As your children grow older and progress through the teenage years, there are certain milestones she will meet that aren't physical. These changes your teen is going through are signs he's growing up and becoming his own person. Here's how you can cope with the growing pains of the teenage years.
It seems like only yesterday your child was a baby and you were cooing over his every breakthrough. From first smile to first laugh to first wobbly step, your days were filled with scrapbook-stuffers and Insta-worthy occasions.
Guess what? As your child enters the teen years, she’ll be launching into a period of all-new milestones. No, they’re (mostly) not so cute—no need to pull out that scrapbook again!—but they are important signs that he’s growing up and branching out in healthy new ways. While children develop at their own pace, we asked leading experts to identify some of the leaps forward you might experience soon, and offer advice to help you cope with the challenges they may present.
His Peer Groups Become Preferred
Remember the good old days when your child wanted you to accompany her everywhere, and fought with her siblings and even your partner for the right to sit next to you at dinners out? Steel yourself: Your days at the top of the A-list may be numbered. “One [milestone] I think is common is shifting to your peer group instead of your family as a source of guidance and companionship,” says Rachel Annunziato, Ph.D., an associate professor of clinical psychology at Fordham University in the Bronx.
“That can be hard for us as parents, but it can be a normal part of adolescent development,” Dr. Annunziato says. Teens “are being given more autonomy, and it’s a time when there’s more experimenting. It’s more of a chance to socialize on their own terms.”
Your best response? Give your child some of the space he’s craving. “This is where they are working things out in a way that will be helpful before going into the college environment,” Dr. Annunziato explains. It doesn’t mean you have to retreat entirely—plan parent-kid activities scheduled around his other obligations.
“I sometimes call it ‘calendaring backwards,’ where you set up the stuff that’s fixed and you can’t change in the calendar, and then put in the stuff that you want to prioritize,” says Mark Bertin, M.D., a developmental pediatrician in Pleasantville and author of How Children Thrive and Mindful Parenting for ADHD.
She Takes Control of Her Social Calendar
It can be a little distressing when your child’s social plans no longer include you. But if you’re at least consulted, you’re better off than many parents! That’s because the day may come when your kid makes plans for herself without asking your permission at all. (It may happen sooner in the city and in areas where there’s good public transportation.) In part, your child has become his own social director because he’s developing a better sense of time management. But for you it can be “very fear-inducing,” Dr. Annunziato says, especially if your child’s plans involve new friends you haven’t met yet.
Your greatest ally, she says, is social media; thanks to it you may have more of an opportunity to get to know your kids’ friends’ parents, not to mention the friend herself. Alternatively, you can suggest the kids come over before going out. Don’t be afraid to nix a plan that seems unsafe or involves unsavory people, or a locale or return time that breaks family rules.
Your Every Move Embarasses Him
Times were, you could be yourself around your child and his friends. Doing your victory dance at sports games will send her into a red-faced tizzy. And singing? Don’t even try. Why are you suddenly such a disgrace, no matter what you do?
“That sense of being embarrassed by your parents is kind of exactly what you’d expect from teens. It’s because of the kind of tightrope they’re trying to walk, of staying connected to their parents—which you know is still the goal even though they’re trying to become individuals—while also becoming more and more involved with their peers for support,” Dr. Bertin says. “That sense of embarrassment is probably just a natural reflection of a situation that’s confusing to them. They’re trying to be their own person and that puts them in a situation where they’re still connecting to you and connecting to their social group and trying to find a place that fits for all of that.”
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Again, the solution is to give your child some space (and tone down any of your embarrassing behaviors). Of course, adds Dr. Bertin, “know as a parent that there are still going to be times when you need to set a boundary and do something even if it’s embarrassing,” such as being stricter than everyone else’s parents (according to your child).
Real Romance Takes Root
Sure, your child may have given a valentine to Jane a few years ago, and then had a crush on another girl the next year. But sometime in your kid’s mid-teens, you may start to realize that you’re no longer his main squeeze. “Certainly [there’s] more interest in dating; that will start around then, whether it’s with the opposite sex or the same sex,” Dr. Annunziato says. While pairing off can stem from genuine interest, it can also be a result of dating pressure.
How do you help your child resist the urge to follow the crowd in forming couples? “To the extent you can, keep communication open,” Dr. Annunziato recommends. Let your child know she can always come to you for guidance. As for when to allow your child to date, Dr. Annunziato says it’s all a matter of individual maturity—make sure he understands what it means, and is prepared for potentially getting hurt. And set ground rules and stick to them.
She'll Form Her Own Political and Social Views
Your child’s been learning a lot in school, and from you, lately. “Maybe empathy for others is changing and increasing,” Dr. Annunziato says. “This is a time when moral reasoning really amps up and cognitively a lot is happening.” These changes may manifest themselves in strident ways: Your child could proclaim that meat is murder or argue with your politics heatedly.
This is a positive transformation, Dr. Annunziato says. “It’s great to foster teens’ expression...to teach them how to respectfully disagree,” she explains. Acknowledge your teen’s opinions, and accommodate his wishes whenever possible without necessarily backing off of your viewpoints.
He Starts Planning for the Future
No one’s saying your child didn’t plot out her future when she was younger. Perhaps she planned on being a rock star, but now her dreams may come down to earth and start taking on a more realistic slant—she may say she wants to become a physician or a mechanical engineer. Teens “begin to become more goal oriented,” Dr. Annunziato says. “I think that it’s something that I am seeing even younger, and it lasts into the college years.” As teens’ sense of time becomes refined and their cognitive skills develop, planning for the future seems more doable.
“If someone is showing an interest in [their future], run with it, make sure their plans make sense, let them take the lead if they’re showing maturity in that way,” Dr. Bertin says. But not all kids will be laser-focused on their life after school, he cautions.” And don’t be disappointed if your child’s desire ultimately peters out: “A lot of us are a lot different in college than in high school... Things are going to keep changing,” he says—an apt description of the teen years.
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