How do children grow and develop between ages 11 and 14?
The ages 11 through 14 years are often referred to as early adolescence.
These years are an exciting time of many varied and rapid changes. Your child
grows taller and stronger and also starts to feel and think in more mature
ways. You may feel amazed as you watch your child begin to turn into an adult.
But this can be a confusing time for both kids and parents. Both must get used
to the new person the child is becoming.
From ages 11 through 14,
a child develops in four main areas:
Adolescence is a time of change throughout the body. A growth spurt usually
occurs near the time of
puberty. Girls begin to develop breasts and start
their periods. Boys grow facial hair. Both boys and girls grow pubic hair. Boys
may lag behind girls in height during these years, but they usually end up
Cognitive development. This is how
the brain develops the abilities to think, learn, reason, and remember. Kids
this age typically focus on the present, but they are starting to understand
that what they do now can have long-term effects. They are also beginning to
see that issues are not just clear-cut and that information can be interpreted
in different ways.
Emotional and social development. As they start to move from childhood into adulthood,
adolescents feel the urge to be more independent from their families. Often,
friends replace parents as a source of advice. When at home, adolescents may
prefer spending time alone to being part of the family. Still, family support
is important to help them build a strong sense of self.
Sensory and motor development. Kids this age may be a little awkward or clumsy.
Their brains need time to adjust to longer limbs and bigger bodies. Getting
regular moderate exercise can improve coordination and help your child build
When are routine medical visits needed?
doctor visits are important to detect problems and to make sure your adolescent
is growing and developing as expected. During these visits, the doctor will do a
physical exam and give your child any needed shots. The doctor will also ask
questions about your child's friends, school, and activities to see how he or
she is doing.
It is a good idea to give an adolescent some time
alone with the doctor. This gives your child a chance to ask questions that he
or she may not feel comfortable asking you.
also have yearly dental checkups to make sure their teeth are strong and
When should you call your doctor?
Call your doctor
anytime you have a concern about your child's physical or emotional health,
A delay in growth or sexual development—for
example, if puberty has not begun by age 14.
A big change in
appetite or weight.
Body image problems, such as a girl believing
she is overweight when she is actually very thin. This can be a sign of an
Signs of mental health
issues, including depression, mood swings, fighting, missing school, or failing
Drug, alcohol, or tobacco use.
A call or visit to your child's doctor can help you keep
a healthy outlook and know how to recognize a true problem. This may help
relieve tension between you and your child.
How can you help your child during these years?
Being the parent of an adolescent can be challenging. Even if your child
pushes you away at times, you still play a very big role in your child's life.
Try to stay positive and keep the lines of communication open. While it is good
to let your child make decisions, realize that adolescents need and want limits
that are fair and firm.
To promote healthy development:
Help your child build healthy eating habits
and a healthy body image. Serve balanced meals, and keep lots of fruits,
vegetables, and other healthy foods in the house. Be a model of good eating and
exercise habits for your child.
Urge your child to get some
exercise every day.
Help your adolescent get enough rest. Set
limits on phone, computer, and TV use after a set evening hour.
Encourage mature thinking. Involve your child in setting house rules. Talk
about current issues together. Brainstorm different ways to solve problems, and
discuss their possible outcomes.
Talk about sex and other adult
issues in an open and natural way. Make this an ongoing conversation. It is
best to begin this discussion before puberty so the child knows what to expect.
If you don't feel able to do this, ask for help from your doctor, a trusted
friend or family member, or a counselor. Don't let your child rely on
information from TV or other kids.
Throughout these years, it is important to let
adolescents know they are loved and accepted, no matter what happens, even if
at times you don't agree with what they do or how they act.
Rapidly changing bodies, confusion,
excitement, new social situations, and increased reasoning abilities make ages
11 to 14 a thrilling and sometimes challenging time for children and parents.
Watching your child gradually mature is an amazing process. It also can be
puzzling for parents who may wonder during this transition, "Do I have a child
or an adult?" Since neither is the case, you must continually renegotiate your
relationship with and learn about your evolving adolescent.
Although each adolescent develops at his or her individual pace, general
growth and development patterns can be grouped into four main categories.
Growth spurts occur during the adolescent years, starting at about age 11 in girls and at about age 13 in boys. This rapid
growth usually precedes or accompanies
puberty, when sex characteristics begin to develop. It
is important to reassure your child that his or her physical development is
okay, regardless of whether the changes of puberty seem to be occurring earlier
or later than average.
Cognitive development. This is the
process by which the brain develops the abilities to think, learn, reason, and
remember. Adolescents typically think in concrete ways but are gradually
beginning to grasp abstract and symbolic concepts. Although they understand
long-term consequences, they often do not accept that they can be personally
affected by them. For example, adolescents may know that too much sun exposure
can cause premature aging and skin cancer, but many do not accept that this can
happen to them.
Emotional and social development. In
trying to establish their individuality, adolescents typically distance
themselves from parents and prefer being with friends, hanging out in their
rooms or listening to music. It is important to continue to include them in
family events even if you meet with resistance. Family activities help
adolescents develop a strong sense of self. This is especially important at
a time when the
emotional and social effects of puberty can impact
Sensory and motor development.
Adolescents may be somewhat awkward or clumsy. Their brains need time to adjust
to longer limbs and bigger bodies. To help improve coordination and establish
healthy habits, encourage regular moderate exercise.
The years 11 through 14 are exciting
and confusing. Many parents have concerns about how their children will handle
the many physical and emotional changes that usually happen during this time.
Some of these common concerns include:
Your child's transition into middle school or junior high. The fear of the unknown and the anticipation of more
homework and uncomfortable social situations can be terrifying for some
adolescents and young teens. Listen to your child's concerns and ask whether
you can help. For example, you may be able to help relieve your child's
anxieties about joining a school-related activity, such as band or a team
sport, by making sure he or she has the right equipment and knows exactly when
and where the practices will be held.
How your child will handle
the challenges of
puberty. The way puberty affects your child may in
part depend on the
timing of puberty—whether your child starts puberty
early, late, or at about the average age. It can help if you
explain the effects of puberty before physical changes
start to happen. Try offering your adolescent age-appropriate books about
puberty. Share some of your own experiences. And reassure your child that it is
normal to feel uncertain at times.
Confusion about what matters to your adolescent. Although you may remember some of the
anxiety of the adolescent years, the specific causes of these anxieties
constantly change. Being involved in your child's life—by going to school
events and encouraging friends to meet at your house while you are home—can
help you understand his or her world.
How to talk about sex. Approach the subject before the information is needed, but don't
expect your child to want to talk about it. Offer information gradually, rather
than overwhelming your adolescent with too many facts at one time. Be aware
that children have easy access to many websites with sexual or pornographic
content. Keep the computer in a shared area where you can see what your child
is doing online. And monitor your child's cell phone use.
Whether your child will avoid tobacco, drugs, and alcohol. Do not smoke, drink, or take drugs if you expect your child
to avoid using them. Set firm, fair, and consistent limits for your child. Help
him or her understand the immediate and long-term consequences of substance
use, such as falling grades and poor health during adulthood. Give your child a
chance to practice how to respond when a harmful substance is offered, such as
stating, "No, thanks," and moving on to another subject. Look for community
programs led by youth (peer education). And talk to your child right away if he
or she has
signs of substance use.
Promoting Healthy Growth and Development
time of trial and error, offer open, positive communication
while providing clear and fair rules and consistent guidance. You significantly
influence your adolescent's habits and attitudes, choices, and adjustments to
physical changes. But realize that your child's way of doing things does not
have to exactly match your own.
Help your child identify
important issues and be prepared for increasing responsibilities. Allow your
child the freedom to figure things out in his or her own way within the
boundaries you have set. Parents walk a fine line between respecting a teen's
need for independence and privacy and making sure that he or she does not make
mistakes that have lifelong consequences.
Promote a healthy body image. Help your adolescent recognize that the media often
produce unrealistic and unattainable images of the ideal body. Stress the
importance of being healthy, rather than looking "skinny" or "buff." Be aware
of the things you say about how you and other people look.
Recognize changing sleep patterns. Rapidly growing and busy adolescents need a lot
of sleep. Beginning sometime in adolescence, your child's natural sleeping
pattern may gradually shift. Many adolescents start going to bed later at night
and sleeping in. This pattern can make it hard to get up for school. To help
your adolescent get enough rest, discourage phone and computer use and TV-watching after a certain evening hour.
Help your teen who is using drugs or alcohol. If you believe your adolescent is using drugs or
alcohol, talk about it with him or her. Discuss how he or she gets the
alcohol, tobacco, or drugs and in what kind of setting they are used. Seek
advice from a doctor if the behavior continues.
Address problems and concerns. Building
trust gradually will help your adolescent feel safe in talking with you about
sensitive subjects. When trying to talk with your adolescent about problems or
concerns, schedule a "date" in a private and quiet place. Be ready to deflect
questions you aren't prepared to answer, and make sure to follow through. For
example, you may say, "You know, this is so important that I need a little time
to think about it. Can we discuss it later?" Then set a specific time and place
to further discuss that issue.
Prevent involvement in violence. Be a good role model
for how to handle disagreements, such as by talking calmly. Help your child
come up with ways to defuse potentially violent situations, such as making a
joke or acknowledging another person's point of view. Praise him or her for
successfully avoiding a confrontation, such as by saying, "I'm proud of you for
staying calm." Closely supervise the websites and computer games that your
child uses. Talk to your child about healthy relationships. Dating abuse is common among preteens and teens. For more information on teen violence, see the Other Places to Get
Help section of this topic.
Recognize the warning signs of suicide. To reduce suicide risk, prepare your child for the emotional
upheavals that sometimes occur between the ages of 11 and 14 years. Offer
suggestions on how to handle feelings of inadequacy or sadness, such as keeping
a journal, volunteering, and getting adequate rest and exercise. If your child
shows signs of
depression, such as withdrawing from others and being
sad much of the time, talk about it and get help from a doctor if it does not
improve. Also call your doctor if your child ever mentions suicide or if you
are concerned for his or her safety. After
puberty, depression occurs twice as often in girls as
Help your child develop more mature ways of thinking. Let your child make as many of his or her own decisions as
possible. This includes involving your adolescent in setting household rules
and schedules. Talk about current issues together, whether it be school
projects or world affairs. Brainstorm different ways to solve problems, and
discuss their possible outcomes. Consider giving an allowance, to help teach
your child about financial responsibility.
Encourage your child to exercise every day. Exercise helps your child feel good, have a healthy heart, and have a healthy weight. If your
child is not used to exercise, encourage light to moderate exercise, such as
walking, at first. Have your child take breaks from computer, cell phone, and TV use and be active instead.
When to Call a Doctor
Your child's doctor can help
you discuss difficult issues with your adolescent if you ever are having
trouble doing so on your own. Keep in mind that important subjects, such as
sex, should be addressed long before you think your child will face
Talk to your child's doctor if you are concerned about your child's health or other issues. For example:
A significant delay in physical or sexual
development—for example, if
puberty has not begun by age 14.
Routine checkups (usually once a year) allow your
child's doctor to keep a close eye on your child's general health and
development. You also can discuss any concerns you have during these appointments. It may help you to go with a
list of questions(What is a PDF document?).
These checkups are
important to detect problems and to see if your child is growing and developing
as expected. The doctor will do a
physical exam, suggest any needed shots (immunizations), and ask questions about your child's
social, academic, relationship, and mental health status. For information about
recommended shots, see the topics:
Beginning in adolescence,
most doctors like to spend some time alone with your child during the visit.
Although many state laws are vague about adolescents' and teens' rights to
medical confidentiality, most doctors will clarify expectations with you and
your child. Ideally, you will all agree that anything your child discusses
privately with the doctor will remain confidential, with few exceptions. This
gives your child an opportunity to talk to the doctor about any issue he or she
may not feel comfortable in sharing with you.
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ByHealthwise Staff Primary Medical ReviewerSusan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics Specialist Medical ReviewerLouis Pellegrino, MD - Developmental Pediatrics
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.