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Parenting: Preparing for Adolescence

What is adolescence?

Adolescence is the time from puberty until adulthood. Adolescence is becoming a longer period of time for many. Children are becoming sexually mature at earlier ages. Young adults are more often attending trade school, college, or graduate school rather than getting jobs after high school.

How will my child change physically?

Parents notice physical changes in their child when puberty begins. Puberty may start as early as age 7 for girls and as late as 16 for boys. Hormones cause physical changes as well as emotional changes for adolescents. Physical changes include:

  • Both girls and boys become taller.
  • Girls' breasts develop and hair grows in underarm and pubic areas.
  • Boys' voices deepen and hair grows on their face, underarms, and pubic areas.
  • Both boys and girls start to have strong sexual urges, and are able to become parents themselves.

Make sure your teen knows they can come to you with their questions about sex, birth control, pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases. Even though these talks may make you uncomfortable, you want your child to know your values while being educated on these issues. Be clear with your teen how you feel about premarital sexual behaviors, what the risks are if they engage in these behaviors. If you value abstinence (not having sex) then make sure they know this! If you want your teen to use condoms and birth control if they engage in sexual behaviors, tell them how to get these items.

How will my child's thinking abilities change?

Teens in their early years have trouble understanding another person's perspective. They believe that their experiences are so unique that no one, particularly parents, can understand what they are feeling.

Young teens also struggle with abstract, logical thought. Their thinking tends to be more concrete and they see most things in terms of black and white. Learning new abstract material, such as algebra, can be challenging for the young teen who thinks in black/white terms.

Older teenagers are able to see more of the big picture. They also tend to question rather than accept information and values. This means they may engage in heated debates with parents over anything that they think is illogical about their parents' views.

How will my child change socially?

The main "job" or task of adolescence is for the teen to establish their identity. This means they will spend a great deal of time trying to decide who they are, what values they believe in, and what they want to accomplish in life. It is a time to start deciding for themselves what is right and wrong.

Teens may try different behaviors in different situations to find out what fits best for them. For example, teens may try being studious, try drugs or alcohol, or try other behaviors because they want to be part of the popular crowd.

Other teens may not struggle with the identity issue at all. They may simply accept their parents' values and expectations for their lives. Some teens deliberately choose values that are opposite of their parents. Some teens may not establish a firm identity until early adulthood or later.

Adolescents establish their own identities by separating themselves from their parents and becoming more influenced by their peers. This does not mean that parents lose the ability to influence their teenager. Most teens have views on politics, religion, and social issues that are very close to their parents' views. Only 5% of all US teenagers state that they do not ever get along with their parents. The majority of teens do have positive relationships with their parents.

What can I do to help my child?

There are many things parents can do during this period to help, such as:

  • Encourage strong family relationships. Listen and keep the lines of communication open between you and your child. Talk about what kinds of physical and emotional changes to expect. Tell them often that you love them. Respect their privacy, unless they show unsafe behaviors. Discipline with love and common sense.
  • Make spirituality an important part of family life. Teens with strong religious beliefs have lower rates of alcohol, cigarette, and marijuana use.
  • Help your child build connections with others by volunteering their time in a meaningful way.
  • Be aware that you are still your child's role model. Watch your use of alcohol, daily diet, exercise, and how you manage your anger.
  • Get to know their friends. Invite them over or volunteer to drive them to activities.
  • Monitor TV shows, magazines, books, and the Internet.
  • Encourage your child to participate in extracurricular activities. Be involved in the lives of your children. Attend their activities and know what their stressors are.
  • Help your child develop problem solving skills. Allow them to learn from the consequences of their actions.
  • Keep a sense of humor and maintain your perspective. Understand that their culture, music, and clothing styles will be different than what you are used to, and probably different that what you would like. Most negative parent-teen relationships start because the parents criticize their teenager too much. Leave your objections to things that really matter like tobacco, drugs, and alcohol.
  • Make rules about safety and what kind of behavior is okay, but understand that teens often learn to make good choices by making bad choices.
  • Admit your own mistakes to your child and apologize when needed.
  • Get professional help for teens who self-harm, abuse drugs or alcohol, or make suicidal or homicidal threats.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2013.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-08-14
Last reviewed: 2012-07-03
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2013 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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