Parenting Assistance Line - PAL

Parenting Assistance Line
Your Child's Development | Discipline & Guidance | Health & Safety | Talking with Your Child
Handling StressParent SupportParent ResourcesFAQ'sContactLinks






Your Child's Development

Developmental Milestones-Adolescents

Developmental Milestones-Adolescents

Adolescence is a time of challenge and change for your teenager. The dramatic physical, emotional, and social changes that occur during these years are often confusing not only for your teen, but for you as well. The good news is that the majority of teens manage to navigate the rocky waters of adolescence with minimal difficulties! With plenty of love, understanding, patience and guidance your child will grow into a responsible, independent, and caring adult!

Physical Changes: Girls

  • Gross motor skills (strength, endurance, and speed), improve slowly but steadily and level off around the age of 14.
  • Breast growth completed around 16 years of age.
  • Adult height reached by 15-16 years old.
  • Fat deposits increase in hips, breasts, legs and arms.
  • Muscle development in girls is much less than that of boys.
  • Sleep time generally declines because adolescents stay up much later. However, this leads to daytime sleepiness because their bodies still need approximately the same amount of sleep as during the pre-adolescent years. This accounts for the need to 'catch up' by sleeping later during non-school days.

Physical Changes: Boys

  • A dramatic spurt in strength, speed, and endurance.
  • Develop large skeletal muscles.
  • Heart and lungs enlarge dramatically.
  • An increase in the number of red blood cells which carry oxygen from the lungs to the muscles-this does not occur in girls.
  • Voice change occurs during the middle of puberty.
  • Around 17-18 years of age physical changes are complete.

Body Image:

The timing of these physical changes affects how adolescents perceive themselves.

  • Boys who mature earlier than their peers tend to have a positive self-image. To friends, relatives, and teachers they appear stronger and more mature than late maturing boys. They may be chosen for leadership roles and many excel athletically.
  • Boys who mature later generally do not do as well within peer groups and are usually perceived as being less confident and capable.
  • For girls the exact opposite is true. Early maturing girls are oftentimes very self-conscious about their bodies and tend to engage in more adult behaviors like drinking alcohol and sexual activity.
  • Girls who mature later tend to do better in school, are more sociable, and considered physically attractive by their peers.
  • Early maturing girls and late maturing boys have difficulty because they feel 'out of place' when with their peers. Adolescents feel most comfortable with friends who match their own level of biological maturity.

Mental Abilities:

  • Both males and females show an increase in the capacity for abstract thinking. This results in both sexes becoming more argumentative, idealistic, and critical.
  • Girls tend to have a slight advantage in verbal skills while boys do better with mathematical reasoning.

Self-Consciousness and Self Focusing:

  • Imaginary Audience-Adolescents believe that they are the focus of everyone's attention. As a result, they become extremely self-conscious and easy to embarrass, very concerned about what others think, and are particularly sensitive to criticism.
  • Personal Fable-Because adolescents believe that everyone is focused on them, they develop an inflated opinion of themselves. They begin to feel as if they are special and unique. Therefore, no one can possibly understand the difficulties they are going through.
  • Adolescents also have a false sense of invulnerability that contributes to risk-taking behaviors. They may know that certain activities are dangerous, but they do not think that the consequences of these behaviors could happen to them.
  • Because there are so many more opportunities in adolescence than childhood, teens sometimes become overwhelmed and may have difficulty making decisions. As they mature and gain confidence and experience, their decision making abilities will improve.

Emotional and Social Development:

  • The major personality achievement of adolescence is the formation of an individual identity. Identity development is an ongoing process as teens "try out" various life possibilities.
  • Adolescents explore and test ideas, values, morals, and religious and political beliefs. A firmly held conviction today may be totally discarded next week.
  • They spend a significant amount of time daydreaming about their future.
  • Adolescents who feel attached to their parents but also free to explore, develop and voice their own opinions, show greater emotional stability and higher self-esteem.
  • Making and sustaining friendships is extremely important to adolescents. Teens report their most favorable moods when in the company of friends.
  • The majority of teens are influenced by peer groups in short- term day to day matters such as clothing style, music, and choice of friends, while parents have more impact on basic life values and educational plans.
  • The negative impact of having anti-social, drug-using friends is strongest for teenagers whose parents are either extremely lax and disinterested or very controlling and harsh.

(For information on pre-adolescence and puberty see 'Your Child's Development: School-age')