Teen: Child Development (12-17 Years Old)

  • Medical Author:
    John Mersch, MD, FAAP

    Dr. Mersch received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, San Diego, and prior to entering the University Of Southern California School Of Medicine, was a graduate student (attaining PhD candidate status) in Experimental Pathology at USC. He attended internship and residency at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

  • Medical Editor: David Perlstein, MD, MBA, FAAP
    David Perlstein, MD, MBA, FAAP

    David Perlstein, MD, MBA, FAAP

    Dr. Perlstein received his Medical Degree from the University of Cincinnati and then completed his internship and residency in pediatrics at The New York Hospital, Cornell medical Center in New York City. After serving an additional year as Chief Pediatric Resident, he worked as a private practitioner and then was appointed Director of Ambulatory Pediatrics at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx.

What are milestones in physical development for teens 12-17 years of age?

Puberty is the time at which a growing boy or girl begins the process of sexual maturation, and the onset varies among individuals. Puberty involves a series of physical stages or steps that lead to the achievement of fertility and the development of the so-called secondary sex characteristics, the physical features associated with adult males and females (such as the growth of pubic hair). While puberty involves a series of biological, or physical, transformations, the process can also have an effect on the psychosocial and emotional development of the adolescent.

Puberty usually occurs in girls between the ages of 10 and 14, while in boys it generally occurs later, between the ages of 12 and 16.

Adolescent girls reach puberty today at earlier ages than were ever recorded previously. Nutritional and other environmental influences may be responsible for this change. For example, the average age of the onset of menstrual periods in girls was 15 in 1900. By the 1990s, this average had dropped to 12 and a half years of age.

The sexual development of puberty has a typical pattern in both boys and girls, with a generally predictable sequence of changes.

Other physical changes in the body that occur during puberty include:

  • a growth spurt,
  • bone growth and mineralization,
  • weight changes,
  • maturation of the cardiovascular system and lungs,
  • an increase in endurance and strength (more pronounced in boys).

Where can parents find tips for caring for a teen 12-17 years of age?

One of the major challenges of shepherding teens through these tempestuous times is finding and following the fine line of protection versus nonintervention. There are obvious times when parental authority may be considered absolute (from "any C's and no car keys" to "you can't go to the party where alcohol is served, even if you plan on being the designated driver"). Harder to accomplish is to allow academic failure -- many a parent will try to intercede on their child's behalf when it clear that he/she has put out minimal effort and has the grades to reflect such a limited commitment. Most counselors would prefer a high school student to learn that there are academic consequences than to delay discovering this truism until college. Such a lesson learned will be carried into the post-academic world of hard knocks, where performance is measured in successful completion of the task and not by merely good intentions.

The majority of teens are spending progressively longer periods of time in the cyber world. Facebook and other social networking sites, text/instant messaging and Internet sites of dubious value may all steal time from direct social interaction. Worse yet is the possibility of falling victim to notorious schemes and those who prey upon the naïve Internet surfer.

During the high school years, it is reasonable for the older teen to refine the skills necessary for money management (earning spending money, living on a budget, handling a credit card) as well as food preparation (beyond the microwave) and general home economics issues -- how to make a bed, do laundry, clean an apartment (to avoid insect infestation), handle basic financial obligations (pay for the gas they use, pay for their cell phone monthly fees, etc.). After all, they will shortly be flying the coop.

Puberty In Girls Quiz: Test Your Medical IQ

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