Parenting middle adolescents

Dr Asha Pemberton -
Dr Asha Pemberton -


Middle adolescence is considered to be the period between the ages of 14 and 16 years. At this stage puberty is largely completed but for many, changes are ongoing. Many middle adolescents look “adult” in physical form and have accompanying feelings of omnipotence and invincibility. As teenagers continue to struggle for independence and autonomy, many parents mistakenly assume that the more developed bodies and louder voices of their teens mean that they are “mature” and will make good decisions. Despite the pressure, nagging and frustrations, parents must remember that middle adolescents are continuing many processes of transition and need guidance. They simply will not always act in their own best interests. This is not the time to give up, even if your teen is physically taller, stronger or more imposing than you.

Parent-teen conflict rises in middle adolescence for a number of reasons. Friendships occupy primary importance to young people, who will often go to extremes to stay online for hours, sneak out of the house or find creative ways to spend time with friends. Social identity and peer acceptance are maximal. Middle adolescents simply want to belong to something. Exposure plays an integral role in identity development. The quality and behaviour of peer relationships significantly affects both risk taking and wellness choices. Young people who connect to groups through leadership, sport, creative pursuits or spirituality mould their lives around these peers and activities. Similarly those who connect to peers through experimenting with substance use, alcohol, violence or sexual misadventure, equally engage. Exposure and environment are critical.

The teen brain continues to change but there are still many differences in the thinking of a middle adolescent compared to an early adolescent or an adult. At this time, young people are better able to think abstractly. This means that they are able to consider multiple options, consequences and the “big picture.” This contrasts to early adolescents who are concrete thinkers and literally live in the “here and now.” Although middle adolescents can think more abstractly, there tends to be a disconnection between possible outcomes and their own lives. They feel invincible and although they understand that negative outcomes are possible, they simply do not believe that they will happen to them. This is why parental guidance and boundaries are important. Middle adolescents will not consistently behave or make choices that are in their best long-term interests.

Parents of middle adolescents are best equipped to manage the challenges of this stage by being informed about the range of normal behaviours. At this time, teenagers will rebel, push boundaries and experiment with different styles and identities to find their “best fit.” Parents should allow young people a range of opportunities and exposures, all while keeping a keen eye on their behaviour. While we recognise the importance of social connection and friendships, it is critical that appropriate supervision continues. Development of sexuality is another significant aspect of this stage. In order to best equip young people with good decision-making skills, conversations, without judgement or conflict are essential.

Perhaps the single most important aspect of parenting middle adolescence in our community, is to allow young people to learn from the consequences of their behaviour. Teens will not always make good decisions. They will be influenced by friends and will not always apply logic to their thinking. They will experiment, and then change their minds. They will appear brave and adventurous and yet shy and insecure. That considered, parents must strike the balance between protecting them from harm, and allowing them to learn from the discomfort of broken rules, dishonesty or just bad judgement. If parents attempt to smooth over every bump in life, teens will never learn. Conversely, if parents give into frustration and give up, teens will be at risk of danger.The experiences of life provide much opportunity for growth and learning for young people and middle adolescence is a critical transitional time in this process.


"Parenting middle adolescents"

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