All Tweens & Teens Are Not Alike: Helping Your Child Through Adolescence

Teens and tweens can be as different as night and day. And the physical and emotional changes that they experience during the various stages of adolescence are equally broad. Learn more about what to expect at every stage, and how you can help support and guide your child as they grow into their best self.

Adolescence is not an event that suddenly happens overnight. The path your child takes throughout their emotional and physical growth is an ongoing process unique to each individual. Tweens can be as different from teens as infants are from preschoolers and kindergartners.

Find out what you can expect as you and your child get ready to traverse the coming years together.

The Early Years of Adolescence

During this time, your tween begins to transform into a teenager. Voices begin cracking and bodies begin changing. Parents can expect the following emotional and physical changes from their growing teens:

  • Your child is looking for more independence and freedom but is still learning about personal responsibility and the consequences of their actions.
  • Younger adolescents may be especially concerned about fitting in with their peers and may focus strongly on their own popularity.
  • This is also the age in which growing tweens may feel awkward or self-conscious around others (particularly those they are attracted to). They may come to you with questions, or seek answers independently from books, the internet, films, and fellow peers.  
  • Conflicts will increase between you and your child as they look for more time alone with their friends.
  • Your growing child may display deeper feelings towards others but may also still seek out opportunities to spend time with you and your family. 
  • The world is opening up to your child, and he or she may be curious to explore his or her personal religious and moral beliefs.
  • Your child's self-awareness is developing, and they will begin to be more concerned with who they are and how they fit into the world.

The Later Years of Adolescence

Physical, emotional, and developmental changes in your teen may grow and be more evident during the later years of adolescence.  Here's what to expect:

  • Your child has a better understanding of their actions and how they affect others. They are more likely and able to accept responsibility and consequences. 
  • Teens of this age are still very interested in spending time with their friends, but may focus more on close friendships (rather than mere popularity).
  • Older teens may spend more time with individuals they have crushes on or are romantically attracted to. They may also be more confident in their knowledge about sex.
  • As your teen grows, conflicts between the two of you may lessen and decline.
  • Older children may begin to pull away and crave more time alone and less time with family.
  • Your child is becoming a stronger individual, and may exhibit personal, religious, and moral beliefs that are more well defined and solidified.
  • With this greater view of the world around them, your teen is becoming more concerned with the future and what they are going to do with their lives.

Teens of all ages—including older adolescents—see their parents as their primary sources of support and advice regarding school, friends, and future employment. Of course, every teenager is an individual and there can be exceptions to the above.

Talking with Your Teen

Teens struggle with a variety of concerns and worries as they grow and develop. Some of the more common issues parents can watch out for and discuss with their teens include:

  • Intimacy and emotional support in friendships
  • Social anxiety (especially fears of social rejection)
  • Concern about being judged by their appearance and behavior
  • Higher levels of depression and anxiety
  • Turning inward or acting out when in high-stress situations
  • Curiosity and exploration of dangerous behaviors (like smoking, drinking, and drug use)

How Teens Manage Stress

Adolescence is stressful, and peers, school, and the broader community can all contribute to your teen's feelings of frustration or anxiety. Other stressors are internal to the family—parental conflict or divorce, parental depression or physical health problems, and parent-child conflict. Still others are inherent—such as the teen's own temperament. It is not so much the type of stressor that causes problems, but the number of stressors.

Research suggests that most adolescents can cope with one, two, or even three stressors, provided none are especially severe or prolonged. When four or more stressors coexist, however, teens can get into real trouble. They may, for example, develop problems in school, behavior problems, or psychiatric disorders.

On the other hand, it's not good for teens to experience no stress during adolescence. It is only through experiencing challenges and overcoming them that teens develop confidence in their ability to do so. In fact, stress can help living things grow stronger.

The Necessity of Stress

Consider the difference between trees growing in a rain forest and trees growing in a desert. Because water is so plentiful in a rain forest, trees do not need to send their roots very deep. Consequently, even moderate winds can topple a tree in a rain forest. But to survive in a desert, trees must send their roots very deep in search of water, enabling them to withstand even very strong winds. Of course, if a tree goes too long without water in a desert, it will wither.

Teens can also benefit from limited amounts of stress. Too much stress can certainly cause problems, but the absence of stress can leave a teen feeling unable to handle the challenges of life.

Effective parenting requires that parents refrain from "rescuing" their teens too quickly whenever stress arises, while at the same time helping out when their teens experiences too much stress. Parents can do this by listening to their teens when they are stressed, exploring with them their options for overcoming the stressor, and expressing confidence that their teens can handle the challenge.

If, however, your teen starts to experience disruptions in his or her daily activities, such as difficulty sleeping or eating, this is a strong indication that your teen is being overwhelmed by stress. If so, you should step in to help out.

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