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Middle & High School Child Development

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Child Development

Being a Pre-Teen

What to Expect

Young teens are going through such dramatic changes, it’s normal for them to swing from being happy to being sad or from feeling smart to feeling dumb. They may worry about personal traits that are vital to them, but hardly noticeable to others. With a growing ability to see the consequences of different actions, tweens and young teens are increasingly considering who they are and who they may become. They are more able to think like adults, but they don’t have the experience and judgment needed to act like adults. It’s important to help them recognize that.

What really matters: Your reassurance and acceptance are especially important at this time, as is your tween or teen’s growth in school and community activities. Strong support will help them develop the confidence they need to make healthy choices. Take the quiz on how you provide support to your young teen during this time of transition.


Intellectual Development

  • Most kids enjoy the social aspects of learning. This works well when teachers encourage learning in small groups.
  • Around ages 11, 12, and 13, shifts occur in kids’ thinking. Keep them engaged in school and learning. Encourage their curiosity.
  • Many are strongly influenced by friends, so if they have friends who only want to socialize and not learn, emphasize the importance of having friends and working hard to learn.
  • Many kids move from concrete to abstract thinking. Concrete thinkers focus on the here and now, such as a particular house cat. Abstract thinkers focus on issues that are are not associated with a specific instance. Thus, an abstract thinker can talk about domestic and wild cats, how they’re similar and different, and which ones they believe have more skills than others.
  • Because kids this age have strong emotions, they tend to either “love” school or “hate” it. If your child happens to “hate” school, help her identify parts that are more enjoyable—even if it’s recess, gym, and lunch.
  • Most kids at this age think there is too much homework. Emphasize how homework helps kids learn. Do homework with them. Make it fun. Applaud their learning and new knowledge.

Check It: Take the quiz on increasing effort, then help your young teen develop a growth mindset to persevere in the face of challenges.


Emotional Development

  • Moodiness and roller-coaster emotions emerge during puberty. Kids can be happy one moment and then violently angry or very depressed the next—and you often won’t be able to figure out why. Be patient and gentle with kids, as they experience strong emotions that can quickly change.
  • Many talk in violent terms. “I’ll kill him.” “I want to beat her up.” “He’s so bad, he should die.” Some deal with anger and injustice verbally. Others slam doors or stomp their feet. If they act out in destructive ways, get them help with expressing strong emotion.
  • Emotionally, young teenagers bristle at any physical affection from their parents. Some like a lot of physical affection from their friends while others like to keep their distance.
  • Many kids can become very emotionally sensitive. They’re easily offended and easily hurt.
  • Some kids will give you the silent treatment when they become angry—or if they don’t get their way. Give them time to simmer down. They’ll talk to you again (usually when they need something from you).
  • Some kids begin dabbling in more serious risk behaviors (such as self-harm, smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, or having sex). Help kids steer clear of these behaviors. Talk with them about what they’re experiencing—and what they’re seeing going on with their peers. Some are struggling with difficult issues.

Check It: Take the quiz on preventing alcohol and tobacco use, then start talking with your young teen about these important health issues.


Social Development

  • This is the age when peer pressure has the most influence. Kids are more interested in “being the same” and “being accepted.” Thus, many will do things with others they would never do alone.
  • Relationships can become quite complex. Some kids will not speak to others. Some relationships become very intense.
  • Some kids have large shifts in their social circles as they go through puberty. Others withdraw and avoid their peers. Some stick with their friends no matter what.
  • Many kids would rather be social than tend to their school work or other responsibilities. Emphasize how all parts of life are important.
  • Silliness can rule with some kids. Kids at this age can have a twisted sense of humor.
  • Many kids want to spend most of their time with friends. Some homes become tense with young teenagers who like to argue and test. Other homes are calmer with occasional skirmishes. It all depends on the child’s personality.
  • Cliques and tight-knit groups can form. Kids become very aware of who is in which group—even if they’re not always sure where they fit.


Physical Development

  • This is the age when kids need to start using deodorant and learning morepersonal hygiene. Some go overboard and spend hours in the bathroom. Others resist, refusing to bathe.
  • Puberty reigns at this age. Puberty, however, has several stages for both boys and girls, which is why you’ll see kids developing at different rates between the ages of 8 and 18.
  • With growth spurts come clumsiness and a lack of coordination. It isn’t easy for a person to grow six inches within a few months without his sense of balance being disrupted.
  • Typically, between ages 12 and 14, kids become very aware of their own sexuality and others’ sexuality. Some are nervous about developing too fast. Others are worried about developing too slowly.
  • If your child is not athletic, help her find a sport or physical activity she enjoys. At this age, kids who don’t excel athletically are tempted to avoid all physical activity. Consider martial arts such as kung fu, judo, karate, or tae kwon do, which often appeal to this age group.

(Information from


Being a Teen

Stages of Adolescence

Adolescence, these years from puberty to adulthood, may be roughly divided into three stages: early adolescence, generally ages eleven to fourteen; middle adolescence, ages fifteen to seventeen; and late adolescence, ages eighteen to twenty-one. In addition to physiological growth, seven key intellectual, psychological and social developmental tasks are squeezed into these years. The fundamental purpose of these tasks is to form one’s own identity and to prepare for adulthood.

Physical Development

Puberty is defined as the biological changes of adolescence. By mid-adolescence, if not sooner, most youngsters’ physiological growth is complete; they are at or close to their adult height and weight, and are now physically capable of having babies.

Intellectual Development

Most boys and girls enter adolescence still perceiving the world around them in concrete terms: Things are either right or wrong, awesome or awful. They rarely set their sights beyond the present, which explains younger teens’ inability to consider the long-term consequences of their actions.

By late adolescence, many youngsters have come to appreciate subtleties of situations and ideas, and to project into the future. Their capacity to solve complex problems and to sense what others are thinking has sharpened considerably. But because they are still relatively inexperienced in life, even older teens apply these newfound skills erratically and therefore may act without thinking.

Emotional Development

If teenagers can be said to have a reason for being (besides sleeping in on weekends and cleaning out the refrigerator), it would have to be asserting their independence. This demands that they distance themselves from Mom and Dad. The march toward autonomy can take myriad forms: less overt affection, more time spent with friends, contentious behavior, pushing the limits—the list goes on and on. Yet adolescents frequently feel conflicted about leaving the safety and security of home. They may yo-yo back and forth between craving your attention, only to spin away again.

Social Development

Until now, a child’s life has revolved mainly around the family. Adolescence has the effect of a stone dropped in water, as her social circle ripples outward to include friendships with members of the same sex, the opposite sex, different social and ethnic groups, and other adults, like a favorite teacher or coach. Eventually teenagers develop the capacity for falling in love and forming romantic relationships.

Not all teenagers enter and exit adolescence at the same age or display these same behaviors. What’s more, throughout much of adolescence, a youngster can be farther along in some areas of development than in others. For example, a fifteen-year-old girl may physically resemble a young adult but she may still act very much like a child since it isn’t until late adolescence that intellectual, emotional and social development begin to catch up with physical development.

Is it any wonder that teenagers sometimes feel confused and conflicted, especially given the limbo that society imposes on them for six to ten years, or longer? Prior to World War II, only about one in four youngsters finished high school. It was commonplace for young people still in their teens to be working full-time and married with children. Today close to three in four youngsters receive high-school diplomas, with two in five graduates going on to college. “As more and more teens have extended their education,” says Dr. Joseph Rauh, a specialist in adolescent medicine since the 1950s, “the age range of adolescence has been stretched into the twenties.”

Reflect back on your own teenage years, and perhaps you’ll recall the frustration of longing to strike out on your own—but still being financially dependent on Mom and Dad. Or striving to be your own person—yet at the same time wanting desperately to fit in among your peers.

Adolescence can be a confusing time for parents, too. For one thing, they must contend with their children’s often paradoxical behavior. How is it that the same son given to arias about saving the rain forest has to be nagged repeatedly to sort the recycling? Or that in the course of an hour your daughter can accuse you of treating her “like a baby,” then act wounded that you would expect her to clear the table after dinner?

But beyond learning to anticipate the shifting currents of adolescent emotion, mothers and fathers may be struggling with some conflicting emotions of their own. The pride you feel as you watch your youngster become independent can be countered by a sense of displacement. As much as you may accept intellectually that withdrawing from one’s parents is an integral part of growing up, it hurts when the child who used to beg to join you on errands now rarely consents to being seen in public with you, and then only if the destination is a minimum of one area code away.

It’s comforting to know that feeling a sense of loss is a normal response—one that is probably shared by half the moms and dads standing next to you at soccer practice. For pediatricians, offering guidance and advice to parents makes up a considerable and rewarding part of each day.

Last Updated: 11/21/2015

Source: Adapted from Caring for Your Teenager (Copyright © 2003 American Academy of Pediatrics)

The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

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