“Well, I could do it for a day, but I wouldn’t want to be a teenager again. I really wouldn’t.” –Jamie Lee Curtis
Adolescence. When this word is used, it can certainly stir up a mixture of emotions, for children and parents alike.
During this time, teenagers undergo as many developmental changes as when they were babies. They’re just not as obvious (or some may claim, as joyful) moments. Following infancy, adolescence is one of the most dynamic events of human growth and development, in terms of the amount of change that happens in the brain. The brain undergoes the process of “rewiring”, which is not fully completed until around the age of 25! During adolescence, teenagers are experiencing many emotional and physical changes that they may not understand. Thankfully, your pediatrician can help you navigate and understand these changes. This article details some of the changes and challenges adolescents go through, and how parents can start early to prepare themselves and their child for a smoother transition.
Physical Changes During Puberty
For many adolescents, their primary concern during this period of life may be about changes to their bodies. Pediatricians refer to this stage as puberty and can review these bodily changes with you and your child. There are specific stages of development that both boys and girls go through when developing secondary sexual characteristics. These are physical characteristics like voice changes, body shape changes, pubic hair distribution, facial hair, and the development of acne. Girls will start menstruation, while boys may have nocturnal emissions (or “wet dreams”).
During this time, many adolescents may find themselves comparing their bodies to others – noticing differences in height as they stand in line or differences in their bodily structure as they change into gym clothes. Boys and girls whom develop earlier or later than “normal” may get teased and suffer from body image concerns. These body image concerns may intensify and trigger bigger issues as they enter adulthood. In addition, in this digital age, teenagers already compare themselves often to images they see online or on social media. As a result, they may put unnecessary pressure on themselves to achieve an idealized, and often unrealistic, appearance.
Social and Emotional Changes During Puberty
You may find your teen “all over the place” at times – suffering from emotional outbursts, depression, or anxiety. They may also be demanding more independence or even challenging your religious or political beliefs. During these years, teenagers become more able to think abstractly. Over time, they can make their own plans and set long-term goals for themselves. Each child progresses at a different rate and may have a different view of the world as time goes on.
As your adolescent starts to struggle for independence and control, they may challenge your authority. They may want to get a job, or they may start taking unwarranted risks like experimenting with drugs, alcohol, and sex. They may also venture into looking into different spiritual or professional paths. These may be difficult topics to talk about with your teenager, but teaching and discussing it with them early on may help you both in the long run.
The Importance of Teen Friendships
Pediatricians and parents also know that during the adolescent years, friends are extremely important. Since teenagers may be wanting independence from their parents, likely, they will then turn to their peers for influence and acceptance.
At this age, adolescents can become aware of their sexuality and want to explore romantic relationships. They may even fall in love. As a parent myself, I understand how challenging this can be to navigate. We may wonder if their peer groups are safe and may question their choices. So many of these realities may be new or foreign to us. But you are not alone. Your pediatrician can guide you and your teen through this developmental stage, just as they did when they were babies.
The Role of School During Adolescence
Lastly, adolescents are going through one of the biggest challenges in their lives when it comes to education. They may hate school or they may love it. They may question if they are doing well enough in class. They may ask “why can’t I focus” or “what if I don’t want to go to college?” Many teenagers may show more obvious signs of an attention deficit disorder, or be finally diagnosed with a learning disability at this point. Whatever the case, if these educational challenges are not addressed, it may hamper their future success.
Preparing For Adolescence as a Parent
This article may have raised more questions for you than answered them, but it’s important to know about these changes and challenges, and remember that your adolescent child needs you during this time. They are not yet completely independent when dealing with their emotions or concerns. As a parent, you can help them by telling them what you know from your own life experiences – especially in moments when they feel sad, angry, jealous, etc. They may be more willing than you think to try out some of the solutions or advice you offer, to help their own emotional issues.
Raising a teenager is more about the balance of independence and dependence in the different components (emotional, physical, etc.) of their lives, as well as the people in their lives. TopLine MD Alliance affiliated pediatricians can help you navigate these stages of life in order to provide a safe and loving home environment for your children. Call your pediatrician if you have any questions and don’t forget to keep up with your annual visits!
Dr. Ana Hernandez-Puga is a proud member of the TopLine MD Alliance practicing Pediatrics in Miami-Dade County.
The TopLine MD Alliance is an association of independent physicians and medical practice groups who are committed to providing a higher standard of healthcare services. The members of the TopLine MD Alliance have no legal or financial relationship with one another. The TopLine MD Alliance brand has no formal corporate, financial or legal ties to any of the affiliated physicians or practice groups.