You've lived through 2 a.m. feedings, toddler temper tantrums, and the back-to-school blues. So why is the word "teenager" causing you so much worry?
When you consider that the teen years are a period of intense growth, not only physically but emotionally and intellectually, it's understandable that it's a time of confusion and upheaval for many families.
Despite some adults' negative perceptions about teens, they are often energetic, thoughtful, and idealistic, with a deep interest in what's fair and right. So, although it can be a period of conflict between parent and child, the teen years are also a time to help kids grow into the distinct individuals they will become.
So when does adolescence start? Everybody's different — there are early bloomers, late arrivers, speedy developers, and slow-but-steady growers. In other words, there's a wide range of what's considered normal.
But it's important to make a (somewhat artificial) distinction between puberty and adolescence. Most of us think of puberty as the development of adult sexual characteristics: breasts, menstrual periods, pubic hair, and facial hair. These are certainly the most visible signs of puberty and impending adulthood, but kids who are showing physical changes (between the ages of 8 and 14 or so) also can be going through a bunch of changes that aren't readily seen from the outside. These are the changes of adolescence.
Many kids announce the onset of adolescence with a dramatic change in behavior around their parents. They're starting to separate from mom and dad and become more independent. At the same time, kids this age are increasingly aware of how others, especially their peers, see them and are desperately trying to fit in. Their peers often become much more important than parents as far as making decisions.
Kids often start "trying on" different looks and identities, and they become very aware of how they differ from their peers, which can result in episodes of distress and conflict with parents.
One of the common stereotypes of adolescence is the rebellious, wild teen continually at odds with mom and dad. Although it may be the case for some kids and this is a time of emotional ups and downs, that stereotype certainly is not representative of most teens.
But the primary goal of the teen years is to achieve independence. To do this, teens must start pulling away from their parents — especially the parent whom they're the closest to. This can feel like teens are always at odds with parents or don't want to be around them the way they used to.
As teens mature, they start to think more abstractly and rationally. They're forming their moral code. And parents of teens may find that kids who previously had been willing to conform to please them will suddenly begin asserting themselves — and their opinions — strongly and rebelling against parental control.
You may need to look closely at how much room you give your teen to be an individual and ask yourself questions such as: "Am I a controlling parent?," "Do I listen to my child?," and "Do I allow my teen's opinions and tastes to differ from my own?"
Looking for a roadmap to find your way through these years? Here are some tips:
Read books about teenagers. Think back on your own teen years. Remember your struggles with acne or your embarrassment at developing early — or late. Expect some mood changes in your typically sunny child, and be prepared for more conflict as he or she matures as an individual. Parents who know what's coming can cope with it better. And the more you know, the better you can prepare.
Starting to talk about menstruation or wet dreams after they've already begun is starting too late. Answer the early questions kids have about bodies, such as the differences between boys and girls and where babies come from. But don't overload them with information — just answer their questions. If you don't know the answers, get them from someone who does, like a trusted friend or your pediatrician.
You know your kids. You can hear when your child's starting to tell jokes about sex or when attention to personal appearance is increasing. This is a good time to jump in with your own questions such as:
A yearly physical exam is a great time to talk about this. A doctor can tell your preadolescent — and you — what to expect in the next few years. An exam can be a jumping-off point for a good parent/child discussion. The later you wait to have these talks, the more likely your child will be to form misconceptions or become embarrassed about or afraid of physical and emotional changes.
And the earlier you open the lines of communication, the better your chances of keeping them open through the teen years. Give your child books on puberty written for kids going through it. Share memories of your own adolescence. There's nothing like knowing that mom or dad went through it, too, to put kids more at ease.
Practice empathy by helping your child understand that it's normal to be a bit concerned or self-conscious, and that it's OK to feel grown-up one minute and like a kid the next.
If teenagers want to dye their hair, paint their fingernails black, or wear funky clothes, think twice before you object. Teens want to shock their parents and it's a lot better to let them do something temporary and harmless; save your objections for things that really matter, like tobacco, drugs and alcohol, or permanent changes to their appearance.
Ask why your teen wants to dress or look a certain way and try to understand how your teen is feeling. You also might want to discuss how others might perceive them if they look different — help your teen understand how he or she might be viewed.
Teens might act unhappy about the expectations their parents place on them. Still, they usually understand and need to know that their parents care enough about them to expect certain things such as good grades, acceptable behavior, and sticking to the house rules. If parents have appropriate expectations, teens will likely try to meet them. Without reasonable expectations, your teen may feel you don't care about him or her.
The teen years often are a time of experimentation, and sometimes that experimentation includes risky behaviors. Don't avoid the subjects of sex and drug, alcohol, or tobacco use. Discussing tough topics openly with kids before they're exposed to them actually makes it more likely that they'll act responsibly when the time comes. Share your family values with your teen and talk about what you believe is right and wrong, and why.
Know your child's friends — and know their friends' parents. Regular communication between parents can go a long way toward creating a safe environment for all teens in a peer group. Parents can help each other keep track of the kids' activities without making the kids feel that they're being watched.
A certain amount of change is normal during the teen years. But too drastic or long-lasting a switch in personality or behavior may signal real trouble — the kind that needs professional help. Watch for these warning signs:
Any other inappropriate behavior that lasts for more than 6 weeks can be a sign of underlying trouble, too. You may expect a glitch or two in your teen's behavior or grades during this time, but your A/B student shouldn't suddenly be failing, and your normally outgoing kid shouldn't suddenly become constantly withdrawn. Your doctor or a local counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist can help you find proper counseling.
Some parents, understandably, have a very hard time with this one. They may feel that anything their kids do is their business. But to help your teen become a young adult, you'll need to grant some privacy. If you notice warning signs of trouble, then you can invade your child's privacy until you get to the heart of the problem. But otherwise, it's a good idea to back off.
In other words, your teenager's room, texts, e-mails, and phone calls should be private. You also shouldn't expect your teen to share all thoughts or activities with you at all times. Of course, for safety reasons, you should always know where teens are going, when they'll be returning, what they're doing, and with whom, but you don't need to know every detail. And you definitely shouldn't expect to be invited along!
Start with trust. Tell your teen that you trust him or her, but if the trust gets broken, he or she will enjoy fewer freedoms until it's rebuilt.
TV shows, magazines and books, the Internet — kids have access to tons of information. Be aware of what yours watch and read. Don't be afraid to set limits on the amount of time spent in front of the computer or the TV. Know what they're learning from the media and who they may be communicating with online.
Teens shouldn't have unlimited access to TV or the Internet in private — these should be public activities. Access to technology also should be limited after certain hours (for example, 10 p.m. or so) to encourage adequate sleep. It's not unreasonable to have cellphones and computers off limits after a certain time.
Bedtime for a teenager should be age appropriate, just as it was when your child was a baby. Teens still need about 8-9 hours of sleep. Encourage your teen to stick to a sleep schedule that will meet those needs.
Reward your teen for being trustworthy. Has he or she kept to a 10 p.m. curfew on weekends? Move it to 10:30 p.m. And does a teen always have to go along on family outings? Encourage a reasonable amount of family time together, but be flexible. Don't be insulted when your growing child doesn't always want to be with you. Think back: You probably felt the same way about your mom and dad.
As kids progress through the teen years, you'll notice a slowing of the highs and lows of adolescence. And, eventually, they'll become independent, responsible, communicative young adults.
So remember the motto of many parents with teens: We're going through this together, and we'll come out of it — together!
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: January 2015
|American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) AACAP offers up-to-date information on child and adolescent development and issues.|
|American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) The AAP is committed to the health and well-being of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The website offers news articles and tips on health for families.|
|Society for Adolescent Medicine The Society for Adolescent Medicine is committed to advancing the health and well-being of adolescents. Their site also offers a locator for adolescent health professionals.|
|Adolescent Health Transition Project This is a health and transition resource for adolescents with special health care needs, chronic illnesses, and physical or developmental disabilities.|
|Your Changing Voice Both boys and girls experience voice changes as they grow older, but it's the boys that will notice the biggest difference. Find out more in this article for kids.|
|Breasts and Bras Girls grow breasts as they develop and mature. And once a girl has breasts, she probably will want to wear a bra. Find out more in this article just for kids.|
|I'm Growing Up - But Am I Normal? When you're growing up, lots of changes happen and everyone wonders: Am I normal?|
|Boys and Puberty On the way to becoming a man, a boy's body will go through a lot of changes, including your body growing bigger, your voice changing, and hair sprouting everywhere. Find out more.|
|Delayed Puberty Concerned about your growth or development? Puberty can be delayed for several reasons. Luckily, doctors usually can help teens with delayed puberty to develop more normally.|
|10 Ways to Help Your Teen Succeed in High School Even though teens are seeking independence, parental involvement is still an important ingredient for academic achievement.|
|Help! Is This My Body? Your body's changing - and if you've ever felt out of step with it, you're not alone. Find out how to deal with body changes and feelings in this article.|
|All About Puberty Voice cracking? Clothes don't fit? Puberty can be a confusing time, but learning about it doesn't have to be. Read all about it in this article for kids.|
|Encouraging a Healthy Body Image A healthy and positive body image means liking your body, appreciating it, and feeling grateful for its qualities and capabilities. Parents can help kids develop a healthy body image.|
|Male Reproductive System What makes up a guy's reproductive system and how does it develop? Can anything go wrong? Find the answers to these questions and more in this article.|
|When Will I Start Developing? Lots of girls and guys worry about when their bodies will develop. The fact is that physical development starts at different times and moves along at different rates in normal kids.|
|Connecting With Your Preteen As your preteen becomes more independent, staying connected may seem like more of a challenge. But it's as important as ever – here are some tips.|
|Word! Puberty Everyone goes through puberty, even though it sometimes feels like you're the only one!|
|Everything You Wanted to Know About Puberty Voice cracking? Clothes don't fit? Puberty can be a confusing time, but learning about it doesn't have to be. Read all about it.|
|About Birth Control: What Parents Need to Know Talking to your kids about sex can be daunting. But discussing issues like abstinence, STDs, and birth control can help lower teens' risk of unintended pregnancy or contracting an STD.|
|PQ: My dad isn't around. How can I talk to my mom about guy stuff? Find out the answer to this personal question!|
|Teens Talk About Family (Video) In this video, teens talk about living with parents and siblings -- the things they argue about and how they get along.|
|Making Sure Your Teen's Job Is Safe Many teens want to work a part-time job. Find out how to ensure safe employment for your son or daughter.|
|Understanding Puberty Puberty was awkward enough when you were the one going through it. So how can you help your kids through all the changes?|
|Virginity: A Very Personal Decision Deciding whether it's right for you to have sex is one of the most important decisions you'll ever have to make. Each person must use his or her own judgment and decide if it's the right time - and the right person.|
|Helping Teens Learn to Drive Parents play an important role in helping teens practice their driving skills and develop confidence behind the wheel. Here's how to help your teen become a safe driver.|
|Rules of the Road for Teen Drivers When teens get their driver's license, parents should consider creating their own rules of the road beyond the relevant driving laws.|
|Kids and Alcohol As much as parents may not like to think about it, the truth is that many kids and teens try alcohol before it is legal for them to drink it. Here's what you need to know.|
|Helping Your Teen Decide What to Do After High School Helping to prepare your teen for life after high school is one of the most important tasks you will have as a parent.|
|Myths About Acne You may be surprised that some of the things you've heard about acne - like what causes it and how to deal with it - aren't true.|
|Why Do I Fight With My Parents So Much? Part of being a teen is developing your own identity -one that is separate from the identities of your parents. Read about why you and your parents seem to be constantly at odds.|
|Crushes Just as our bodies grow and mature, so do our feelings. Having a crush on someone is one sign that you're growing up. It can be fun - and sometimes disappointing.|
|Talking to Your Child About Puberty Talking to kids about puberty is an important job for parents, especially because kids often hear about sex and relationships from unreliable sources. Here are some tips.|
|All About Menstruation Getting a period is a natural part of being a woman. Find out more in this article for kids.|
|Helping Teens Take Charge of Their Health Care It's important for parents to guide teens toward managing their own health care. Here are some ways to get started.|
|Talking to Your Parents - or Other Adults Whether it's an everyday issue like schoolwork or an emergency situation, these tips can help you improve communications with your parents and other adults.|
|5 Ways to (Respectfully) Disagree These 5 tips can help you disagree with someone in a constructive way - without losing it or shying away from how you feel.|
|Talking to Your Child About Drugs Just as you inoculate your kids against illnesses like measles, you can help "immunize" them against drug use by giving them the facts now.|
|Kids and Smoking The health risks of tobacco are well known, yet every year many young people take up smoking. Here's how to help your kids avoid tobacco use - or quit, if they've already started.|
|Sleep Problems in Teens Does your teen have trouble falling asleep at night? Is he or she sleepy during the day? Find out if it's just a normal part of adolescence, or if something else is to blame.|
|Talking to Parents About Depression If you feel depressed, you need to reach out for help and support. Read our tips for teens on talking to parents about depression.|
|Female Reproductive System Why do girls get periods? What goes on when a woman gets pregnant? What can go wrong with the female reproductive system? Find the answers to these questions and more in this article for teens.|
|Talking to Your Daughter About Puberty Help your daughter prepare for the changes that puberty will bring before she takes her first steps toward adulthood.|
|Talking to Your Child About Menstruation Kids reaching puberty should already know what's going to happen to their bodies. Here are some tips for talking to your daughter about menstruation.|
|All About Menstruation Periods can be confusing. Get the facts in this article for teens.|
|Taking Charge of Your Medical Care Like learning to drive, figuring out health care is part of becoming an independent adult. Here are tips for teens on what that involves, and how to choose your own doctor.|
What to expect when coming to Akron Children's
For healthcare providers and nurses
Residency & Fellowships, Medical Students, Nursing and Allied Health
For prospective employees and career-seekers
Our online community that provides inspirational stories and helpful information.