Understanding My Teen

EARLY ADOLESCENCE, 10 - 14 YEARS

LEARNING ABOUT SEXUAL FEELINGS AND ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS

One of the biggest changes teens have to deal with is creating a sense of sexuality. This means developing a sexual orientation, dealing with new sexual feelings, and responding to how others view and react to their sexuality changes. They have to ask themselves what it means to be sexual, what to do, and with whom. Teens figure out their sexuality by trying it out. They experiment by asking questions, changing their way of dressing, and acting on new physical sensations.

They also have to develop skills for romantic relationships. How to attract a partner, manage and get out of relationships. Their relationships change frequently and there is a lot of drama in it. We have to remember that they are developing new skills, their brain is more emotional and it’s all new.

ADJUST TO A NEW PHYSICAL SENSE OF SELF

Young adolescents experience fast and deep physical changes caused by hormones acting on different parts of their bodies.

This is what you will see:

  • Fast physical growth and body changes (including sexual maturation).
  • Uneven growth of bones, muscles, and organs can result in an awkward appearance.
  • Often tired.
  • Intense concern with body image given their physical changes; may be self-conscious about growth.
  • Peers are often used as a standard for normal.
  • Worries about being normal.
BRAIN DEVELOPMENT

Brain Development

Brain development is top discussion these days. That’s because there’s lot of change in the teen brain starting at puberty. The brain grows. There are more brain cells (neurons) and they connect better, they transfer information quicker and more efficiently. The growth is in all areas of the brain, so the communication across the brain improves. The brain is like a muscle, the areas that get used grow stronger, and the ones that don’t get used disappear. This growth happens for quite a while. It is not complete until somewhere in ages 25 -30.

Something important to point out is that this increase of communication across the brain provides the foundation for the development of the “higher level executive functioning” skills. What’s an executive function skill and why is it important for teens?  

Planning ahead. Strategizing. Organizing. Logical reasoning. Weighing risks and rewards. Making judgments. Making decisions. Working memory. Regulating moods. Managing impulses.

Teens are often drawn to emotional intensity (thrills, excitement, adventures, risk-taking) – activities like snowboarding off a roof! This can bring with it: RISKIER BEHAVIORS. Young people do understand the risk of these behaviors (research has shown this) but they often assess risks and benefits differently than adults.

  • What’s top for early adolescents? Fitting in, feeling normal with normal being their friends. Having fun.
  • They analyze the risks and benefits of behaviors differently than we do and assess their personal level of risk. Think about drinking at a party. What are the positive and negative consequences from adult and teen perspective?
  Adults Teens
Fitting in Not very important Really important
Having fun Can have fun other ways Really important to have fun like my friends do.
Getting pregnant, crashing a car, losing place on sports team Big issue, life changing, AVOID AT ALL COSTS Not good but it didn’t happen to me last time (last 5 times) I drank, so I must be immune.

Add to all of this that teens are often inconsistent in planning & reasoning (those are skills they are learning). Also, teens are learning how to CONTROL EMOTIONS: Think of the teen who spews verbal emotional venom at you and then can’t tell you why. Along with emotions are 2 related signs: Being impulsive and focused on self (we’ve heard that before!) – This self-focus makes it hard for them to think about the effects of their behavior on other people. They look like they’re selfish and rude. But thinking of others requires insight, and insight requires a fully developed brain (still working on that one)

Just to be clear about brain development, it’s not about teens being unable to control their emotions and always making bad decisions, impulsive, self-focused. Instead, teens can control emotions, impulses, behaviors but just not routinely, consistently. They are still learning, and they really need PRACTICE!

PHYSICAL GROWTH & DEVELOPMENT

Males

  • Physical growth spurt begins 1-2 years after girls and accelerates more slowly.
  • Continue to grow for about 6 years after 1st visible changes of puberty.
  • Physical development continues 3-4 years after most girls; may not finish until age 21.

Females

  • Begin the process of physical growth and puberty about 1-2 years earlier than boys.
  • Attain adult height and reproductive maturity about 4 years after the 1st physical changes of puberty appear.

Both

  • Girls and boys are both entering puberty at earlier ages than ever.
  • There is a wide range of normal.
  • Physical maturation has little correlation with cognitive development (e.g. youth that look physically older do not necessarily have higher levels of cognitive ability).

 

MIDDLE ADOLESCENCE, 15 - 17 YEARS

ADJUST TO PHYSICAL CHANGES

Make it a habit to say at least three positive things to your teen every day (even if it’s just, “hey, thanks for feeding the dog.”) It’s easy to notice the negative, but no one has yet to complain about receiving a compliment – even a teen.

A little bit less evident than early adolescence, adolescents keep experiencing physical changes caused by hormones acting on different parts of their body.

This is what you will see in your teen:

  • Ongoing physical and sexual changes.
  • Worry about their appearance and body.
  • They often feel strange about their self and their body.
  • Sometimes they will do a lot of activity and some other they will be completely tired.
  • During growth spurts they will be hungry all the time.
  • They need to sleep much more than before.

Adjust to a sexually maturing body and feelings

During early adolescence teens start the process of creating a sense of sexuality. During their middle adolescence, they keep doing it, and they start to adjust to their new body and feelings.

Some characteristics of this age are:

  • Sexual drives begin.
  • Exploration of their ability to date and attract a partner.
  • Concerns about being sexually attractive.
  • Frequent changes in relationships.
  • Feelings of love and passion.

DEVELOP AND APPLY ABSTRACT THINKING SKILLS

During middle adolescence teens are increasingly able to:

  1. Understand and grapple with things that cannot be seen, heard, or touched. Topics such as faith, love, trust, beliefs, peace, racism, as well as higher mathematics.
  2. Think about possibilities – thinking about multiple options and possibilities (the age-old “what if…?” questions).
  3. Think ahead.
  4. Think about thinking –the ability to understand another person’s perspective.

Youth evolve from:

  1. There’s only 1 perspective – mine (concrete thinker/early abstract thinker).
  2. There are 2 perspectives – mine and yours, but I can only think about 1 at a time (some skills in abstract thought).
  3. There are multiple perspectives and I can think about all of them (full abstract thought).

During middle adolescence the focus is on refinement and testing. Abstract thinking is at full force – the world is at their feet because they can think of almost anything in so many ways (imagine what this feels like!). They understand “cause and effect” better (if I do this, then this will happen). They see things as relative rather than absolute. Think in the long term, but often make choices and decisions based on urgency and impulsivity. Under stress they still revert to concrete thought. Don’t yet have a framework to figure what to do with all these new perspectives, so they need to practice! The best way to help them is to debate and argument.

Remember: physical development and ability to think abstractly are often not in sync with each other. Adults often get mixed up on this point.

BRAIN DEVELOPMENT

Brain Development

Brain development is top discussion these days. That’s because there’s lot of change in the teen brain starting at puberty. The brain grows. There are more brain cells (neurons) and they connect better, they transfer information quicker and more efficiently. The growth is in all areas of the brain, so the communication across the brain improves. The brain is like a muscle, the areas that get used grow stronger, and the ones that don’t get used disappear. This growth happens for quite a while. It is not complete until somewhere in ages 25 -30.

Something important to point out is that this increase of communication across the brain provides the foundation for the development of the “higher level executive functioning” skills. What’s an executive function skill and why is it important for teens?  

Planning ahead. Strategizing. Organizing. Logical reasoning. Weighing risks and rewards. Making judgments. Making decisions. Working memory. Regulating moods. Managing impulses.

Teens are often drawn to emotional intensity (thrills, excitement, adventures, risk-taking) – activities like snowboarding off a roof! This can bring with it: RISKIER BEHAVIORS. Young people do understand the risk of these behaviors (research has shown this) but they often assess risks and benefits differently than adults.

  • What’s top for early adolescents? Fitting in, feeling normal with normal being their friends. Having fun.
  • They analyze the risks and benefits of behaviors differently than we do and assess their personal level of risk. Think about drinking at a party. What are the positive and negative consequences from adult and teen perspective?
  Adults Teens
Fitting in Not very important Really important
Having fun Can have fun other ways Really important to have fun like my friends do.
Getting pregnant, crashing a car, losing place on sports team Big issue, life changing, AVOID AT ALL COSTS Not good but it didn’t happen to me last time (last 5 times) I drank, so I must be immune.
PHYSICAL GROWTH & DEVELOPMENT

Males

  • Start their physical growth spurt 1 or 2 years after girls and is slower.
  • They continue to grow for about 6 years after starting with the first puberty changes.
  • Their physical development keeps going 3 to 4 years after most girls; may not finish until turning 21.

Females

  • Start their physical growth and puberty about 1 to 2 years before boys do.
  • They reach their adult height and reproductive maturity about 4 years after the first puberty changes appear.

Both

  • Girls and boys are both starting to develop at earlier ages than ever.
  • Since some teens start developing very early and other very late, there is a wide range of normality.
  • Physical, emotional and thinking development are often not in sync with each other.

LATE ADOLESCENCE, 18 - 24 YEARS

The process of becoming an adult is more gradual and varied today than in the past. Young people take longer to achieve economic and psychological autonomy and early adulthood experiences vary greatly by gender, race and ethnicity, and social class.

This is a time of life when very little is normative. It is a period of frequent change and exploration that covers many aspects of their life: home, family, work, school, resources, and role.

GET TO KNOW TEEN FRIENDS AND THEIR PARENTS

Adjust to Physical and Emotional Changes

One of the biggest changes teens have to deal with is creating a sense of sexuality. This means developing a sexual orientation, dealing with new sexual feelings, and responding to how others view and react to their sexuality changes. They have to ask themselves what it means to be sexual, what to do and with whom. Teens figure out their sexuality by trying it out. They experiment by asking questions, changing their way of dressing, and acting on new physical sensations.

They also have to develop skills for romantic relationships. How to attract a partner, and manage and get out of relationships. Their relationships change frequently and there is a lot of drama in it. We have to remember that they are developing new skills, their brain is more emotional and it’s all new. During late adolescence teens are feeling in between – figuring out what it means to be in relationship as adult. Young adults are more serious about what they want in a relationship. Usually, they already know their sexual identity and most have had a sexual experience.

ADJUST TO A NEW PHYSICAL SENSE OF SELF

During this stage, body changes are mostly complete. However, teen men may keep growing physically until turning 21. At this stage teens have a greater acceptance of their bodies and appearance.

Nothing! For young adults nothing is normal. All they know, all the things they count on – change. At the same time, we adults think that much of this change is completed.  They’ve made it. Wrong! This is stage of adolescence is characterize by real changes in life. Some of the changes that young people experience as they transition out of high school and on into their early 20’s are: Where they liveWhat they do – school, work, Relationships – now they interact much more with adults (in school, at work, where they live) – not so age segregated as before. There is no rite of passage to tell them that they’ve “made it.” It’s up to them to figure it out.

DEVELOP & APPLY ABSTRACT THINKING SKILLS

  1. Understand and grapple with things that cannot be seen, heard, or touched. Topics such as faith, love, trust, beliefs, peace, racism, as well as higher mathematics.
  2. Think about possibilities – thinking about multiple options and possibilities (the age-old “what if…?” questions).
  3. Think ahead.
  4. Think about thinking –the ability to understand another person’s perspective.

Youth evolve from:

  1. There’s only 1 perspective – mine (concrete thinker/early abstract thinker).
  2.  There are 2 perspectives – mine and yours, but I can only think about 1 at a time (some skills in abstract thought).
  3. There are multiple perspectives and I can think about all of them (full abstract thought).
  4. At this age, teens have practiced and got abstract thinking down. They are able to find ways to organize all their ideas, to identify values and viewpoints that work better for oneself, while respecting that other viewpoints may fit better for others.
  5. Now, they can see many right answers to a problem and apply one abstract idea to other situations.

Late adolescents are the most idealistic.

Remember: physical development and ability to think abstractly are often not in sync with each other. Adults often get mixed up on this point.

BRAIN DEVELOPMENT
Brain development is the top discussion these days. That’s because there’s a lot of change in the teen brain starting at puberty. The brain grows. There are more brain cells (neurons) and they connect better, they transfer information quicker and more efficiently. The growth is in all areas of the brain, so the communication across the brain improves. The brain is like a muscle, the areas that get used grow stronger, and the ones that don’t get used disappear. This growth happens for quite a while. It is not complete until somewhere between the ages of 25 -30.

Something important to point out is that this increase in communication across the brain provides the foundation for the development of the “higher level executive functioning” skills. What’s an executive function skill and why is it important for teens?  

Planning. Strategizing. Organizing. Logical reasoning. Weighing risks and rewards. Making judgments. Making decisions. Working memory. Regulating moods. Managing impulses.

Teens are often drawn to emotional intensity (thrills, excitement, adventures, risk-taking) – activities like snowboarding off a roof! This can bring with it: RISKIER BEHAVIORS. Young people do understand the risk of these behaviors (research has shown this) but they often assess risks and benefits differently than adults.

  • What’s top for early adolescents? Fitting in, feeling normal with normal being their friends. Having fun.
  • They analyze the risks and benefits of behaviors differently than we do and assess their level of risk. Think about drinking at a party. What are the positive and negative consequences from adult and teen perspectives?
 
  Adults Teens
Fitting in Not very important Really important
Having fun Can have fun other ways Really important to have fun like my friends do.
Getting pregnant, crashing a car, losing place on sports team Big issue, life changing, AVOID AT ALL COSTS Not good but it didn’t happen to me last time (last 5 times) I drank, so I must be immune.

Add to all of this that teens are often inconsistent in planning & reasoning (those are skills they are learning). Also, teens are learning how to CONTROL EMOTIONS: Think of the teen who spews verbal emotional venom at you and then can’t tell you why. Along with emotions are 2 related signs: Being impulsive and focused on self (we’ve heard that before!) – This self-focus makes it hard for them to think about the effects of their behavior on other people. They look like they’re selfish and rude. But thinking of others requires insight, and insight requires a fully developed brain (still working on that one)

Just to be clear about brain development, it’s not about teens being unable to control their emotions and always making bad decisions, impulsive, self-focused. Instead, teens can control emotions, impulses, behaviors but just not routinely, consistently. They are still learning, and they really need PRACTICE!

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