Parenting a teen can be joyful, exciting, frustrating and terrifying -- all at the same time. In the years between age 10 to age 18, your child is going through the process of becoming an adult. The physical changes, height, weight, and sexual maturation, are the most obvious. But there is intense amounts of brain growth going on as well. Jane M. Healy, author of "Your Child's Growing Mind" reminds readers that the prefrontal cortex, which she describes as the brain's brain, will have a major growth spurt during these years.
The teen years are a time of enormous change. Puberty causes physical and emotional changes. Boys and girls begin to show primary and secondary sexual characteristics, such as menarche, ejaculation, breast growth, hair growth and voice changes. They begin to have sexual feelings, notice the world around them -- and it seems as if everyone is watching them. They have voracious appetites and need at least nine hours of sleep each night. Early-maturing individuals have an adult appearance that often still houses an impulsive child.
As the pre-frontal lobe grows, teens develop more complex approaches to their thinking. They are better able to evaluate the information they receive. They may practice their new abilities by being hypercritical of parental actions, becoming argumentative, or even rebelling against restrictions. The growth rate does not develop at an even rate, so one day you might have a calm, responsible young adult sharing your home; but the following day, you might have an adult-sized child that is throwing a temper tantrum. They are more socially aware, and may embrace a variety of causes or participate more deeply in religious activity.
Teens develop greater abilities to engage in rational thinking, comprehend abstract concepts and develop meta-cognition. They are intensely self-aware. At the same time, they are more conscious of the need for social interactions and of the possible results and consequences. They may become self-conscious about embracing adults in their family. During the teen years, they will have the opportunity to learn to drive, to take college preparation classes or trade classes, and get their first job. Family expectations for home chores and responsibilities may become greater. They may join clubs or become a member of their church. Some teens even start their own business.
Some teens have a rougher time than others transitioning from childhood to adulthood. Family background is a big factor in success, but it's not the only one. Behavioral problems such as ADHD can play a big role in inappropriate social behavior. Other factors include peer pressure, environment and even indulgent parents. Psychiatric disorders can impair a teen's ability to develop one or more areas of normal growth. As a result, a teen might engage in antisocial or even criminal activities. Behavioral problems that appear as early as age 8 can be an accurate prediction of adolescent problems.
As a parent, you want your child to grow into the best person she can be. Modeling the behavior you wish your child to have as an adult is important. Listening to their view, seeking safe, positive activities and creating opportunities for growth will also help your teen to grow into a responsible adult. Catching behavioral problems early and seeking professional help might rescue the future for children who have problems -- or even help them avoid problems before they happen.
- Virginia Cooperative Extension: Adolescent Growth and Development
- The Media Project: Growth and Development, 13-17
- Your Child's Growing Mind: Brain Development and Learning from Birth to Adolescence, Jane M. Healy; 2004.
- American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry: Your Adolescent, Conduct Disorders
- Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images