of the opposite sex, same-sex friendships will be more common. Their peers will influence them strongly in everything from the way they dress to their interests and behaviour. They’ll test the boundaries, but this will decrease as they get older and start to really experience more of the independence they’ve been aiming for over the last few years though they’ll likely complain you’re interfering too much. You may have some challenging conversations about morals and privileges especially as they realise that adults aren’t perfect. They’re prone to the odd bout of childish behavior particularly if they’re under stress.
There are some real emotional challenges ahead for your child. They’re developing a stronger sense of identity and their focus on themselves increases. Their desire for privacy will get stronger. They need recognition and positive feedback to help them the maintain the self-esteem and self-confidence they need to tackle the more complex social, emotional and academic challenges they’ll face. They may have romantic relationships though they’ll often be short-term. They’re interested in emancipation but they’re not quite ready for it which can lead to some real anxieties especially as they approach some key milestones like leaving school or home.
This is the age you’ll see the greatest difference between boys and girls. Boys will be heading into puberty and dealing with changes to their body, including increased body hair and breaking voices, so may have additional concerns about body image. Girls will have gone through puberty; their menstruation cycle should be well-established and they’ll be more sexually developed than boys. Both genders will be more concerned about how attractive they are to others and their interest in sex will increase, so now would be a good time to have “the talk” if you haven’t already done so. Both boys and girls continue growing though this slows down as they approach 16. You’ll notice an improvement in their motor skills and they should have little difficulty tackling even the trickiest physical tasks.
You’ll notice your child is better at communicating their thoughts and feelings. They have strong values and ideals and their interests are expanding especially intellectually. They’re better at problem-solving and, by the time they’re around 15, they’ll be able to think in abstract terms and apply their decision-making skills to more social and academic situations. They’ll be strongly affected when they have worries or concerns. This is the age where they may take more risks, especially if there’s negative peer influence, such as drinking, taking drugs or having sex.
It may feel like your child is pulling away from you, but your support is needed more than ever. Encouraging them to talk to you, being non-judgemental, and valuing their views and concerns will let them know you’re there for them. It’s vital you’re open and honest about everything from the way their bodies are changing to the challenges and risks they’ll face; if they trust you, they’re more likely to talk to you about the important things. Involving them in family decision-making helps them learn how to tackle the problems they’ll face and gives them the confidence to make independent choices in the future. Testing the boundaries is common, so being clear and consistent is important.
The balance of independence is changing and your relationship with your child is changing with it. It can be tempting to try to be their friend, but don’t forget they need the support and guidance a parent is best placed to give more than ever; the trick is to give them that guidance yet let them have enough room to strengthen their wings.