Normal Middle Adolescent Development: Ages 14 to 18

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Throughout the high school years, teens develop rapidly. Each year they reach many new milestones. Their changes are obvious, not just in terms of their physical appearance, but also in their thinking and behavior. Not all teens develop at exactly the same pace, however. Some teens mature more quickly than others so while some teen enter into middle adolescence prior to the age of 14, others remain here past age 18.

Physical Development

Both boys and girls complete puberty during this phase. Girls reach their full height during this phase, but boys continue growing.

Boys who are slow to mature more be at a higher risk for problems, such as being bullied, becoming depressed, or experiencing school-related problems. Boys who mature earlier than their peers, are at greater risk of engaging in sexual activity or delinquency.

Cognitive Development

Middle adolescence is the time when teens become better able to set goals and think about their future. Their ability to think abstractly continues to increase and they often begin thinking about the meaning of life.

Their ability to understand moral reasoning also increases. They’re better able to understand why it’s important to follow rules as well as the times when it’s appropriate to break those rules, such as in the case of an emergency. Many teens become interested in helping others and they begin to clarify their own values, which might be separate from their parents.

Throughout middle adolescence, teens often tend to be overly dramatic. They may make everything into a big deal or exaggerate their opinions and behavior. Mental health issues may emerge in some teens, such as depression and anxiety.

Social Development

During this phase, teens remain very interested in friendships.

They begin to rely less on family for emotional support and turn to peers for help and advice. The desire to fit in and become popular often becomes important to teens.

Feeling accepted by peers can have a major impact on a teen’s overall well-being. Teens who feel rejected by peers may be more likely to engage in delinquent behavior. For some teens, the desire to fit in leads to them falling prey to peer pressure.

The desire to begin dating often appears between the ages of 14 and 16.  Early relationships tend to be short-lived. Longer relationships tend to lead to an increased interest in sexual activity. Parents should have ongoing conversations with teens during middle adolescence about healthy relationships and sexual activity.

Emotional Development

Teens begin to develop increased empathy and a better ability to work cooperatively with others during middle adolescence. It’s important for them to learn relationship skills so they can maintain friendships and develop healthy relationships with other people.

During this phase, self-esteem issues often become apparent. Teens who don’t fit in with the peers, or teens who don’t fit in with cultural ideals, often struggle with self-esteem issues. It’s important to help teens find their talents and passions during this time so they can build on their strengths.

It’s important for teens to have plenty of healthy activities that give them a strong sense of self-worth. Parents can encourage participation in music, various clubs, sports, and other activities that help teens gain a sense of belonging.

Teens can benefit from learning a lot of emotional regulation skills to help them cope with feelings of anger, sadness, or loneliness in a healthy manner. Often, role modeling healthy ways to deal with feelings isn’t enough. Teens may need some direct teaching and coaching to help them understand positive ways to deal with their feelings.

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