By: InterAct of Wake County

Happy March to all you caregivers out there!

Since you are reading this, we know that you have at least one teenager in your house, and boy, can they be surly. In between watching them roll their eyes at your “dated” jokes and refusing to let you look at their Instagram feed, you can’t help but wonder where your sweet little child went.

Well, that’s totally normal, both for you and your teen. Teens develop quickly and extensively between 12 and 17. Teens become much more independent during this time, and work to establish unique personalities, interests, and ideas. While parents and caregivers remain important sources of support and guidance, teens begin to look towards their peers more and more for social cues. Between the ages of

Between the ages of 12-14 you may see your teen: show more concern about body image, looks, and clothes, display moodiness and irritability, show more interest in and influence from peer group, and express less affection toward parents; sometimes they might seem rude or short-tempered. Teens during this period also become more concerned with their bodies and the changes that occur during puberty. This is the time when teens are most likely to have eating problems and develop eating disorders.

However, there is much you can connect with your teen on! During this time, teens develop a stronger sense of right and wrong, begin to understand and have more complex thoughts, and learn how to fully express their feelings and beliefs. As a parent, being honest and direct when discussing touchy subjects, such as alcohol consumption, sex, and drug use, is key. Encouraging healthy eating, sleeping, and lifestyle habits are important; but keep in mind and take an interest in your teens ideas and opinions. Get to know them as people: what do they like and dislike about school? Who are their friends? Being clear about expectations, but allowing your teen some input in how those expectations are met, will reduce conflict during this developmental stage.

As young teens become full-blown teenagers, they begin to fully develop their own personalities and interests. Most teens have completed puberty at this point, but may still have some issues with body shape and size. Eating disorders are especially common among this age, specifically in teen girls. You may see your teen: Have more interest in dating and intimacy, develop a deep capacity for caring and understanding in friendships and intimate relationships, show more independence, and pull further away from parents while spending more time with friends. I know this sounds bad, but there is often less conflict between parent and child at this stage.

As you see your child growing and maturing, you may see them become more “future-focused.” Teens often develop more serious work habits and show concern for their future, such as college and career plans. They will often be able to give you fully-fleshed out reasons for their choices, specifically about what is “right” and what is “wrong.” However, teens also have a tendency towards periods of sadness and depression. Being supportive and caring when speaking to teens about any behavior changes you notice can help guide teens. As scary as it sounds, asking directly about suicidal thoughts won’t “prompt” your teen to have those thoughts. Rather, it will show that you love and care for your teen’s well being.

As a parent, encourage your teen to get involved in his or her local community. Allow them the freedom to make their own choices, when appropriate. Respect their opinions, get to know their friends, and take an interest in their lives and hobbies. After all, you are their parent and they will always be your baby!

For more information on healthy childhood development and parenting, please refer to the CDC’s Child Development Website and Positive Parenting Tips. All information courtesy of the CDC.

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