PARENTING

Teenager Behaviour

By DR KEN MYERS

Posted  March 17 2016 | 0 Shares

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Teenager Behaviour – What to Expect

 Adolescence (13-18 years)

Adolescence is a time when children make their final transition to adulthood. They face many challenges as they struggle to develop a sense of identity and individuality apart from their parents. Behaviour and social interactions will change dramatically during these years.

            Friends

In the teenage years friendships begin to resemble adult relationships, although there are usually still some key differences. For adolescents, relationships are largely related to intimacy developed through sharing of feelings and emotions. Teenagers bond over a variety of mutual activities, philosophies or experiences. Having crushes on the same boy or girl, playing on the same sports team, frustrations with strict parents, and even mutual career goals may all be issues that bring adolescents together and start a friendship.

Teenagers are also often prone to intense yet fleeting relationships, both romantic and platonic.   Some parents may have difficulty keeping track of who the “best friend” of the week is in the more extreme cases. Membership in groups helps teenagers as they try to define their personality and identity, so cliques can become a source of considerable emotional upheaval. Dramatic moments in an adolescent’s life are often associated with joining or leaving a specific group.

Part of the reason for these more volatile patterns of friendship is that their relationships are built on shared interests and experiences, but do not always allow for maturation and change in the individual. This latter characteristic is only present in what Selman defined as stage 4 friendships (see School Age – Behaviour), and will be familiar to anyone who has “grown apart” from a close friend over time.

As an example, Jenny and Sue are 14 year olds who meet on the soccer team and have crushes on the same teacher in school. Sharing these interests brings them together and they then share feelings that create intimacy between them. For instance, they may both decide that they want to play soccer professionally. They quickly become inseparable and declare themselves “BFFs.” The crucial point in their friendship comes a year later when Sue decides she wants to quit the soccer team and focus on school because she is now more interested in becoming a lawyer.

At this point, many adolescent friendships will end because the shared interest (from which most of the intimacy was generated) is now gone. Jenny may feel betrayed or like she “doesn’t even know Sue anymore.” It is only in the most mature friendships (what Selman calls “Autonomous Interdependence”) that the two can remain friends, with Jenny recognizing that Sue is her own her person who is going to grow and mature over time.

            Bullying

Bullying is experienced by virtually all children, whether as the victim, the bully or a bystander. Many children may find themselves in all three roles at different times in their childhood. Bullying is an issue parents should discuss with their children early on and revisit as they grow older. Some considerations:

            – Bullying always involves a difference in power between victim and bully. This differential may involve any or all of: physical strength, social status and intelligence. Teaching children to identify and understand these inequalities is a key element in helping them avoid inadvertently becoming bullies.

            – Group bullying is common and is one of the reasons adolescent cliques can be harmful. Teenagers are vulnerable to pressure from peers, another factor which may lead them to be involved in bullying or reluctant to intervene when present as a bystander.

            – Being a bystander to bullying can be stressful for children when they are unsure when or how to take action. Parents can help their children deal with these situations by explaining the importance of speaking up when they see something happening that they don’t agree with.

            Social Networking and Online “Presence”

Teenagers are usually eager to have social media accounts and express themselves through posting photos, comments, et cetera. In many ways this is positive, as adolescents have broader platforms to talk to about their ideas, define their own identity, and meet others with whom they can discuss their views. However the online world obviously comes with its own risks, which can pose a major educational challenge for parents. There seems to be a new social media platform every week, and keeping up with how they all work and what the associated risks are can feel overwhelming.

Parents can try to monitor their children’s activity by creating their own social media accounts, though this is only partially effective with the advanced privacy settings allowed by most sites. These approaches also send a message to adolescents that their parents don’t yet trust them to behave responsibly.

A better approach may be to teach children about some basic features of the internet and social media, at earlier ages. These will continue to evolve over time, but can at least be a starting point for discussions. Some examples of points that teenagers may not fully grasp include the following:

            – A social media “friend” is not the same as a friend in real life. As in all relationships, trust and intimacy develop over time. One can form and maintain close relationships through online communication, however intensely personal details should not be shared just because someone added you on facebook yesterday.

            – Photos and messages should never be posted or texted unless the content is something that you are comfortable with the whole world seeing. Even if a photo is texted to a true, close friend, that friend’s phone can always be hacked or stolen, and then the content easily ends up available for widespread consumption.

            – Online personas are easily faked and there is a great risk of manipulation and exploitation. Teenagers must be taught to be skeptical of anyone whose identity is not easily verified.

            Cyber Bullying and Social Development

As electronic media have become more and more integral parts of our lives, we should not be surprised that bullying occurs through these media as well. So called “cyberbullying” is an important issue in itself, as there may be important implications for social development.

Children learn in large part through trial and error. They do something, observe the result, and learn from the experience. Social development occurs in this way as well. For example, if a Billy calls Sue a “fathead,” Sue may start to cry and run away. Observing Sue’s distress, Billy feels guilty and regrets his action. He has now learned not only that insults hurt others, but that they also cause him to feel bad. This is the traditional way that children learn empathy, sensitivity and appropriate social behaviour.

With electronic media, these feedback mechanisms may not be allowed to work properly. Imagine that Sue posts a photo from the beach on facebook and Billy writes “you look fat.” Sue will undoubtedly be upset; however Billy may not get to see that reaction and thus will not learn the lesson about the social consequences of his insult. In fact, he may get some positive reinforcement if someone “likes” his comment. Given these potential issues, parents may need to be extra vigilant in ensuring their children their children’s social development is proceeding appropriately.

            Depression and Anxiety

Mood symptoms become more prevalent when children hit their teenage years, with an estimated one in 20 teens having depression at some point during adolescence. Common symptoms of depression include disrupted sleep, altered appetite, lack of interest in activities that used to be considered fun, feelings of guilt and difficulty concentrating. Depressed teenagers often seem “slow,” taking a long time to answer questions and perform routine tasks. Depression is also often associated with thoughts of self-harm including suicide.

Full scale depression can have a devastating effect on a teen’s life. Keeping up with school work can become challenging and some will struggle just to get out of bed and make it to class. Parents often feel powerless to help their child when mental health issues arise. There is often a tendency to write off teens with depression as “normal moodiness,” but staying “down” for days and weeks on end is definitely not normal and should be taken as a very concerning sign.

For teenagers with true mood disorders, getting help early on is important. Psychologists and psychiatrists can employ techniques such as cognitive behavioural therapy that are often successful in re-training negative thinking patterns that have been reinforcing the depressive thoughts. Getting professionals involved early is important as the risk of self-harm and suicide rises substantially in the teen years.

         Sleep

The keys aspects of sleep in adolescence are mainly the same skills that we discussed developing early in School Age – Sleep. These include having a consistent bedtime routine, avoiding screen time in at least the hour before bed, and keeping mobile phones away from the bedside during the night. Some other considerations that become more important in adolescence include the following.

            Caffeine

Caffeine ingestion often begins during the teenage years and, like any drug, parents should try to educate their children about proper, responsible use. Coffee, tea, soda drinks and energy drinks are all frequently consumed by adolescents. Rather than attempting to forbid the teenager from drinking these (which is almost always counterproductive), parents should try to have a back and forth discussion of the pros and cons of drinking caffeine.

Energy drinks are often marketed towards adolescents, with claims that they will improve attention and increase wakefulness. This can be very appealing to a teenager struggling to keep up with their high school curriculum; however ultimately use of these drinks tends to be counterproductive. Even worse, the drinks often have considerable added sugar leading some teenagers to begin using them as meal substitutes. Regular consumption of energy drinks in adolescence clearly correlates with sleeping problems, tiredness and irritability.

Parents should discuss with children some key points regarding caffeine:

            – Caffeine has only a temporary stimulatory effect, eventually followed by a “low.”

            – Caffeine’s stimulatory effect only produces a transient sensation of wakefulness, but does not eliminate the body’s need for sleep.

            – Caffeine is an addictive drug.

            – Caffeine has a half-life of 5-6 hours, meaning it can still be disruptive to sleep long after it is initially consumed.

Teenagers can reasonably have the occasional caffeinated drink; however they should try to limit their consumption to mornings. Soda and energy drinks should be avoided as much as possible as they are essentially “empty calories” and frequent use by teenagers correlates with a number of negative outcomes.

            Regular Bed Time

As teenagers move towards complete autonomy, they will take on the responsibility of deciding their own bed time. Many have a tendency to procrastinate getting their homework done, and then insist that they have to stay up late to finish up assignments. At some point, parents can no longer enforce a “lights out” policy and will have to let their children learn from their own mistakes. The best way to help children struggling with these issues is to help them understand some key issues around the importance of sleep:

            – As teenagers, they should ideally get 9 hours of sleep per night (though only a minority actually do so).

            – When people are sleep-deprived, they have more difficulty focusing and take longer to complete tasks. For the teenager, this means that their school performance is likely to suffer if they are unable to follow a routine that sees them getting good sleep on a regular basis.

            – The body has an internal clock that is partially dependent on cycles of light and dark. When mobile phones and other bright screens are used overnight, this confuses the body’s internal clock and can be very disruptive to sleep.

            Eating

Getting proper nutrition can be a challenge in adolescence as teenagers take on more and more responsibility for their own meals. As was discussed in School Age – Eating, there are a few strategies that can be used to help teenagers develop these skills while still respecting their increased autonomy.

            Involvement in Meal Preparation

A teenager should be capable of safely using kitchen equipment, so they can reasonably be given substantial responsibility in meal preparation. This could take the form of asking them to assist with one aspect of a meal (for example, making salads) as part of a cooperative family effort. A more valuable approach, however, could be giving the teenager a day of the week and giving them the full responsibility to make a meal for the family on that night. They can be given the freedom to make whatever they want, as long as it meets some minimal conditions such as including elements from all the food groups.

            Family Meal Time

Teenagers often have frequent social plans or are involved in extracurricular activities so getting the family to sit down for a meal is usually challenging. Making eating dinner together a priority is important, however, as family meals are shown to improve nutrition and reduce the chances of obesity. Teenagers may do most of their eating outside of their parents’ supervision, so a family meal allows parents to ensure that at least once a day they are getting a solid, balanced meal. There is also considerable social benefit, as parents can stay connected with their teens and try to keep abreast of what is going on in their lives.

         Puberty and Sexual Health

The hormonal changes of puberty are unmistakable signs that boys and girls have begun the process of becoming men and women. These changes necessitate some conversations that, although dreaded by some parents, can go smoothly provided everyone involved is able to maintain a mature attitude.

            Male Puberty (12 – 16 years)

One of the first signs of male puberty is the development of body hair, most noticeably involving the face, armpits and groin. Other features include growth in size of the penis and testicles, increased muscle bulk, and deepening of the voice. Body odour becomes an issue, so this is usually the point at which boys start wearing deodorant. This, as well as shaving, represent new aspects of personal hygiene that parents will need to discuss with boys. Fortunately, young men are usually excited begin these “man tasks,” and enthusiastically perform them, often more frequently than necessary.

            Male Ejaculation

A boy’s first ejaculation is also often considered a feature of puberty. This may come in the form of a “wet dream” or when the boy first discovers how to masturbate. Data regarding the “normal” age for these events to occur is limited, however the typical range seems to be somewhere around 10 to 14 years of age.   This is often a difficult topic for parents to broach and many avoid it entirely. There is a benefit to having this discussion, however, as the boy in question can be reassured that the changes in their body are normal and expected.

            Female Puberty (10 – 14 years)

Girls go through puberty earlier than boys, on average, which may be for the best as they have more complicated issues to deal with. The initial sign of sign of female puberty is early breast development, which typically first becomes apparent around 10 years. The next stage involves the appearance of hair in the armpits and pubic region, with the first period usually being a relatively late event in the pubertal course.

The first period usually occurs around 12 to 13 years of age, but girls should expect inconsistent periods, often with relatively long intervals in between, for at least one to two years before they develop a regular cycle that occurs on a roughly monthly basis. The menstrual cycle is a dramatic bodily change that parents must do appropriate teaching around.

            Contraception and Sexual Education

Although there is considerable variability in personal, cultural and religious attitudes surrounding sexual activity and contraception, these are issues that are relevant to all adolescents. Although most schools will be covering these topics in their curriculum, parents should be prepared for their children to come to them at some point with questions. These queries may be surprisingly advanced or specific, as teenagers now have access to a wide variety of sexual resources via the internet. If frank and open family discussions can be had around these issues, children stand the best chance of developing good sexual health practices.

Regardless of parents’ individual views about appropriate sexual activity, teenagers should be educated about the options for contraception and prevention of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). These discussions are equally important for boys and girls, as both would share the responsibility for an inadvertent pregnancy or STI transmission. Simply stating “use a condom” is not enough, as condoms are notoriously used improperly and ineffectively. Teenagers should ideally be given the opportunity to practice opening a condom and putting it on.

An important distinction, not always appreciated by teenagers, is that some products prevent STI transmission and others act as contraception, but not all products do both. A good example is young women using the contraceptive pill or an intrauterine device. These devices provide no protection against STIs, so a condom should still be used in most cases.

         Drugs and Alcohol

            Alcohol

Though alcohol may be perceived as one of the more benign drugs, it is also one of the most accessible and is the most widely used substance among Australians 12 to 17 years of age. While alcohol poisoning is a potentially fatal risk in itself, alcohol abuse can also put teenagers in a number of dangerous situations. As an example, 17% of young Australians reported they had sex while drunk which they regretted later. Other harm associated with alcohol abuse includes crashes while drunk driving and engagement in violent altercations. Parents should take the time to discuss responsible drinking and, if they drink themselves, ensure that they are modeling responsible alcohol use at home.

            Other Substances

Children are exposed to drugs at younger and younger ages, and parents may be surprised to know what their children may be experimenting with. Inhalants and cannabis have both been tried by an estimated 15-17% of Australian young people. Other drugs that are often available though less frequently used include ecstasy, amphetamines, hallucinogens, cocaine and heroin. Although parents cannot track their children 24 hours a day, they can do their best to educate them about the dangers of these substances and endeavour to create an open and non-judgmental environment at home.

Reviewed by DR KEN MYERS 17 March 2016 references
  • current version

  • PEER REVIEWER

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  • next review

This document has been developed and peer reviewed by a KIDS HEALTH Advisory Board Representative and is based on expert opinion and the available published literature at the time of review. Information contained in this document is not intended to replace medical advice and any questions regarding a medical diagnosis or treatment should be directed to a medical practitioner.

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Teenager Behaviour

PARENTING

Teenager Behaviour – What to Expect

 Adolescence (13-18 years)

Adolescence is a time when children make their final transition to adulthood. They face many challenges as they struggle to develop a sense of identity and individuality apart from their parents. Behaviour and social interactions will change dramatically during these years.

            Friends

In the teenage years friendships begin to resemble adult relationships, although there are usually still some key differences. For adolescents, relationships are largely related to intimacy developed through sharing of feelings and emotions. Teenagers bond over a variety of mutual activities, philosophies or experiences. Having crushes on the same boy or girl, playing on the same sports team, frustrations with strict parents, and even mutual career goals may all be issues that bring adolescents together and start a friendship.

Teenagers are also often prone to intense yet fleeting relationships, both romantic and platonic.   Some parents may have difficulty keeping track of who the “best friend” of the week is in the more extreme cases. Membership in groups helps teenagers as they try to define their personality and identity, so cliques can become a source of considerable emotional upheaval. Dramatic moments in an adolescent’s life are often associated with joining or leaving a specific group.

Part of the reason for these more volatile patterns of friendship is that their relationships are built on shared interests and experiences, but do not always allow for maturation and change in the individual. This latter characteristic is only present in what Selman defined as stage 4 friendships (see School Age – Behaviour), and will be familiar to anyone who has “grown apart” from a close friend over time.

As an example, Jenny and Sue are 14 year olds who meet on the soccer team and have crushes on the same teacher in school. Sharing these interests brings them together and they then share feelings that create intimacy between them. For instance, they may both decide that they want to play soccer professionally. They quickly become inseparable and declare themselves “BFFs.” The crucial point in their friendship comes a year later when Sue decides she wants to quit the soccer team and focus on school because she is now more interested in becoming a lawyer.

At this point, many adolescent friendships will end because the shared interest (from which most of the intimacy was generated) is now gone. Jenny may feel betrayed or like she “doesn’t even know Sue anymore.” It is only in the most mature friendships (what Selman calls “Autonomous Interdependence”) that the two can remain friends, with Jenny recognizing that Sue is her own her person who is going to grow and mature over time.

            Bullying

Bullying is experienced by virtually all children, whether as the victim, the bully or a bystander. Many children may find themselves in all three roles at different times in their childhood. Bullying is an issue parents should discuss with their children early on and revisit as they grow older. Some considerations:

            – Bullying always involves a difference in power between victim and bully. This differential may involve any or all of: physical strength, social status and intelligence. Teaching children to identify and understand these inequalities is a key element in helping them avoid inadvertently becoming bullies.

            – Group bullying is common and is one of the reasons adolescent cliques can be harmful. Teenagers are vulnerable to pressure from peers, another factor which may lead them to be involved in bullying or reluctant to intervene when present as a bystander.

            – Being a bystander to bullying can be stressful for children when they are unsure when or how to take action. Parents can help their children deal with these situations by explaining the importance of speaking up when they see something happening that they don’t agree with.

            Social Networking and Online “Presence”

Teenagers are usually eager to have social media accounts and express themselves through posting photos, comments, et cetera. In many ways this is positive, as adolescents have broader platforms to talk to about their ideas, define their own identity, and meet others with whom they can discuss their views. However the online world obviously comes with its own risks, which can pose a major educational challenge for parents. There seems to be a new social media platform every week, and keeping up with how they all work and what the associated risks are can feel overwhelming.

Parents can try to monitor their children’s activity by creating their own social media accounts, though this is only partially effective with the advanced privacy settings allowed by most sites. These approaches also send a message to adolescents that their parents don’t yet trust them to behave responsibly.

A better approach may be to teach children about some basic features of the internet and social media, at earlier ages. These will continue to evolve over time, but can at least be a starting point for discussions. Some examples of points that teenagers may not fully grasp include the following:

            – A social media “friend” is not the same as a friend in real life. As in all relationships, trust and intimacy develop over time. One can form and maintain close relationships through online communication, however intensely personal details should not be shared just because someone added you on facebook yesterday.

            – Photos and messages should never be posted or texted unless the content is something that you are comfortable with the whole world seeing. Even if a photo is texted to a true, close friend, that friend’s phone can always be hacked or stolen, and then the content easily ends up available for widespread consumption.

            – Online personas are easily faked and there is a great risk of manipulation and exploitation. Teenagers must be taught to be skeptical of anyone whose identity is not easily verified.

            Cyber Bullying and Social Development

As electronic media have become more and more integral parts of our lives, we should not be surprised that bullying occurs through these media as well. So called “cyberbullying” is an important issue in itself, as there may be important implications for social development.

Children learn in large part through trial and error. They do something, observe the result, and learn from the experience. Social development occurs in this way as well. For example, if a Billy calls Sue a “fathead,” Sue may start to cry and run away. Observing Sue’s distress, Billy feels guilty and regrets his action. He has now learned not only that insults hurt others, but that they also cause him to feel bad. This is the traditional way that children learn empathy, sensitivity and appropriate social behaviour.

With electronic media, these feedback mechanisms may not be allowed to work properly. Imagine that Sue posts a photo from the beach on facebook and Billy writes “you look fat.” Sue will undoubtedly be upset; however Billy may not get to see that reaction and thus will not learn the lesson about the social consequences of his insult. In fact, he may get some positive reinforcement if someone “likes” his comment. Given these potential issues, parents may need to be extra vigilant in ensuring their children their children’s social development is proceeding appropriately.

            Depression and Anxiety

Mood symptoms become more prevalent when children hit their teenage years, with an estimated one in 20 teens having depression at some point during adolescence. Common symptoms of depression include disrupted sleep, altered appetite, lack of interest in activities that used to be considered fun, feelings of guilt and difficulty concentrating. Depressed teenagers often seem “slow,” taking a long time to answer questions and perform routine tasks. Depression is also often associated with thoughts of self-harm including suicide.

Full scale depression can have a devastating effect on a teen’s life. Keeping up with school work can become challenging and some will struggle just to get out of bed and make it to class. Parents often feel powerless to help their child when mental health issues arise. There is often a tendency to write off teens with depression as “normal moodiness,” but staying “down” for days and weeks on end is definitely not normal and should be taken as a very concerning sign.

For teenagers with true mood disorders, getting help early on is important. Psychologists and psychiatrists can employ techniques such as cognitive behavioural therapy that are often successful in re-training negative thinking patterns that have been reinforcing the depressive thoughts. Getting professionals involved early is important as the risk of self-harm and suicide rises substantially in the teen years.

         Sleep

The keys aspects of sleep in adolescence are mainly the same skills that we discussed developing early in School Age – Sleep. These include having a consistent bedtime routine, avoiding screen time in at least the hour before bed, and keeping mobile phones away from the bedside during the night. Some other considerations that become more important in adolescence include the following.

            Caffeine

Caffeine ingestion often begins during the teenage years and, like any drug, parents should try to educate their children about proper, responsible use. Coffee, tea, soda drinks and energy drinks are all frequently consumed by adolescents. Rather than attempting to forbid the teenager from drinking these (which is almost always counterproductive), parents should try to have a back and forth discussion of the pros and cons of drinking caffeine.

Energy drinks are often marketed towards adolescents, with claims that they will improve attention and increase wakefulness. This can be very appealing to a teenager struggling to keep up with their high school curriculum; however ultimately use of these drinks tends to be counterproductive. Even worse, the drinks often have considerable added sugar leading some teenagers to begin using them as meal substitutes. Regular consumption of energy drinks in adolescence clearly correlates with sleeping problems, tiredness and irritability.

Parents should discuss with children some key points regarding caffeine:

            – Caffeine has only a temporary stimulatory effect, eventually followed by a “low.”

            – Caffeine’s stimulatory effect only produces a transient sensation of wakefulness, but does not eliminate the body’s need for sleep.

            – Caffeine is an addictive drug.

            – Caffeine has a half-life of 5-6 hours, meaning it can still be disruptive to sleep long after it is initially consumed.

Teenagers can reasonably have the occasional caffeinated drink; however they should try to limit their consumption to mornings. Soda and energy drinks should be avoided as much as possible as they are essentially “empty calories” and frequent use by teenagers correlates with a number of negative outcomes.

            Regular Bed Time

As teenagers move towards complete autonomy, they will take on the responsibility of deciding their own bed time. Many have a tendency to procrastinate getting their homework done, and then insist that they have to stay up late to finish up assignments. At some point, parents can no longer enforce a “lights out” policy and will have to let their children learn from their own mistakes. The best way to help children struggling with these issues is to help them understand some key issues around the importance of sleep:

            – As teenagers, they should ideally get 9 hours of sleep per night (though only a minority actually do so).

            – When people are sleep-deprived, they have more difficulty focusing and take longer to complete tasks. For the teenager, this means that their school performance is likely to suffer if they are unable to follow a routine that sees them getting good sleep on a regular basis.

            – The body has an internal clock that is partially dependent on cycles of light and dark. When mobile phones and other bright screens are used overnight, this confuses the body’s internal clock and can be very disruptive to sleep.

            Eating

Getting proper nutrition can be a challenge in adolescence as teenagers take on more and more responsibility for their own meals. As was discussed in School Age – Eating, there are a few strategies that can be used to help teenagers develop these skills while still respecting their increased autonomy.

            Involvement in Meal Preparation

A teenager should be capable of safely using kitchen equipment, so they can reasonably be given substantial responsibility in meal preparation. This could take the form of asking them to assist with one aspect of a meal (for example, making salads) as part of a cooperative family effort. A more valuable approach, however, could be giving the teenager a day of the week and giving them the full responsibility to make a meal for the family on that night. They can be given the freedom to make whatever they want, as long as it meets some minimal conditions such as including elements from all the food groups.

            Family Meal Time

Teenagers often have frequent social plans or are involved in extracurricular activities so getting the family to sit down for a meal is usually challenging. Making eating dinner together a priority is important, however, as family meals are shown to improve nutrition and reduce the chances of obesity. Teenagers may do most of their eating outside of their parents’ supervision, so a family meal allows parents to ensure that at least once a day they are getting a solid, balanced meal. There is also considerable social benefit, as parents can stay connected with their teens and try to keep abreast of what is going on in their lives.

         Puberty and Sexual Health

The hormonal changes of puberty are unmistakable signs that boys and girls have begun the process of becoming men and women. These changes necessitate some conversations that, although dreaded by some parents, can go smoothly provided everyone involved is able to maintain a mature attitude.

            Male Puberty (12 – 16 years)

One of the first signs of male puberty is the development of body hair, most noticeably involving the face, armpits and groin. Other features include growth in size of the penis and testicles, increased muscle bulk, and deepening of the voice. Body odour becomes an issue, so this is usually the point at which boys start wearing deodorant. This, as well as shaving, represent new aspects of personal hygiene that parents will need to discuss with boys. Fortunately, young men are usually excited begin these “man tasks,” and enthusiastically perform them, often more frequently than necessary.

            Male Ejaculation

A boy’s first ejaculation is also often considered a feature of puberty. This may come in the form of a “wet dream” or when the boy first discovers how to masturbate. Data regarding the “normal” age for these events to occur is limited, however the typical range seems to be somewhere around 10 to 14 years of age.   This is often a difficult topic for parents to broach and many avoid it entirely. There is a benefit to having this discussion, however, as the boy in question can be reassured that the changes in their body are normal and expected.

            Female Puberty (10 – 14 years)

Girls go through puberty earlier than boys, on average, which may be for the best as they have more complicated issues to deal with. The initial sign of sign of female puberty is early breast development, which typically first becomes apparent around 10 years. The next stage involves the appearance of hair in the armpits and pubic region, with the first period usually being a relatively late event in the pubertal course.

The first period usually occurs around 12 to 13 years of age, but girls should expect inconsistent periods, often with relatively long intervals in between, for at least one to two years before they develop a regular cycle that occurs on a roughly monthly basis. The menstrual cycle is a dramatic bodily change that parents must do appropriate teaching around.

            Contraception and Sexual Education

Although there is considerable variability in personal, cultural and religious attitudes surrounding sexual activity and contraception, these are issues that are relevant to all adolescents. Although most schools will be covering these topics in their curriculum, parents should be prepared for their children to come to them at some point with questions. These queries may be surprisingly advanced or specific, as teenagers now have access to a wide variety of sexual resources via the internet. If frank and open family discussions can be had around these issues, children stand the best chance of developing good sexual health practices.

Regardless of parents’ individual views about appropriate sexual activity, teenagers should be educated about the options for contraception and prevention of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). These discussions are equally important for boys and girls, as both would share the responsibility for an inadvertent pregnancy or STI transmission. Simply stating “use a condom” is not enough, as condoms are notoriously used improperly and ineffectively. Teenagers should ideally be given the opportunity to practice opening a condom and putting it on.

An important distinction, not always appreciated by teenagers, is that some products prevent STI transmission and others act as contraception, but not all products do both. A good example is young women using the contraceptive pill or an intrauterine device. These devices provide no protection against STIs, so a condom should still be used in most cases.

         Drugs and Alcohol

            Alcohol

Though alcohol may be perceived as one of the more benign drugs, it is also one of the most accessible and is the most widely used substance among Australians 12 to 17 years of age. While alcohol poisoning is a potentially fatal risk in itself, alcohol abuse can also put teenagers in a number of dangerous situations. As an example, 17% of young Australians reported they had sex while drunk which they regretted later. Other harm associated with alcohol abuse includes crashes while drunk driving and engagement in violent altercations. Parents should take the time to discuss responsible drinking and, if they drink themselves, ensure that they are modeling responsible alcohol use at home.

            Other Substances

Children are exposed to drugs at younger and younger ages, and parents may be surprised to know what their children may be experimenting with. Inhalants and cannabis have both been tried by an estimated 15-17% of Australian young people. Other drugs that are often available though less frequently used include ecstasy, amphetamines, hallucinogens, cocaine and heroin. Although parents cannot track their children 24 hours a day, they can do their best to educate them about the dangers of these substances and endeavour to create an open and non-judgmental environment at home.

Reviewed by Lisa Kelly 17 March 2016
references
  • current version

  • PEER REVIEWER

  • Doc id

  • next review

This document has been developed and peer reviewed by a KIDS HEALTH Advisory Board Representative and is based on expert opinion and the available published literature at the time of review. Information contained in this document is not intended to replace medical advice and any questions regarding a medical diagnosis or treatment should be directed to a medical practitioner.

make a comment

0 comments

more articles by DR KEN MYERS

view more

latest articles

view more

MEET THE EXPERTS

view more