Adolescence

What's the Definition of Adolescence?

Adolescence is considered the transitional stage from childhood to adulthood that occurs between ages 13 and 19. But the physical and psychological changes that take place in adolescence can start earlier, during the preteen years between ages 9 and 12.

Adolescence can be a time of both disorientation and discovery. The transitional period can raise questions of independence and identity; as adolescents cultivate their sense of self, they may face difficult choices about academics, friendship, sexuality, gender identity, drugs, and alcohol.

Young adults tend to have a more egocentric perspective. They often focus on themselves and believe that everyone else—from a best friend to a distant crush—is focused on them too. They may grapple with insecurities and feelings of being judged. Relationships with family members sometimes take a back seat to peer groups, romantic interests, and appearance, which teens perceive as increasingly important during this time.

The transition can naturally lead to anxiety about the physical changes to one’s body and his or her evolving relationship with others and the larger world. Mild anxiety and other challenges are typical, but serious mental health conditions also emerge during adolescence. Addressing a disorder early on can help ensure the best possible outcome.

How Do I Talk to My Teen?

Speaking openly with adolescents about the changes they are experiencing can be a challenge for any parent, especially given the shift in the parent-child relationship during this time.

One important component of communicating with teens is helping them understand what to expect. Explaining how their bodies will change so that they aren’t caught by surprise can alleviate a child’s anxiety. Beyond physical changes, parents can begin a conversation about the social and lifestyle changes that accompany adolescence. Discussing the consequences of important decisions—like having sex or experimenting with marijuana—can encourage the teen to reflect on their choices.

Listening can be a powerful yet underappreciated tool. Parents often orient toward directives and solutions. But setting aside those tendencies and simply listening to the teen can strengthen the relationship. Asking specific or prying questions can make the child feel judged and therefore hesitant to speak openly and honestly. Listening attentively shows interest, validation, and support. It also builds intimacy and trust—while simultaneously allowing the teen to process their experience.

How Does Mental Health Change During Adolescence?

Many of the mental health conditions people confront as adults begin to manifest in adolescence. In fact, one in five young adults has a diagnosable disorder, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

However, teens can also struggle with anxiety, depression, and other forms of distress that are developmentally appropriate and will not necessarily endure. It’s difficult to disentangle when a problem merits clinical attention.

Parents can help by learning how to identify early warning signs of the disorder they feel concerned about and by not being afraid to ask about their child’s thoughts and experiences. Confronting mental health conditions and accessing treatment early on can prevent a disorder from increasing in severity or duration. When addressed early, many conditions can be managed or treated effectively.

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