May 29, 2008

A Parent’s Guide through the Teen Years

By Vestina F. Crayton, Pinellas County Extension, Educational Instructor

teenagersTransitioning into the teen years is an exciting but challenging time for teens and their parents. This is a time when many changes occur. Some are subtle while others are more obvious. Many times parents and teens have to deal with the results of these changes without warning or preparation. What are some of these changes? Extensive research has been done to identify the following four developmental phases that most teens experience: physical, cognitive, social, and moral.

To adequately examine this phase, two age categories will be discussed:
early adolescence – ages 10 to 14 and late adolescence 15-18.

Early Adolescence- Generally speaking, for both boys and girls, physical changes takes place around age 11. Girls put on weight, grow taller, and typically enter puberty two years earlier than boys. Boys experience a height or growth spurt at age 14. This activity explains the awkwardness that many early adolescences exhibit. Such as the lower extremities of the body (hands, legs, feet) out grow the torso which creates a seemingly disproportionate body. Girls have broader hips while boys develop broader shoulders. This differentiation is attributed to the affect of sex hormones on skeletal expansion.

Puberty plays a significant role in the normal physical development of an early adolescent. Girls will grow pubic and underarm hair; start menstruating and budding of the breast will become visible. Boys will grow hair on their face and body, the male reproductive organ will enlarge and the voice will deepen.

Late Adolescence-
At this stage of development, most of the rapid growth occurrences are nearly complete. At age 16 and 17 the height of girls and boys, respectively, have reached its end. Boys display larger skeletal muscle while having larger lung and heart capacity. This allows more transport of oxygen from the lungs to the muscle which would explain the difference in muscle between boys and girls.

How do I handle this phase?
Communication is important. But more importantly, is how you communicate. Being compassionate, understanding, and respectful will help your teen cope with this awkward and possibly uncomfortable phase. Explaining that everyone goes through this and that you will be there every step of the way will alleviate some of the stress your teen may feel and open the lines of communication.

In this developmental phase, youth began to mentally process abstract concepts. They begin to think and start asking questions that are not answered by a simple yes or no. They begin self-evaluating by asking questions like ‘what is my purpose?, and ‘what do others think of me?’ This is a critical time because youth been to start categorizing themselves with others. They begin to define who they are. Because the teen is in the process of developing their cognitive ability, analyzing information can become warped and distorted. Research has identified this phenomenon in two ways – imaginary audience and personal fable.

Imaginary audience is when the teen thinks that everyone is looking at and examining them. This causes the teen to be self-conscious. Personal fable is created in conjunction with the imaginary audience. Because the teen thinks everyone is looking at them, an over-inflated sense of self emerges. The teen may start declaring that they are invincible. If left unmonitored, this mode of thinking may cause the teen to take unnecessary risks such as driving recklessly or engaging in unprotected sex.

How do I handle this phase?
Be patient. Be aware. This is a brand new way of thinking for your teen. Take comfort in knowing that this is normal development for learning to process information.

Social teenagers
Self identity begins to take form in this stage of development. Teens evaluate themselves through their social interactions with parents, peers, and friends. Research has found that as adolescents transition into the teen years, the time spent with family decreases and the time spent with peers and friends increases. In addition, time spent alone grows. A study revealed that on average youth ages 13-16 years old spend 28 minutes a day with parents and 103 minutes with friends and peers (Buhrmester & Carbery, 1992).

It’s during this time that teens seek support from not only their parents but also their peers and friends. Teens will share their thoughts and feelings about school and different career options with parents; however, teens will bond with other teens when it comes to their emotional trials and triumphs.

How do I handle this phase?
Even though it may appear that your teen does not need you as much as when they were an adolescent, don’t panic. This is a time of exploration and discovery for your teen. Take advantage of the time to guide and provide your teen with invaluable input that will help build a solid foundation to make better decisions that will have a significant impact on the their future .

The ability to think about others takes shape during this stage. Teens begin to consider the consequences of their actions. More attention is given to how their values and principles compare and/or contrast with society.

How do I handle this phase?
Celebrate and embrace this level of maturity that your teen has achieved. This is a time that you can witness the values that you have instilled in your teen through their behavior and response to the world. Or, revisit some areas that may need some attention.

To learn more about these four stages of development, Pinellas County 4-H Youth Development offers a 4-H Family Teening-Up program. This program is a two-day, 6-hour interactive workshop designed especially for parents and their teens. Through hands-on learning activities, participants will receive tips and implementation strategies on how to respond to these various stages of development. Having this information and using these tips will help you and your teen move through this exciting time more easily. For more information about this valuable program, contact 4-H Youth Development at (727) 582-2450.


Helping Teens Answer the Question "Who Am I?" Physical Development in Adolescents:

Helping Teens Answer the Question "Who Am I?": Cognitive Development in Adolescents:

Helping Teens Answer the Question "Who Am I?": Social Development in Adolescents:

Middle Childhood and Adolescent Development:

University of Minnesota, Extension, A Parent's Guide to Teens:

4-H Family Teening-Up program:

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