What's teen development all about?

This fact sheet is part of the Teen talk: a survival guide for parents of teenagers series.

Parents often blame the ups and downs of raising a teen on one or two things, such as changes in hormones or the influence of peer pressure. But there’s more to it than that.

Changes in the teen years

The pre-teen and teen years are filled with many changes. Normal teen development includes biological and physical changes. But it also includes social, emotional, and intellectual changes. Teens are experiencing many changes in:

  • Friendships and other relationships.
  • Brain functions.
  • Thinking processes.
  • How they exist in the larger society.

Teens’ developmental tasks

Teens have many developmental "tasks" to do as they work to figure out who they are. Teens have far more of these tasks than infants and young children. According to The teen years explained, teens develop their self-concept and self-esteem by doing five developmental tasks. Those tasks are to:

  • Become independent-functioning individuals.
  • Achieve mastery or a sense of competence.
  • Establish social status.
  • Experience intimacy.
  • Determine sexual identity.

Achieving these developmental tasks occurs gradually. Sometimes teens do these tasks individually and sometimes in combination with another task. There's no set order to competing these tasks.

Each teen matures on his or her own timetable. Teens can be ahead of the typical age in one area of development and at the same time, behind the average age in another area. For example, consider a physically awkward 15-year-old boy who has not adjusted to the extra inches he grew in a few months. This same 15-year-old boy might possess wonderful social skills and make friends easily.

What parents can do

Here's how you, as a parent, can deal with developmental changes in your teen:

  • Expect change in your teen.
  • Learn more about teen development and what’s normal.
  • Remember your teen is an individual, and everyone develops differently.

Although it can be helpful to recall your own experiences as a teenager, that isn’t enough when dealing with your own teen's development. You need to arm yourself with information about what to expect as your child grows into adolescence. Check out the resources listed elsewhere on this page.

Colleen Gengler, Extension educator emerita in family relations

Reviewed by Jodi Dworkin, Extension specialist and associate professor in Family Social Science

Reviewed in 2018

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