Your Son at 16: Milestones

Medically Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD on March 06, 2021
5 min read

So, your son is 16. You might not have given them the car keys yet, but they are definitely on their own road, spinning mind-blowing tales as they go. They are in their mid-teens -- somewhere in the space between adolescent and young man.

Here are some of the milestones you can expect them to hit at this age, and some of the potential speed bumps they might meet along the way.

Their body is still growing and maturing, and the end of puberty is in sight. They are not quite caught up with fully developed girls their age, but you can see the final product coming through.

It’s time for a fresh talk about their values as well as their plans for the future, which looms closer than ever. High-risk behaviors, like having sex and taking drugs -- which include alcohol -- can damage those plans, and their body, as well.

They might surprise you by turning away from their old crowd a bit, checking out new interests, and testing their stronger sense of self. They still need their friends, though.

This freedom might lead them to the part-time job market as they start to think about life beyond high school. You might see even less of them at home. But you’ll enjoy having fewer conflicts when your paths do cross.

Your hard-to-read teen has deeper emotions now. You might see them perk up more about a potential romantic interest. They’ll bond more closely with friends, too.

They have a truer moral compass, or at least a more solid idea of what they feel is right or wrong. They back up their choices with a firmer stance. They are not immune, however, to peer pressure and will still act impulsively. 

Sixteen also can be tinged with sadness or depression. This can be troubling for you. It can also lead to problems both in and out of school. If their gloom seems extreme or is ongoing, see a doctor or mental health expert.

Their broader world demands more complex language skills. These are crucial, not only for school, but in connecting with others. For example:

  • They can tell and write involved, incredible stories. They are better able to explain, describe, sum up, and argue. Their academic load is more challenging, language-wise.
  • Their sense of understanding ramps up. They keenly tunes in to others’ verbal and body language, and can read facial expressions.

They know their language needs to change from school to other settings, and moves between them smoothly.

Many 16 year olds are concerned about their body size, type, and weight. If your son is overweight, they not only face health problems like diabetes and high blood pressure, but social and self-esteem issues can make life rough, too.

You can help inspire your son to have a healthy body image by encouraging them to get an hour of exercise each day. If they are not into sports or going to the gym, suggest doing something they enjoy, like hiking or checking out a new climbing wall. Go along when you can.

Make sure your son kicks off their day with a good breakfast. They might not want the cereal in the pantry, but a plate of last night’s leftovers might do the trick. If they are on the go, give them some string cheese or a banana for the road.

Stock the kitchen with healthy snacks like fruit, pretzels, and low-fat yogurt or pudding. Replacing even one junk food serving per day goes a long way.

Your 16 year old is growing more secure in themselves, but iffy situations will still come up. Encourage them to stick with other kids who resist peer pressure, and distance themselves from those whose risky behaviors are dangerous.

Help them plot ways to avoid or get out of situations that seem to be going awry. Locate other adults they can call on, too.

Ganging up on the weak is nothing new, and bullying is something your son might encounter, either targeted at themselves or aimed at someone else. With boys, bullying is often physical. They might not see it so much on school grounds or at hang-out spots; it may happen on social media or even on their smartphone. Electronics can magnify bullying in overwhelming ways.

Teach them that the best action is not to keep bullying to themselves, but to tell a school counselor, administrator, or other professional. Whether they are a victim of bullying, or a bully themselves, a mental health expert for teens can help them manage it, track its source, and lessen the emotional impact it has in their later life.

Social media can be a great tool for your son to meet new people and find others who share their interests. It provides a forum to express themselves and their views -- but they can’t be sure who’s watching. Try these tips to help them stay safe online:

  • Help your son control their personal information and deny access by people they don’t know or can’t place.
  • Show them that all posts and texts can be loudspeakers that broadcast to the world.
  • Make a rule that, like other friends they want to hang out with, they need to introduce you to people they plan to meet offline.

Motor vehicle crashes remain the most likely cause of accidental death for teens this age. Never stop insisting they follow all traffic and safety rules -- whether they are driving or riding along. Emphasize that they should NEVER drive and text.

Insist they wear a helmet or the needed safety gear for cycling or ATV riding, and for other sports, too.

Caution them about getting into a car with anybody who has had alcohol.

Your son might act like they don’t need you. But they do, and they know it. Let them know you care by taking a few, simple actions:

  • Show interest in their daily life, in school and out. Urge them to express themselves with sports, theater, art, or music.
  • Let them know their victories and efforts are a big deal to you, too.
  • Take their concerns and opinions seriously. This also gives you a window into new patterns and behavior changes.
  • Try not to be judgmental or to solve their problem; a listening ear is most important to your 16-year-old.  

If they are moping around or seems unusually sad, don’t shy away from asking about thoughts of hurting themselves or suicide. Mentioning it won’t make it more likely to happen. Get professional help right away if you think they need it. If you feel there is a high risk your child will try to die by suicide, call SAMHSA’s National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).