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Social and emotional changes: 9-15 years

9-15 years

Adolescence is a time of big social changes, emotional changes and changes in relationships. These changes show that your child is forming an independent identity and learning to be an adult.

Social changes in adolescence

Identity
Young people are busy working out who they are and where they fit in the world. You might notice your child trying out new clothing styles, music, art, friendship groups and so on. Friends, family, media, culture and more shape your child’s choices in these years.

Independence
Your child will probably want more independence about things like how he gets to places, how he spends his time, who he spends time with, what he spends money on and so on. As your child becomes more independent, it’ll probably mean some changes in your family routines and relationships, as well as your child’s friendships.

Responsibility
Your child might be keen to take on more responsibility both at home and at school. This could include things like cooking dinner once a week or being on the school council.

New experiences
Your child is likely to look for new experiences, including risky experiences. This is normal as your child explores her own limits and abilities, as well as the boundaries you set. She also needs to express herself as an individual.

But because of how teenage brains develop, your child might sometimes struggle with thinking through consequences and risks before he tries something new.

Values
This is the time your child starts to develop a stronger individual set of values and morals. She’ll question more things, and she’s also learning that she’s responsible for her own actions, decisions and consequences. Your words and actions help shape your child’s sense of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’.

Influences
Your child’s friends and peers might influence your child, particularly his behaviour, appearance, interests, sense of self and self-esteem. You still have a big influence on long-term things like your child’s career choices, values and morals.

Sexual identity
Your child might start to have romantic relationships or go on ‘dates’. But these aren’t always intimate relationships. For some young people, intimate or sexual relationships don’t occur until later on in life.

Media
The internet, mobile phones and social media can influence how your child communicates with friends and learns about the world.

Emotional changes in adolescence

Moods and feelings
Your child might show strong feelings and intense emotions, and her moods might seem unpredictable. These emotional ups and downs can lead to increased conflict. They happen partly because your child’s brain is still learning how to control and express emotions in a grown-up way.

Sensitivity to others
As your child gets older, he’ll get better at reading and understanding other people’s emotions. But while your child is developing these skills, he can sometimes misread facial expressions or body language.

Self-consciousness
Teenage self-esteem is often affected by appearance – or by how teenagers think they look. As your child develops, she might feel self-conscious about her physical appearance. She might also compare her body with those of friends and peers.

Decision-making
Your child might go through a stage where he seems to act without thinking a lot of the time. Your child’s decision-making skills are still developing, and he’s still learning that actions have consequences and even risks sometimes.

Changes in relationships in adolescence

One of the big changes you might notice is that your child wants to spend more time with friends and peers and less time with family.

At the same time, it might seem like you and your child are having more arguments. This is normal, as children seek more independence. It’s also because your child is starting to think more abstractly and to question different points of view. On top of this, your child might upset people without meaning to, just because she doesn’t always understand how her words and actions affect other people.

It might help to know that conflict tends to peak in early adolescence and that these changes show that your child is maturing. Even if you feel like you’re arguing with your child a lot now, it isn’t likely to affect your relationship with your child in the longer term. But it might be a good idea to develop some ways of managing conflict to help you through this stage in your relationship.

Many people think that adolescence is always a difficult time, and that all teenagers have bad moods and behave in challenging ways. In fact, some studies show that only 5-15% of teenagers go through extreme emotional turmoil, become rebellious or have major conflicts with their parents.

Supporting social and emotional development in adolescence

Social and emotional changes are part of your child’s journey to adulthood. You have a big role to play in helping your child develop grown-up emotions and social skills. Strong relationships with family and friends are vital for your child’s healthy social and emotional development.

Here are some ideas to help you support your child’s social and emotional development.

Be a role model
You can be a role model for positive relationships with your friends, children, partner and colleagues. Your child will learn from seeing relationships that have respect, empathy and positive ways of resolving conflict.

You can also role-model positive ways of dealing with difficult emotions and moods. For example, there’ll be times when you’re feeling cranky, tired and unsociable. Instead of withdrawing from your child, you could say, ‘I’m tired and cross. I feel I can’t talk now without getting upset. Can we have this conversation after dinner?’

Get to know your child’s friends
Getting to know your child’s friends and making them welcome in your home will help you keep up with your child’s social relationships. It also shows that you recognise how important your child’s friends are to your child’s sense of self.

If you’re concerned about your child’s friends, you might be able to guide your child towards other social groups. But banning a friendship or criticising your child’s friends could have the opposite effect. That is, your child might want to spend even more time with the group of friends you’ve banned.

Listen to your child’s feelings
Active listening can be a powerful way of strengthening your relationship with your child in these years.

To listen actively, you need to stop what you’re doing when your child wants to talk. If you’re in the middle of something, make a time when you can listen. Respect your child’s feelings and try to understand his perspective, even if it’s not the same as yours. For example, ‘It sounds like you’re feeling left out because you’re not going to the party on Thursday night’. 

Be open about your feelings 
Telling your child how you feel when she behaves in particular ways helps your child learn to read and respond to emotions. It also models positive and constructive ways of relating to other people. It can be as simple as saying something like ‘I felt really happy when you invited me to your school performance’.

Talk about relationships, sex and sexuality
If you talk about relationships, sex and sexuality in an open and non-judgmental way with your child, it can promote trust between you. But it’s best to look for everyday times when you can easily bring up these issues rather than having a big talk.

When these moments come up, it’s often good to find out what your child already knows. Correct any misinformation and give the facts. Use the conversation as a chance to talk about appropriate sexual behaviour. And let your child know you’re always available to talk about questions or concerns. 

Focus on the positive
There might be times when you seem to have a lot of conflict with your child or your child seems very moody and so on. In these times, it helps to focus on and reinforce the positive aspects of your child’s social and emotional development. For example, you could praise your child for being a good friend, or for having a wide variety of interests, or for trying hard at school and so on.

Staying connected with your teenage child can be an important part of supporting your child’s social and emotional development. You can check out our Talking to Teens interactive guide to see how different approaches to staying connected can get different results.

Looking after yourself

It’s easy to get caught up in your child’s needs and the daily tasks of getting children to sporting and social activities. Even with all this going on, looking after yourself and making time for the things you enjoy can keep you feeling positive about parenting your teenage child.

Video

Friends and socialising: teenagers with autism spectrum disorder

6:27

In this short video, parents of teenagers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) talk about peers and friendships. They say that their teenagers with ASD sometimes find increased socialising at high school a challenge. Some become more aware of their ASD as they get older. Parents share success stories about after-school activities and talk about their children’s relationships with the opposite sex.

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Last updated or reviewed
16-02-2018

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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