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Growth and Development, Ages 15 to 18 Years


Children usually move in natural, predictable steps as they grow and develop language, cognitive, social, and sensory and motor skills. But each child gains skills at their own pace. It's common for a child to be ahead in one area, such as language, but a little behind in another.

At routine checkups, your child's doctor will check for milestones. This is to make sure that your child is growing and developing as they should. Your doctor can help you know what milestones to watch for as your child gets older. Or you can look for sources of information and support nearby. Public health clinics, parent groups, and child development programs may help. Knowing what to expect can help you spot problems early. And it can help you feel better about how your child is doing.

Talk with your doctor about any concerns you have about your child's health, growth, or behavior. Do this even if you aren't sure what worries you.

Your relationship with your child will change as your child gains new skills and develops independence. As your child's world gets bigger, you can help your child grow in healthy ways. Here are a few things you can do. Spend time together. Be a good role model. Show your child love and affection.

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What to Expect

The ages from 15 to 18 are an exciting time of life. But these years can be challenging for teens and their parents. Emotions can change quickly as teens learn to deal with school, their friends, and adult expectations. Teen self-esteem is affected by success in school, activities, and friendships. Teens tend to compare themselves with others, and they might form false ideas about their body image. The influence of media can add to a teen's poor body image.

For parents, the teen years are a time to get to know their teenager. While teens are maturing, they still need a parent's love and guidance. Most do just fine as they face the challenges of being a teen. But it is still important for teens to have good support from their parents so that they can get through these years with as few problems as possible.

Teens grow and develop at different rates. But general teen growth and development patterns can be grouped into four main categories.

Physical development.

By age 15, most teens have started puberty. Most girls are close to their adult height. They have completed the phase of rapid growth that precedes the first menstrual period. Boys often continue to grow taller and gain weight. The growth spurt in boys tends to start about 2 years after puberty begins and reaches its peak about 1½ years later. Also, gender characteristics continue to develop in both girls and boys.

Cognitive development.

Teens gradually learn to think in more sophisticated, abstract ways. They start to see issues differently, as they gain a better understanding of concepts like morality, consequence, objectivity, and empathy. They may understand that people can see the same issue in different ways. But they often are convinced that their own view is the one that's most correct.

Emotional and social development.

Attempts to answer the questions "Who am I?" and "How do I fit in?" guide much of teens' emotional and social development. This process can include some anxiety. In response, teens may behave unpredictably as emotions change, seemingly at random. Socially, teens form new friendships. Also, teens may form intimate relationships.

Sensory and motor development.

Teens can increase strength and coordination through regular physical activity.

Growth and development doesn't always occur evenly. Teens will develop at their own pace.

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Common Concerns

Parents of teenagers ages 15 to 18 are often most concerned about whether their teens will be able to make good decisions. Parents know that the choices children make during the teen years can have an impact on much of their adult lives. It's normal to worry. Your child may sometimes have lapses in judgment. But know that you do have an effect on what your child decides, even if it doesn't always seem that way.

Know that you are not alone in these types of concerns. For example, many parents worry about whether their teenager will:

Resist using alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and drugs.

Many teens are exposed to these and other substances (including prescription drugs and supplements such as anabolic steroids) throughout their teen years. Offer strategies to avoid tobacco, marijuana, drugs, and alcohol. Set firm, fair, and consistent limits for your teen. Talk about the immediate and long-lasting results of substance use, such as falling grades and poor health. Look for community programs led by teens (peer education). And talk to your teen right away if you see signs of substance use.

Focus enough on doing well in school.

Friends, clubs, sports, and jobs can all compete for time that could be spent doing homework. Show your teen how to set goals. For example, talk about and write down a goal for the week, month, and year. Help your teen think about the steps that need to be taken to reach the goal. Work with your teen to make a schedule for when to do each step. Then set rewards for when the goal is achieved.

Drive safely.

You can help teach your teen about safe driving. But what a teen does when parents aren't around is the unknown. Even though your teen knows not to text and drive, it is important to remind them. Remind your child often that driving is a huge responsibility that should not be taken lightly.

Feel pressured to have sex.

Talk about dating and sex early, before the information is needed. Focus on what makes a relationship healthy, such as trust and respect for each other.

Find a career.

Before high school ends, some teens will have a good start on career plans. Most teens start focusing on career plans around age 17 and older. Help your teen find out what interests them. Find ways to help your teen talk to people in certain jobs or get experience by working or volunteering.

Try to understand the issues your teen faces. You may remember some struggles from your own teen years. But the issues your teen faces are likely quite different. Stay involved in your teen's life. For example, go to school events and urge your teen to bring friends to your house while you are home. You can better see the world from your teen's perspective when you are familiar with it. And learn to recognize your teen's stress triggers. Offer guidance on how to manage the anxiety they may cause. But be careful not to get too caught up in your teen's world. If you try to take too much control, it will likely only make things harder for your teen.

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Promoting Healthy Growth and Development

Physical growth and development

You can help your teen during the ages of 15 to 18 years by using parenting strategies. Use these ideas as a starting point for your teen's physical development to help your teen grow.

  • Be aware of changing sleep patterns.

    Fast-growing and busy teens need a lot of sleep. The natural sleeping pattern for many teens is to go to bed later at night and sleep in. This can make it hard to get up for school. To help your teen get enough rest, discourage electronic use after a certain evening hour.

  • Teach your teen how to take care of their skin.

    Some young people get at least mild acne. Help your teen manage acne with daily facial care and, if needed, medicines. Also have your teen avoid sunbathing and tanning salons. Sunburn can damage a child's skin for a lifetime. It also puts your teen at risk for skin cancer. Studies suggest that UV rays from artificial sources such as tanning beds and sunlamps are just as dangerous as UV rays from the sun.

  • Talk about body image.

    What teens think about their bodies greatly affects their feelings of self-worth. Stress that healthy eating and exercise habits are most important for the short and long term. Help your teen recognize that media often show unrealistic images of the ideal body that aren't healthy.

  • Offer strategies to avoid tobacco, drugs, and alcohol.

    Set firm, fair, and consistent limits for your child. Help your teen understand the immediate and long-lasting results of substance use, such as failing grades and poor health. Practice how your teen can respond when a harmful substance is offered. If you think that your teen is using drugs, tobacco, or alcohol, it's important to talk about it. Ask for help from a counselor or parent hotline if you don't know what to do.

Emotional and social development

You can help your teen during the ages of 15 to 18 years by using parenting strategies. Use these ideas as a starting point for your teen's emotional and social development to help your teen grow.

  • Address problems and concerns.

    Build trust so your teen will feel safe talking with you about sensitive subjects. When you want to talk with your teen about problems or concerns, schedule a time in a private and quiet place. Respect your teen's need for independence, but also help your teen avoid making mistakes that have lifelong consequences.

  • Encourage community service.

    Both your teen and the members of your community are helped when your teen volunteers. Your teen gets the chance to explore new skills and learn how to connect with others.

  • Help your child build a strong sense of self-worth.

    This will help your teen to act responsibly, cooperate well with others, and have the confidence to try new things.

Cognitive growth and development

You can help your teen during the ages of 15 to 18 years by using parenting strategies. Use these ideas as a starting point for your teen's mental (cognitive) development to help your teen grow into a healthy and happy adult.

  • Encourage mature ways of thinking.

    Involve your teen in setting household rules and schedules. Talk about current issues together, whether it be school projects or the news. Listen to your teen's opinions and thoughts. Brainstorm different ways to solve problems, and discuss their possible outcomes. Stress that these years provide many chances for teens to learn and improve themselves.

  • Offer to help your teen to set work and school priorities.

    Make sure your teen understands the need to schedule enough rest, carve out study time, eat nourishing foods, and get regular physical activity.

  • Be goal-oriented instead of style-oriented.

    Your teen may not complete a task the way you would. That's okay. What is important is that the task gets done. Let your teen decide how to complete work. And always assume that your teen wants to do a good job.

  • Ask your teen what they are interested in and find ways to help them find those activities. Encourage them to explore new things.

    For example, if your teen likes art, encourage them to take a class at school. These types of activities can help teens learn to think and express themselves in new ways. Teens may find a new or stronger interest, which may help their self-esteem. Remind your teen that they don't need to be an expert. Simply learning about and experimenting with art can help your teen think in more abstract ways and pull different concepts together.

Sensory and motor growth and development

You can help your teen during the ages of 15 to 18 years by using parenting strategies. Use these ideas as a starting point for your teen's sensory and motor development to help your teen stay healthy.

  • Encourage daily exercise.

    Exercise can help your teen feel good, have a healthy heart, and stay at a healthy weight. Help your teen to build up an exercise routine slowly. For example, plan a short daily walk to start. Have your teen take breaks from media and be active instead.

  • Prevent teen violence by being a good role model.

    It's important to model and talk to your child about healthy relationships. That's because dating abuse is common among teens. For example, talk calmly during a disagreement with someone else. Help your teen come up with ways to defuse potentially violent situations. For example, use humor, or acknowledge the other person's point of view. Praise your teen for avoiding a confrontation. You might say, "I'm proud of you for staying calm." Also, talk to your teen about violence in media.

  • Be aware of the warning signs of teen suicide.

    If your teen shows signs of depression, such as withdrawing from others and being sad much of the time, try to get your teen to talk about it. Call your doctor if your teen ever mentions suicide or if you are concerned for your teen's safety.

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When to Call a Doctor

Talk to your teen's doctor if you are concerned about your teen's health or other issues. For example, you may have concerns about your teen:

  • Having a significant delay in physical or sexual development, such as if sexual development has not begun by age 15.
  • Becoming sexually active. Teens who are sexually active need to be educated about birth control and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and screened for STIs.
  • Being overweight or underweight.
  • Having severe acne.
  • Having problems with attention or learning.

Call the doctor or a mental health professional if your teen develops behavioral problems or signs of mental health problems. These may include:

  • Expressing a lack of self-worth or talking about suicide.
  • Acting physically aggressive.
  • Regularly experiencing severe mood swings, such as being happy and excited one minute and sad and depressed the next.
  • A significant change in appetite, weight, or eating behaviors. These may signal an eating disorder.
  • Dropping out of school or failing classes.
  • Having serious relationship problems with friends and family that affect home or school life.
  • Showing a lack of interest in normal activities and withdrawing from other people.
  • Seeking or having sex with multiple partners.

Routine Checkups

Teenagers should see their doctors for routine checkups each year. The doctor will ask your teen questions about your teen's life and activities. This helps the doctor check on your teen's mental and physical health. It's a good idea to give your teen some time alone with the doctor during these visits to talk in private. Your teen will also get the shots (immunizations) that are needed at each checkup.

Teens also need to have regular dental checkups. And they need to be encouraged to brush and floss regularly.

Teens need an eye exam every 1 to 2 years.

It's important for your teen to keep having routine checkups. These checkups allow the doctor to find problems and to make sure that your teen is growing and developing as expected. The doctor will do a physical exam. The doctor will ask questions about your teen's social, academic, relationship, and mental health status. Your teen's immunization record will be reviewed, and your teen will get any shots that are needed at this time.

Starting in your child's teen years, most doctors like to spend some time alone with your child during the visit. Often laws vary about teens' rights to medical confidentiality. But most doctors will clarify expectations. Ideally, you will all agree that anything your teen discusses privately with the doctor will be confidential, with few exceptions. This gives your teen a chance to talk to the doctor about any issue that your teen may not feel comfortable sharing with you.

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Current as of: October 24, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

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