Last month we explored the developmental markers which can define the primary school experience for a lot of children. This month, we wanted to dive into the developmental stages that mark ages 13 to 18; while students are in high school. Mental, emotional and cognitive developments are an important part of the transition from child to young adult, and it can be a challenging time to navigate with so much emphasis being placed on studies and preparing for the future, right when students are also focusing very much on relationships, understanding their own identity and on new interests and experiences! How as parents can we encourage responsibility, organisation and independent study skills whilst also being sensitive to the needs of adolescents?
This is of course one of the developmental stages parents are most nervous about in the parenting journey – the dreaded early-teens! 13 to 14 is often marked by the formation of self-identity through hobbies, fashion and physical expression, and friends. Early teens often spend more and more time in their room, on the phone or out of the house. While encouraging them to still participate in family activities, it’s often best not to make too many jokes about their reclusiveness – it’s a normal part of adolescence and one which many parents themselves may remember.
Values often cement themselves at this time, with the child questioning the rules of parents, school and other forms of authority and having their own opinion on what is right or wrong. The transition into high school can be daunting, and these early adolescent years are certainly marked by self-consciousness and uncertainty.
More than ever before, social groups separate into cliques, and early teenagers work to balance forming their personal identity while ensuring they ‘fit in’. The social groups formed become a safe place for them to test new ideas and behaviours, and members of the same peer group often establish their own ‘code’ of behaviours and identity presentation; dressing and acting alike and participating in the same activities. Students can become very focused on comparing themselves to others. The awkward start to puberty is different for everyone, and young teenagers are often extremely self-conscious and feel as if they are centre-stage (as if every misstep is being put under a microscope!).
“The teenager’s quest to become independent is a normal part of development. The parent should not see it as a rejection or loss of control. Parents need to be constant and consistent. They should be available to listen to the child’s ideas without dominating the child’s independent identity.
Although adolescents always challenge authority figures, they need or want limits. Limits provide a safe boundary for them to grow and function. Limit-setting means having pre-set rules and regulations about their behavior.” (‘Adolescent development’, MedilinePlus)
Older adolescents are often less prone to pressure from their peers and more self-assured in their perspectives and values. Developing a sense of individual identity is more relevant than ever, as older teens learn about the social and political world around them and consider their place in it.
As there are higher expectations for managing their schedule and competing priorities independently, older adolescents tend to have increased problem-solving skills and better organisational abilities. However, they can often act impulsively and are not always consistent in their approach.
These years can be marked by an emotional rollercoaster of highs and lows as they deal with excitement about the future and new experiences, while also grappling with how overwhelming and uncertain things can feel. After attending formal education for most of their life, suddenly there are decisions to be made and many paths ahead, instead of a clear and structured trajectory! Moodiness and bouts of sadness are a big part of puberty but it is crucial to keep an eye out for worrying patterns, or depressive episodes lasting longer than a couple of weeks, so that professional support can be sought.
Even more so than primary school, high school marks a time of highs and lows, peaks and troughs. Young people often navigate struggles with their own identity, some of their first big conflicts with friendship groups, romantic relationships and authority figures. At the same time there is often a lot of pressure to achieve academically in school with the approach of ATAR, WACE and career advice sessions!
Be kind and consistent in your approach, be open about the challenges you face personally and work to support your child in navigating the often-unstable terrain of adolescence. After all, helping to shape and guide young people in one of the most rewarding parts of parenting.