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Adolescent Development, or “Is this Normal?”

Amanda Kowal, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Human Development & Family Studies, Human Environmental Sciences, University of Missouri


Is your teenager rebellious and moody? Are you two getting into more fights? Does your teen sleep away the entire morning? These are common changes during the teenage years. One way to understand what’s going on with your teen is to recognize the many changes he or she is going through physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Teenagers’ bodies are going through a lot of changes. These changes can make your child feel awkward, confused, or embarrassed about his or her body.


  • Adolescence is the only time in life when our arms and legs grow faster than our trunks. This is why many teens look awkward – long-legged with big hands and feet.
  • Puberty brings many physical changes including growing taller, more body hair, and the development of sexual body parts. These changes can be confusing and embarrassing for teens (particularly if puberty comes early or late). Kids are best able to deal with these changes when they are prepared – so talk to your kids about puberty.
  • Both hormonal changes related to puberty and busy schedules lead to teens being more emotional and moody.
  • Teens need about 9 hours of sleep a night. In general, it’s hard for adolescents to fall asleep at night and wake up early in the morning. This is one reason why they don’t wake up for Saturday morning cartoons any more!


Adolescents’ mental abilities are still growing and changing. Compared to adults, teens tend to be very self-centered and have trouble taking other people’s points of view.


  • Young teens feel that they are “on stage” and that everyone is watching them. They are easily embarrassed (a pimple can keep them in the bathroom for days!).
  • Teens feel that they are so special that no one else could possibly understand how they feel. For example, their parents couldn’t possibly understand what it’s like to be in love, or the horrible pain of being rejected.
  • Young teens have ideas that are not realistic. They may become more critical of their lives and families.


In our society adolescence is a time when we are trying to figure out what is important to us and what kind of people we want to be. Teens tend to “try on” different roles and imagine what it would be like to be different types of people (e.g., rock stars, actors, doctors, etc.).


  • Teens often spend long periods of time behind closed doors, in locked bedrooms or bathrooms. For most teens this is time they spend figuring out who they are and thinking about what they want to be like as adults.
  • One common and generally healthy way teens work to become individuals is to disagree with their parents- about almost everything. It is important for your teen to question the ideas he or she is being raised with.
  • Remember that even if you are having more fights with your teen, he or she still loves you very much. Research has shown that teenagers enjoy spending time with their parents. They also see their parents as role-models and look to them for advice.



Berk, L. (2003). Development through the lifespan (3nd ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Larson, R. & Richards, M.H. (1994). Divergent Realities: The Emotional Lives of Mothers, Fathers, and Adolescents. New York: HarperCollins.

Santrock, J.W. (1999). Life-Span Development (7th ed.). Bostin, MA: McGraw-Hill.



Last Updated 05/05/2009









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