Rapidly changing bodies, confusion, excitement, new social situations, and increased reasoning abilities make ages 11 to 14 a thrilling and sometimes challenging time for children and parents. Watching your child gradually mature is an amazing process. It also can be puzzling for parents who may wonder during this transition, "Do I have a child or an adult?" Since neither is the case, you must continually renegotiate your relationship with and learn about your evolving adolescent.
Although each adolescent develops at his or her individual pace, general growth and development patterns can be grouped into four main categories.
- Physical development. Growth spurts occur during the adolescent years, starting at about age 11 in girls and at about age 13 in boys. Your child's doctor may track your child's height and weight using a growth chart. A growth spurt usually precedes or accompanies puberty, when sex characteristics begin to develop. It is important to reassure your child that his or her physical development is okay, regardless of whether the changes of puberty seem to be occurring earlier or later than average.
- Cognitive development. This is the process by which the brain develops the abilities to think, learn, reason, and remember. Adolescents typically think in concrete ways but are gradually beginning to grasp abstract and symbolic concepts. Although they understand long-term consequences, they often do not accept that they can be personally affected by them. For example, adolescents may know that too much sun exposure can cause premature aging and skin cancer, but many do not accept that this can happen to them.
- Emotional and social development. In trying to establish their individuality, adolescents typically distance themselves from parents and prefer being with friends, hanging out in their rooms or listening to music. It is important to continue to include them in family events even if you meet with resistance. Family activities help adolescents develop a strong sense of self. This is especially important at a time when the emotional and social effects of puberty can impact their self-image.
- Sensory and motor development. Adolescents may be somewhat awkward or clumsy. Their brains need time to adjust to longer limbs and bigger bodies. To help improve coordination and establish healthy habits, encourage regular moderate exercise.