The answer to why your Teen is so Complex is rather simple; it’s physiological really.

There are three distinct stages in teenage development and understanding these stages can help every parent cope, manage and guide their developing child. Adolescence is a time of rapid physical, emotional and psychological changes. Teenage years are when kids want to distinguish themselves from their parents and a time parents want to help guide their child toward adulthood.

Adolescence is also a time we find many arguments and parent-child conflicts escalate as the child starts to separate themselves from family and gravitate more toward their friends and peer groups. This is normal, and I will explain why. The important thing to remember is they do come through this development stage, we all have. Although there may be individual variations, adolescence can generally be thought of in three phases, each with their own specific characteristics. Fact is, the human brain does not mature for girls until their mid-20’s and for boys around 29 – 30 years.

Ever wonder why girls often date a boy a few years older? This is due to their brain being at a similar developmental stage. In fact, it is appropriate, brain-wise, for a girl to date a boy 3 – 4 years older if you really want to match brain maturity. This, of course, balances out once both genders reach 30 years of age.

The stages of development for our teens are:

Stage 1: 11 to 13 years (sometimes earlier for girls)

This is the onset of puberty; that stage where children develop sudden growth, filled with transformations in physical, psychological, emotional, and social changes. A lot happens to teens in these years, and a lot happens to the parents as they continually attempt to manage, understand and guide their developing child.

Physical changes include the appearance of body hair, the development of breasts for girls and larger genitals for boys. Terrible odours can occur, and hygiene can become an issue. Menstruation usually starts for girls as their body experiences considerable physiological change. Teens can become more conscious of their own bodies and start comparing their development with their peers.

Psychologically they often become be more self-centred as they struggle seeing an issue from someone else’s point of view. They often lack the capacity to consider the feelings of others.  While capable of abstract thought, their frontal cortexes are still developing. This is where teens can be more susceptible to bad influences. They can’t long-term plan and their ability to understand the consequence of behaviour is often absent.

Teens may also begin the separation from their parents and family by preferring friends and peer interaction. They can become quiet, withdrawn and more secretive.

Stage 2 – 14 to 17 years

Physical changes continue in middle adolescence with body structure and skeletal physique changing. An increase in body mass in males with boys bulking up.

Friends become a vital part of every teen’s life. Conflicts with parents and are more common, and teens spend increasingly more time with friends. Romantic and social interactions expand and may lead to sexual experimentation and sexual activity. Self-confidence can be an issue as the child discovers their own identity, compares themselves to everyone and struggles to understand who they are, who they wish to be and how they can get these answers. The time of stress and anxiety for this age group can be enormous.

This can be a challenging time for parents. They have all gone through this transition many years earlier, yet often forget what it was they felt, needed and wanted. Too often parents can become critical of their teen’s developmental and friend choices.

Teens can now think more abstractly while they still have a child’s illusion of immortality, they feel indestructible. They often experience increased risk-taking as they have not yet have developed the ability to see a consequence for the behaviour. Risk-taking and the rewards of peer acceptance outweigh logical thinking.

Stage 3 – 18 to 25 years

Yes, the developing brain continues until 25 years for females and almost to 30 years for males. While appearing completely developed and mature, their brain has considerable development left. Their capabilities to plan, delay gratification, and compromise are not yet being fully developed in the prefrontal cortex until mid-20’s. While friends and peers remain important they become less significant in the child’s life and many gravitate back toward parents and family.

The prefrontal cortex has become fully developed allowing a clearer understanding of the consequence of actions, more forward planning in life choices and decisions are more logically considered. Brain development, therefore, continues long after physical development has been reached. This is what many parents struggle with. They see their child as maturely developed yet fail to understand the brain has considerable development remaining.

What can Parent’s Do?

Recognise you have hopefully raised an intelligent, independent individual who is struggling to find their way or an understanding of who they are, what they wish to become and how they fit into their world, yet.

Be there for them. Be kind, tolerant, appreciative and positive always. The child is usually harder on themselves that you could ever be. Never judge them for a poor decision, rather discuss if their decision is best and offer a suggestion or two as alternatives. The child can decide what they will do and this allows the child to feel ownership of their decision and provides empowerment to the child. Parents may find a reduce anxiety relaxation session extremely helpful while they manage this tumultuous time. It is also highly recommended that parents, and child, obtain as much restful sleep of a night to manage better throughout their day.

Your teen will progress through this. While they need guidance and boundaries, they hate being told. I will write a future article on the way families can communicate with their teens without conflict, while guiding their behaviours without telling them what to do. Many teens rebel because they hate being ‘told,’ as we all do, it’s not because they hate you. In fact, they love you and just expect you to understand them even if they can’t themselves. The joy of raising an adolescent.

Read more from Dr Karen

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