The Adolescent/Teenage Years
© UNICEF Jamaica, 2005; Noorani
1. What is adolescence?
Adolescence is the transition period between puberty and adulthood. Puberty is the period when the child experiences physical, hormonal, and sexual changes as the body matures. It is a natural stage of development.
2. When will my child reach puberty?
When a healthy child is somewhere between 9 and 16 years old, he or she will enter puberty. Some children may begin earlier or later. The exact age depends on a number of factors including heredity, nutrition and whether the child is a boy or girl. On average, boys enter puberty a couple of years later than girls.
3. What are the changes which will occur during puberty?
During puberty, both boys and girls usually experience sudden gains in height and weight. The hormones also cause secondary sex characteristics (such as the appearance of pubic hair and underarm hair, growth in breasts in girls and deepening of the voice in boys) and interest in sex.
The sweat glands become more active. The sweat produced has a slightly different content than when the child was small (it begins to develop more of an odor). Oil glands become more active, and acne may appear.
Puberty is also marked by the beginning of menstruation (the period) in girls and nocturnal emissions (“wet dreams) in boys.
4. I am very concerned about my teenage son’s behaviour. He is always “acting up” and we can no longer agree about anything. He spends hours in his room worrying about his clothes and his appearance. He has also become very anti-social and sticks only his little group for friends. Is this normal?
The sudden and rapid physical changes that adolescents experience make him or her very self-conscious and sensitive about body changes, and they often compare themselves with their peers.
The rapid physical changes may also lead awkwardness, both in terms of appearance and physical coordination. The start of the period and nocturnal emissions may also cause anxiety and embarrassment for adolescents who have not been properly informed about and prepared for these natural developments.
It is also natural that adolescents begin to move away from their parents and attempt to establish their own identity as they move towards adulthood. Often there is a lot of conflict over the adolescent's acts of rebellion and the parents' needs to maintain control.
- As a parent, you can give your adolescent the privacy he or she needs to come to terms with the physical and psychological changes being experienced.
- Do not tease the adolescent about the physical changes he or she is going through. It will cause even more self-consciousness and embarrassment
- Remember that your adolescent’s interest in body changes and sexual topics is natural and normal and does not necessarily mean that he or she is sexually active.
- It is normal for your teenager to strive for independence, so do not regard this as rebellion or rejection. Try to always be there for your adolescent. Listen to his or her ideas. Provide advice and guidance thoughtfully and respectfully. Still set limits which will encourage safe and healthy behaviour. Keep the lines of communication open.