Adolescence: Boys to men, Girls to women

Adolescence is a confusing time for the child as well as the parents

Mother and adolescent daughter chatting on bed

If you have an adolescent [child aged 10 – 19 years] of your own, you must be aware of the most common complaints that parents of adolescents have: “My child seems to be out of control these days”, “She doesn’t seem to be my child anymore”, “I don’t know where I went wrong in bringing her up.” You need to understand that the problem is neither in the children nor in you—it’s all because of the typical process of becoming an adolescent.

Early indicators

It is important, however, to realise that your child is undergoing adolescence. Here are some of the early signs:

  • Increase in shoe size is the first to happen, as feet are the first to grow.
  • Clothes get smaller, because of the rapid gain in height and overall growth of the body.

In addition to the above, numerous major changes are happening in their body and mind. Adolescence is a period when your son/daughter is no longer a child, but is also not an adult yet. This is a difficult phase for such children and you need to understand and help them cope with all these sudden transformation they are going through.

Growing, growing.

Children gain 50 per cent of their ideal adult body weight and 15 – 20 per cent of their ideal height during their adolescent years. There are dental changes and eruption of permanent teeth. The eyes undergo elongation, which may lead to near-sightedness in some teens. Before puberty, there is little difference between muscular strength of boys and girls.

However, during adolescence, boys gain more strength and muscle mass than the girls. Both genders become conscious of their appearance and body shape.

Changing bodies

The next important change in adolescents is the growth of sexual organs and moulding of the body into an adult male/female by the influence of hormones.

This involves breast development in girls and testicular growth in boys. At this time, youngsters face sexual issues like masturbation, wet dreams, improper sexual concepts, confusion about their sexuality and fear of infections. Their problem is worsened by misleading peers, internet, movies and the media.

The results can be shocking and drastic—teenage pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases [STD], porn-addiction, or a fall in academic scores.

When to worry?

Consult an adolescent specialist immediately in case of the following:

  • If breast development starts earlier than eight years of age in your girl.
  • If your girl starts menstruating before 10 years of age.
  • If your boy’s testes start enlarging earlier than nine years of age.
  • If there are no signs of puberty till the age of 13 in your girl and 14 in your boy.

Who is this rebel?

Your children now are no more childlike; they want to express their ideas. They are just discovering their own individuality, and want to experiment, experience and enrich their character. They are ready to experiment with anything—foods, ideas, drugs, smoking, good and bad habits, even sex. They want to learn from their own experience. This is how their personality becomes more independent.

They stop going out with parents to social gatherings, since they identify themselves only with their peer group. Being acceptable to their peers is their greatest need, for which they need to be up to date with the latest fashion, gadgets and the latest on the internet.

They are conscious about their looks and how their body is perceived by others; it is important for their self-confidence. They are hugely attracted by members of the opposite sex and want to spend time with them and know more and more about them.

Hyper and extreme behaviour is a common attitude of this age group. On one hand, they are super-confident and rebelling, and on the other hand, they are extra sensitive to stress and take drastic steps in the face of difficulties. Parents must lovingly help them deal with these issues so that they are better prepared to handle any situation—good or bad—in life.

Being there for them

Help your teen and be there for them during this times of intense turmoil and rapid changes:

  • Make your adolescent comfortable while talking about his/her bodily changes. Mothers should guide the daughters and fathers must talk to the sons.
  • Discuss love, romance, sexuality and contraception with them. Express your viewpoint at any given opportunity like while watching a love scene in a movie.
  • Spend fun-filled quality time with them. Only if you win over their confidence will they freely confide in you.
  • Be sensitive to any deviation in their routines.
  • Observe any behaviour changes like keeping the door of their room closed for too long. Discuss your concern with them in a loving manner; show genuine concern.
  • Monitor the sites they visit on the internet.
  • Encourage them to socialise and even to bring home their friends—both boys and girls.
  • Be a good role model.
  • Provide unconditional guidance and support.
  • Don’t completely curb them. Give them freedom, but maintain a limit.
  • Set rules at home, which are to be obeyed by everyone, including you.
  • Instil confidence by appreciating any noteworthy thing they do.
  • Be positive at all times, even if it seems difficult.

Magnifying lens over an exclamation markSpot an error in this article? A typo maybe? Or an incorrect source? Let us know!

Sonia Kanitkar
Dr Sonia Kanitkar, MBBS, DCH, PGDAP [Neonatology], is a consultant neonatologist, paediatrician and adolescent specialist and director of Kinder Clinic for kids & teens in Bangalore.


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