The older teen is more secure than he was in early adolescence. He's beginning to understand who he is, what he's good at, and which friends he can depend upon. These are important—and rewarding—developmental steps.
Settling Into Their New Bodies
By the time your child hits her mid-teens, she's probably become somewhat more comfortable with her body. (Though the high interest in dieting for girls and body-building for boys suggests that many teens aren't completely happy with their bodies yet.) Though boys will continue to grow for a few more years, most have overcome the “shrimp” stage of immaturity.
When it comes to sexuality, though, most teens are unsure of themselves. They worry about—and measure—the strength of their allure. They may start to develop, and start weighing the possibilities of serious relationships and sex. They will also experience the emotional highs and lows of young love.
While you may be tempted to classify your teen's first relationship as “puppy love,” remember that it's serious for your teen. He will begin to learn how to build a relationship and to acquire the skills that will enable him to create long and lasting bonds. (You'll find information on what to expect as your teen navigates these new relationships in What to Tell Your Teen About Sex, and Teens and Partying.)
Circle of Friends
Peer interaction is more normal at this point, as all of your teen's friends gain in maturity. They are kinder to each other (there will be fewer episodes of purposeful exclusion of one or another member of a teen group), and your teen's friends will be more dependable than they were when they were younger.
However, this peer stability comes and goes, depending on the security of your teen's friends. The transition to high school, for example, throws many kids off-balance and may cause great social upheaval among the ranks. Your child may get cut off from her usual crowd, as friends link up for lunch without her or stop inviting her to the movies on Friday night. In all likelihood, when the dust settles and the teens feel comfortable again, relationships will return to their rightful orbit.
Rebels with a Cause
Your teen will continue to rebel against you as a way to assert his independence. This is a normal part of growing up. If he accepts all your judgments, how is he going to learn to make his own?
Yet as teens get older, the forms of rebellion get scarier. The battleground for younger teens and their parents generally focuses on after-school or weekend activities, bedtime, telephone usage, household chores, dating, the need for adult supervision, and appropriate attire.
Older teens, on the other hand, may challenge you on driving rules, smoking, drinking, using drugs, becoming sexually active, and whether to go to college. Remember how your teen refused to make his bed when he was 13? That'll look simple compared to his blatant disregard of his midnight curfew on his first night out with the car.
While you want your teen to be independent, he still lacks judgment, experience, and wisdom. Part of the art of parenting is to provide your teen with enough freedom to learn his own lessons (the only lessons anyone truly remembers), but also to keep him close enough so that he seldom tangles with true danger (drugs, drinking and driving, etc.).
( Driving is covered in Car Safety: Making Your Teen a Better Driver; you'll find information on drinking, smoking, and drugs in Talking about Drugs and Alcohol, Teens and Drinking, and Teen Drug Abuse, and sex is covered in What to Tell Your Teen About Sex, for starters.)
When your teen rebels, the punishment should fit the “crime.” Your family motto could be: With privilege comes responsibility. If she ignores your curfew on Friday night, tell her she'll be spending the following Friday night at home. If he neglects his household chores, he must take care of them before going out Saturday night.
The egocentrism of the early teen years is still present in the older teen, but it begins to fade as your teen learns to see the world from other perspectives.
Older teens still value peer opinion, but they also begin to look to the outside world and wonder how they will measure up. They may begin to ask:
- “Will I be good enough to get into the school I want to go to?”
- “What am I going to be when I grow up?”
- “Will I find someone to love who loves me back?”
The better a teen's self-esteem through this period, the smoother his passage will be.
You can weather all this if you work at your job of promoting yourself to “guide” and “mentor.” If you're prepared to cruise on the sidelines, surfacing when needed, you'll have a good chance of keeping your teen safe—and even of having a good relationship eventually.