Social changes in adolescence
Young people are busy working out who they are and where they fit in the world. You might notice your child trying out new things like clothing styles, subcultures, music, art or friendship groups. Friends, family, media and culture are some of the influences on your child’s choices in these years.
Your child will probably want more independence about things like how they get around and where they go, how they spend their time and who with, and what they spend money on. As your child becomes more independent, it’ll probably mean some changes in your family routines and relationships, as well as your child’s friendships.
Your child might be keen to take on more responsibility both at home and at school. This could include things like cooking dinner once a week or being on the school council. Sometimes you might need to encourage a move towards more responsibility.
Your child is likely to look for new experiences, including risky experiences. This is normal as your child explores their own limits and abilities, as well as the boundaries you set. Your child also needs to express themselves as an individual. But because of how teenage brains develop, your child might sometimes struggle with thinking through consequences and risks before they try something new.
This is the time your child starts to develop a stronger individual set of values and morals. Your child will question more things. Your words and actions help shape your child’s sense of right and wrong.
Friends and peers might influence your child, particularly your child’s behaviour, appearance, interests, sense of self and self-esteem. You still have a big influence on long-term things like your child’s career choices, values and morals.
Your child might start to have romantic relationships or go on ‘dates’. But these aren’t always intimate relationships. For some young people, intimate or sexual relationships don’t occur until later on in life.
The internet and social media can influence how your child communicates with friends and learns about the world. They have many benefits for your child’s social development, but also some risks. Talking with your child is the best way to protect them from social media risks and ensure their internet safety.
Emotional changes in adolescence
Moods and feelings
Your child might show strong feelings and intense emotions, and their moods might seem unpredictable. These emotional ups and downs happen partly because your child’s brain is still learning how to control and express emotions in a grown-up way.
Sensitivity to others
As your child gets older, they’ll get better at reading and understanding other people’s emotions. But while your child is developing these skills, they can sometimes misread facial expressions or body language. This means they might need some help working out what others are feeling.
Teenage self-esteem is often affected by how teenagers think they look. As your child develops, they might feel self-conscious about their physical appearance. Your child might also compare their body with those of friends and peers.
Your child might go through a stage where they seem to act without thinking a lot of the time. Your child’s decision-making skills are still developing, and they’re still learning that actions have consequences and even risks sometimes.
Changes in relationships in adolescence
One of the big changes you might notice is that your child wants to spend more time with friends and peers and less time with family.
At the same time, it might seem like you and your child are having more arguments. This is normal, as children seek more independence. It’s also because your child is starting to think more abstractly and to question different points of view. On top of this, your child might upset people without meaning to, just because they don’t always understand how their words and actions affect other people.
It might help to know that conflict tends to peak in early adolescence, and that these changes show that your child is developing into their own person. Even if you feel like you’re arguing with your child a lot now, it isn’t likely to affect your relationship with your child in the longer term. But learning how to help your child calm down and developing ways to manage conflict can help you through this stage in your relationship.
Supporting social and emotional development in adolescence
Social and emotional changes are part of your child’s journey to adulthood. You have a big role to play in helping your child develop adult emotions and social skills. Strong relationships with family and friends are vital for your child’s healthy social and emotional development.
Here are some ideas to help you support your child’s social and emotional development.
Be a role model
You can be a role model for positive relationships with your friends, children, partner and colleagues. Your child will learn from seeing relationships that have respect, empathy and positive ways of resolving conflict.
You can also role-model positive ways of dealing with difficult emotions, moods and conflict. For example, there’ll be times when you’re feeling cranky, tired and unsociable. Instead of withdrawing from your child or getting into an argument, you could say, ‘I’m tired and cross. I feel I can’t talk now without getting upset. Can we have this conversation after dinner?’
Get to know your child’s friends
Getting to know your child’s friends and making them welcome in your home will help you keep up with your child’s social relationships. It also shows that you recognise how important your child’s friends are to your child’s sense of self.
If you’re concerned about your child’s friends, you might be able to guide your child towards other social groups. But banning a friendship or criticising your child’s friends could have the opposite effect. That is, your child might want to spend even more time with the group of friends you’ve banned.
Listen to your child’s feelings
Active listening can be a powerful way of strengthening your relationship with your child in these years.
To listen actively, you need to stop what you’re doing when your child wants to talk. If you’re in the middle of something, make a time when you can listen. Respect your child’s feelings and opinions and try to understand their perspective, even if it’s not the same as yours. For example, ‘It sounds like you’re feeling left out because you’re not going to the party on Thursday night’.
Be open about your feelings
Telling your child how you feel when they behave in particular ways helps your child learn to read and respond to emotions. It also models positive and constructive ways of relating to other people. It can be as simple as saying something like ‘I felt really happy when you invited me to your school performance’.
Talk about relationships, sex and sexuality
If you talk about relationships, sex and sexuality in an open and non-judgmental way with your child, it can promote trust between you. But it’s best to look for everyday times when you can easily bring up these issues rather than having a big talk.
When these moments come up, it’s often good to find out what your child already knows. Correct any misinformation and give the facts. You can also use these conversations to talk about appropriate sexual behaviour and things like consent, sexting and pornography. And let your child know you’re always available to talk about questions or concerns.
Focus on the positive
There might be times when you seem to have a lot of conflict with your child or your child seems very moody. In these times, it helps to focus on and reinforce the positive aspects of your child’s social and emotional development. For example, you could praise your child for being a good friend, having a wide variety of interests, or trying hard at school.
Raising teenagers is an important job, and looking after yourself helps you do the job well. That’s because looking after yourself physically, mentally and emotionally helps you give your children what they need to grow and thrive.