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What's Happening with My Teen?

Remember, the teenager is an invention of modern American society.

Throughout most of human history, teen marriage and parenthood were common, a reflection of a much shorter lifespan.  Teenagers experience the sexual urge very powerfully, probably more powerfully than they ever will again in their lives.

Teenagers also experience the sexual urge more powerfully than their parents.  They may well ask their parents, "What do you know?"  And they deserve answers. So what's the best way to give them?

The adolescent years are full of physical, emotional and social change. Here is information about those changes and how you can help your child navigate through the tumultuous waters of the teen years.

Ages 9-11: Puberty

The onset of puberty varies from one child to another. The average range is anywhere from eight or nine to sixteen years of age. It's important that you communicate this with your teen so that they don't compare their growth (or lack of it) with their peers.

During this time boys and girls are beginning to notice and understand the concrete changes that are happening in their bodies. At this age it is harder for them to grasp more abstract concepts or be aware of subtle ideas. Right now they are focused on what they can see hear or feel so as a parent you can focus on when, where and why puberty happens.

Ages 11-15: Middle School Years

At this age your child is beginning to connect what they have learned about the concrete changes that occur in puberty to the changes that occur within the body that can't be seen. They are starting to understand more details about physiology and the reproductive system. They are also more aware of the emotional changes that are happening to them. And you will be too! Be prepared for crushes and mood swings, embarrassed giggles and a fiercely protected privacy.

You will need to be ready for lots of questions, so keep those lines of communication open. This is a prime time to talk about the consequences of behavior and the concept of how they can make choices that can prevent negative outcomes.
Ages 15-18: High School

During this time teens are developing and refining their relationship skills. They are starting to apply what they have learned from you (and elsewhere) to their behavior. They are also forming their own value system apart from their parents. But don't worry, much of what they learned from you form a foundation for this exploration process. As they mature, they begin to link their values to behavior and learn to accept responsibility for the consequences of decisions that they have made.

Make sure your child has accurate information about the risks and consequences of teen sexual activity. And don't hesitate to share your own values and expectations with them. They need to know how you feel. Also continue to reinforce the concept that the choices that they make now will affect them later.

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Maturation of the Teen Brain (as seen in the Healthy Futures newsletter May 2005)