The transition from childhood to adulthood is known as adolescence. It typically begins around age 10 and it’s a time of change for kids – and their parents. If you’re uncertain about how to navigate these crucial years loaded with physical, cognitive, social, and emotional changes – you’re not alone. Just remember, the key is open and honest conversation with your child.
You’ll need to talk about body odor, acne, anxiety and romance. And you’ll need to answer your teen’s tough questions honestly and delicately. So, for a little support during this challenging time, turn to someone you and your child know and trust – your pediatrician.
“Yearly visits are extremely important throughout this stage of development,” says Stephanie Levine, DO, a pediatrician and adolescent medicine physician at Atlantic Health System. She explains that statistics show a drop in annual visits during a child’s adolescent years, but, in fact, these are some of the most important years to partner with your pediatrician.
“Your concerns are our concerns,” says Dr. Levine. “We ask the tough questions that can often be uncomfortable for parents. And you’d be surprised at how open kids are about their thoughts and feelings. We just have to ask.”
The Stages of Adolescence: A Time of Exploration
Ages 10-13 - growth and body changes
- Girls grow more quickly than boys, especially during 6th and 7th grade
- Menstruation begins anywhere between ages 9-17 (the average age is 12)
- Body changes bring on inquisitiveness, anxiety, and questions about gender identity
- Spending more time with friends and a desire for social and physical privacy are important
- Concrete thinking means decisions are black and white with little room for cognitive reasoning
Parenting Tip #1:
Listen, Listen, Listen. Make sure your emerging teenager feels heard and understood. Be available to talk with them and answer their questions honestly, but don’t ask questions only when you want answers. Instead, be approachable and let your child come to you for guidance, support, and reassurance.
Ages 14-17 - romantic interests
- Boys have a growth spurt, and their voice starts to crack; girls are typically full grown by now
- Both boys and girls can begin to develop acne, body odor and hair growth
- Romantic interests can begin along with sexual exploration
- A struggle for independence and privacy can lead to more arguing with parents
Parenting Tip #2:
Set limits and talk about safety. Remember that your child’s decision-making and impulse control is not fully developed yet. Although teens can think more abstractly, they still struggle with making the right decision in the moment. Let them know that your job is to make sure they’re safe, to teach them how to make good choices and that they are loved.
Ages 18-21 and older - able to handle more independence
- Most girls and boys have reached their adult height, although boys can continue to grow
- Boys are lean, not strong. Girls are developed. Both feel self-conscious about their bodies
- They understand the risks, consequences, rewards associated with their behavior
- They understand who they are as a person and their family values
- Critical thinking develops in both boys and girls, allowing them to handle more independence
Parenting Tip #3:
Support your child’s social life in healthy ways and don’t be afraid to ask very direct questions. They might not share the details, but they will hear your concerns. Pay attention to a child who starts ignoring their homework or begins to dress differently. These could be cause for concern and may require an honest dialogue with your child about their body, beliefs, and behavior.
Partner With Your Pediatrician
“Our job is to help you guide your children into becoming strong, healthy adults,” says Dr. Levine. “Sometimes what a child is going through is completely normal and we’ll reassure parents that everything is fine. If there are suspicions for concern, we’ll work with parents to intervene early so we can help keep kids on the right track.”
Be Proactive About Your Health
Adolescence is a transitional stage of development that can be challenging for both kids and adults. Regular visits to the pediatrician can help families navigate this time and support kids through their healthy journey to adulthood.