How do teenagers grow and develop during ages 15 to 18?
The ages from 15 to 18 are an exciting time of life. But these years can
be challenging for teens and their parents. Emotions can change quickly as
teens learn to deal with school, their friends, and adult expectations. Teen
self-esteem is affected by success in school, sports, and friendships. Teens
tend to compare themselves with others, and they might form false ideas about
their body image. The influence of TV, magazines, and the Internet can add to a
teen's poor body image.
For parents, the teen years are a time to
get to know their teenager. While teens are maturing, they still need a
parent's love and guidance. Most do just fine as they face the challenges of
being a teen. But it is still important for teens to have good support from
their parents so that they can get through these years with as few problems as
There are four basic areas of teenage
Most teens enter puberty by age 15. Girls go through a time of rapid growth
right before their first menstrual period. And by age 15, girls are near their
adult height. Boys usually continue to grow taller and gain weight through
their teen years.
Cognitive development. As
they mature, teens are more able to think about and understand abstract ideas
such as morality. They also begin to understand other people better. Even
though they have a certain amount of empathy and can understand that others
have different ideas, they often strongly believe that their own ideas are the
Emotional and social development.
Much of teens' emotional and social growth is about finding their place in the
world. They are trying to figure out "Who am I?" and "How do I fit in?" So it
is normal for their emotions to change from day to day.
Sensory and motor development. Boys continue to get stronger
and more agile even after puberty. Girls tend to level out. Getting plenty of
exercise helps improve strength and coordination in boys and girls.
When are routine medical visits needed?
should see his or her doctor for a routine checkup each year. The doctor will ask
your teen questions about his or her life and activities. This helps the doctor
check on your teen's mental and physical health. It's a good idea to give your
teen some time alone with the doctor during these visits to talk in private.
Your teen will also get the shots (immunizations) that are needed at each
Teens should also see the dentist each year.
When should you call your doctor?
Call your doctor
if you have questions or concerns about your teen's physical or emotional
health, such as:
Body image problems.
Skipping school or other problems with school.
Alcohol and drug use.
Also call your doctor if you notice changes in your teen's
friendships or relationships or if you need help talking with your teen.
How can you help your teenager during these years?
Even though teens don't always welcome your help, they still need it.
Your being available and involved in your teen's life can help your teen avoid
risky behavior. It also helps your teen grow and develop into a healthy adult.
Here are some things you can do:
Encourage your teen to get enough
Talk about body image and self worth.
your teen to eat healthy foods and be active.
Talk with your teen
about drugs and alcohol.
Be ready to address your teen's concerns
Involve your teen in setting household rules and
Continue talking to your teen about dating and
Encourage community involvement (volunteering).
Set rules about media use.
Teens really want to know that they can talk honestly and
openly with you about their feelings and actions. It is very important for
teens to know that you love them no matter what.
Teens grow and develop at different
rates. But general teen growth and development patterns can be grouped into
four main categories.
Physical development. By age 15, most
teens have entered puberty. Most girls are close to their adult height and have
completed the phase of rapid growth that precedes the first
menstrual period. Boys often continue to grow taller
and gain weight. The
growth spurt in boys tends to start about 2 years
after puberty begins and reaches its peak about 1½ years later. Also, gender
characteristics continue to develop in both girls and boys.
Cognitive development, which is the ability to think, learn, reason, and remember.
Teens gradually develop the ability to think in more sophisticated, abstract
ways. They begin to perceive issues in shades of gray instead of black and
white, as they gain a better understanding of concepts like morality,
consequence, objectivity, and empathy. Although they may understand that people
can see the same issue in different ways, they often are convinced their
personal view is the one that is most correct.
Emotional and social development. Attempts to answer the questions "Who am I?"
and "How do I fit in?" guide much of teens' emotional and social development.
This can be a painful process full of anxiety. In response, teens may behave
unpredictably as emotions fluctuate seemingly at random. At times teens may
seem mature. Other times, they may act as if they are still in elementary
school, especially with parents and other close family members. Socially, teens
form new friendships, often with members of the opposite sex.
Sensory and motor development. After puberty, boys'
strength and agility naturally continues to develop, while that of teen girls
tends to level out. Both girls and boys can increase strength, coordination,
and athletic skill through regular physical activity.
Growth and development does not always occur evenly among
different categories. For example, your teen may have a tremendous growth spurt
and look almost like an adult but may seem socially and emotionally young for
his or her age. Eventually, most teens mature in all areas of growth and
development, especially if given the right tools and parental guidance.
The word "teenager" to many people
brings up an image of a wild and reckless young person whose main purpose in
life is to rebel against his or her parents. Most teenagers do not fit this
description. Of course, there are times when any teenager may be hard to deal
with. But many teenagers are trying their best to please parents while they
work toward some level of independence.
Parents of teenagers
ages 15 to 18 are often most concerned about whether their teens will be
able to make good decisions. Parents know that the choices children make during
the teen years can have an impact on much of their adult lives. It is normal to worry. But the chances are that he or
she is going to be okay. Although your child may sometimes have lapses in judgment, know that you do have an effect on what your child decides, even if it doesn't always seem that way.
Know that you are not alone in these
types of concerns. For example, many parents worry about whether their teenager
Resist using or abusing alcohol and drugs
(including prescription drugs and supplements such as
anabolic steroids). Many teens are exposed to these
and other substances throughout their teen years. Offer
strategies to avoid tobacco, drugs, and alcohol. Set
firm, fair, and consistent limits for your teen. Talk about the immediate and
long-lasting results of substance use, such as falling grades and poor health
during adulthood. Help your teen practice how to respond when a harmful
substance is offered, such as stating "No, thanks" and moving on to another
subject. Look for community programs led by teens (peer education). And talk to
your teen right away if you see
signs of substance use.
Focus enough on
doing well in school. Typically, teenagers have many distractions. Friends,
clubs, sports, and jobs can all compete for time that could be spent completing
homework. Show your teenager how to set goals. For example, talk about and
write down a goal for the week, month, and year. Help your teen think about the
steps that need to be taken to reach the goal. Work with your teen to make a
schedule for when to do each step and set rewards for when the goal is
Drive safely. You can help
teach your teen about safe driving. But what a teen does when parents are not
around is the unknown. Remind your child often that driving is a huge
responsibility that should not be taken lightly.
Feel pressured to
Talk about dating and sex early, before the information is needed. Focus on
what makes a relationship healthy, such as trust and respect for each other.
Also, kids have easy access to many websites with sexual or pornographic
content. Keep the computer in a shared area where you can see what your teen is
Find a career. Teens need to decide what they want to do as adults to support themselves. Before high school ends, some teens will have a good start on career plans. Most teens start focusing on career plans around age 17 and older. Help your teen find out what interests him or her. Find ways to help your teen talk to people in certain jobs or get experience by working or volunteering.
understand the issues your teen faces. Although you
may remember some struggles from your own teen years, the issues your teen
faces are likely quite different. Stay involved in your teen's life, such as by
going to school events and encouraging your teen to bring friends to your house
while you are home. You can better see the world from his or her perspective
when you are familiar with it. Also, learn to recognize your teen's
stress triggers and offer guidance on how to manage
the anxiety they may cause. But be careful not to get too caught up in your
teen's world. If you try to take too much control, it will likely only make
things harder for him or her.
help your teen between the ages of 15 and 18 years by using
basic parenting strategies. These include offering open, positive
communication while providing clear and fair rules and consistent guidance.
Support your teen in developing healthy habits and attitudes, help him or her
make wise choices, and offer guidance in how to balance responsibilities.
The following are examples of ways to promote healthy growth and
development in specific areas. But remember that many growth and development
issues overlap. For example, having a healthy body image is important for
physical development and emotional development. Use these ideas as a starting
point to help your teen make good choices that will help him or her grow into a
healthy and happy adult.
Be aware of changing sleep patterns.
Rapidly growing and busy teens need a lot of sleep. The natural sleeping
pattern for many teens is to go to bed later at night and sleep in. This can
make it hard to get up for school. To help your teen get enough rest,
discourage phone and computer use and TV watching after a certain evening
Teach your teen how to take care of his or her skin. Most young people get at
least mild acne. Help your teen manage
acne with daily facial care and, if needed, medicines. Also have your teen avoid sunbathing and tanning salons. Sunburn can damage a child's skin for a lifetime and put him or her at risk for skin cancer. Studies suggest that UV rays from artificial sources such as tanning beds and sunlamps are just as dangerous as UV rays from the sun. For more information, see the topics
Acne and Skin Cancer, Melanoma.
Help your teen choose healthy foods. By eating a wide variety of basic foods, your teen can get the nutrients he or she needs for normal growth. And he or she will be well-nourished. Help your teen choose healthy snacks, make wise food choices at fast food restaurants, and not skip meals, especially breakfast. Make a point to eat as many meals together at home as possible. A regular mealtime gives you and your family a chance to talk and relax together. It also helps you and your child to have a positive relationship with food. For more information, see the topic Healthy Eating for Children.
Offer strategies to avoid tobacco, drugs, and alcohol. Set firm, fair, and
consistent limits for your child. Help him or her understand the immediate and
long-lasting results of substance use, such as falling grades and poor health
during adulthood. Practice how to respond when a harmful substance is offered,
such as simply stating "No, thanks" and moving on to another subject. If you
teenager is using drugs or alcohol, it is important to
talk about it. Discuss how he or she gets the alcohol, tobacco, or drugs and in
what kind of setting it is used. Seek advice from a doctor if the behavior
continues. For more information, see:
Address problems and concerns. Build
trust gradually so your teen will feel safe talking with you about sensitive
subjects. When you want to talk with your teen about problems or concerns,
schedule a "date" in a private and quiet place. Knowing when and how to
interfere in a teen's life is a major ongoing challenge of parenthood. Parents
walk a fine line between respecting a teen's need for independence and privacy
and making sure that teens do not make mistakes that have lifelong
Understand the confusion about sexual orientation and gender identity. Sexuality is a core aspect of identity. Hormones, cultural and peer pressures, and fear of being
different can cause many teens to question themselves in many areas, including
sexual orientation. It is normal during the teen years to have same-sex
"crushes." Consider mentioning to your teen that having such an attraction does
not mean that these feelings will last. But it is helpful to
acknowledge that in some cases, these feelings grow stronger over time rather
Encourage community service. Both your teen and
community members are helped when your teen volunteers. Your teen gets the
chance to explore how he or she connects with others. While helping peers,
adults, and other people, your teen can gain new skills and new ways of looking
at things. He or she can also develop and express personal values and explore
career options. Your teen can benefit most by thinking back on the service
experience and figuring out what he or she learned from it.
your child build a strong sense of self-worth to help him or her act
responsibly, cooperate well with others, and have the confidence to try new
Encourage mature ways of thinking.
Involve your teen in setting household rules(What is a PDF document?) and schedules. Talk about current
issues together, whether it be school projects or world affairs. Listen to your
teen's opinions and thoughts. Brainstorm different ways to solve problems, and
discuss their possible outcomes. Stress that these years provide many
opportunities to reinvent and improve themselves.
goal-oriented instead of style-oriented. Your teen may not complete a task the
way you would. This is okay. What is important is that the task gets done. Let
your teen decide how to complete work, and always assume that he or she wants
to do a good job.
Continue to enjoy music, art, reading, and creative writing with
your teen. For example, encourage your teen to listen to a variety of music,
play a musical instrument, draw, or write a story. These types of activities
can help teens learn to think and express themselves in new ways. Teens may
discover a new or stronger interest, which may help their self-esteem. Remind
your teen that he or she doesn't need to be an expert. Simply learning about
and experimenting with art can help your teen think in more abstract ways and
pull different concepts together.
Encourage daily exercise. Exercise can help your teen feel good, have a healthy heart, and
stay at a healthy weight. Help
your teen to build up an exercise routine slowly. For example, plan a short
daily walk to start. Have your teen take breaks from computer, cell phone, and TV use and be active instead.
Violence and teens
Prevent teen violence by being a good
role model. It's important to model and talk to your child about healthy relationships, because dating abuse is common among teens. For example, talk calmly during a disagreement with someone else.
Help your teen come up with ways to defuse potentially violent situations, such
as making a joke or acknowledging another person's point of view. Praise him or
her for avoiding a confrontation. You might say "I'm proud of you for staying
calm." Also, to help your child limit exposure to violence, closely supervise the websites and computer games that he or she uses.
For more information on teen violence, see the topics
Bullying, Domestic Abuse, and/or Anger, Hostility, and Violent Behavior.
Reduce the risk of teen suicide and
recognize the warning signs. If your teen shows signs
depression, such as withdrawing from others and being
sad much of the time, try to get him or her to talk about it. Call your doctor
if your teen ever mentions suicide or if you are concerned for his or her
When to Call a Doctor
Talk to your teen's doctor if you are concerned about your teen's health or other issues. For example, you may have concerns about your teen:
Having a significant delay in physical or sexual
development, such as if sexual development has not begun by age
It's important for your teen to continue to have routine checkups. These checkups allow the doctor to detect problems and to make
sure your teen is growing and developing as expected. The doctor will do a
physical exam and ask questions about your teen's
social, academic, relationship, and mental health status. Your teen's
immunization record will be reviewed, and needed immunizations should be given
at this time. For more information on immunizations, see:
Teens also need to have regular
dental checkups and need to be encouraged to brush and floss regularly. For
more information about dental checkups, see the topic
Basic Dental Care.
Starting in the teen years, most doctors like to spend some time alone with
your child during the visit. Although many state laws are vague about teens'
rights to medical confidentiality, most doctors will clarify expectations.
Ideally, you will all agree that anything your teen discusses privately with
the doctor will remain confidential, with few exceptions. This gives your teen
an opportunity talk to the doctor about any issue he or she may not feel
comfortable sharing with you.
Other Places To Get Help
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
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Friedman RA (2006). The changing face of teenage drug
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Garrison W, Felice ME (2009). Adolescence. In WB Carey et al., eds., Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics, 4th ed., pp. 62–73. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
Kuperminc GP, et al. (2001). Volunteering and
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Meininger E, Remafedi G (2008). Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender adolescents. In LS Neinstein et al., eds., Adolescent Health Care: A Practical Guide, 5th ed., pp. 554–564. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
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Strasburger VC (2009). Media. In WB Carey et al., eds., Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics, 4th ed., pp. 192–200. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
Telingator CJ, Daniolos PT (2007). Sexual minority youth. In A Martin, FR Volkmar, eds., Lewis's Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: A Comprehensive Textbook, 4th ed., pp. 79–86. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.