What Is The Adolescent Age Range, And What Challenges Do Adolescents Face?

By Nicole Beasley

Updated January 02, 2019

Reviewer Aaron Horn

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Young people in the adolescent age range are commonly described as rebellious, self-centered, troubled, or just plain difficult. While it is true that adolescence can be a tumultuous time for child and parent alike, the adolescent must somehow navigate these years successfully to mature into healthy adults.

Adults who don't fully understand the goals of adolescence often make their lives even harder. Adolescents themselves may engage in self-blame if they aren't aware of those goals. Adolescents and the adults around them can benefit from learning more about this challenging time in young people's lives.

What Is The Age Range Of Adolescent People?

The most common adolescent age range definition is simply 'teens.' We think of adolescents as people who are teenagers. This transitional phase takes them on a journey that carries them from childhood to adulthood.

Different sources cite different adolescent definition age range numbers. For example, the World Health Organization says adolescents are between the ages of 10 and 19. Other sources set the minimum age higher, at 12 years old. Some say the age range should go to 20 years old.

Phases Of Adolescents

Psychologists break down the age range for adolescent people into three distinct phases. These are early, middle, and late adolescence. Each of these phases comes with its characteristics, challenges, and goals.

Early adolescence is typically defined as between 10 or 11 years old and fourteen years old. During this phase, the adolescent's body begins to change.Middle adolescence goes from ages 15 to 17, while late adolescence continues from age 18 to adulthood.

Rites Of Passage

It's during adolescence that people go through many rites of passage. These are specific events that mark the maturation from childhood to adulthood. Some of the most common rites of passage in the modern Western world, and particularly in America, include:

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  • Baptism or confirmation
  • Beginning of menstruation for girls
  • Getting a driver's license
  • Sweet 16 party
  • First date
  • First sexual encounter
  • 18th birthday
  • High school graduation
  • Moving away from home for the first time
  • First job
  • 21st birthday marking the end of adolescence

Physical Challenges

Adolescent's face several challenges related to the physical changes in their bodies. If they are healthy, this is typically the time when they're at the peak of their physical speed, strength, and endurance. Many early adolescents gain or lose weight before they stabilize later during these years. They have more independence at this phase, so they need to learn to make the right food choices and include exercise in their daily routines without being prompted by parents.

Adolescents also are dealing with a body that is beginning to make their gender more evident. They're not only getting used to new physical sensations, but they're also noticing their sex drive, perhaps for the first time.

Intellectual Challenges

As children become adults, they're faced with new intellectual challenges. Their schoolwork becomes more demanding. They're supervised less and need to learn to manage their time and schoolwork on their own. Where childhood is lived mostly in the here and now, adolescents develop a greater capacity to plan for the future. If they're planning to go to college, they'll need to take exams to qualify for the school they want.

Their intellectual characteristics are also changing. During childhood, we see things in concrete terms, but in adolescence, we begin to understand more abstract concepts. Adolescents who get a job will need to learn the requirements for that work as well as skills that allow them to complete it successfully.

Social Challenges

Although children do have friends, most of their social contact is with family members. However, during adolescence, they begin to make more friends outside of that small circle and spend more time with those friends. They have friends of both genders and typically have their first romantic relationships. Most adolescents have had the feeling of falling in love before they reach adulthood.

Moral Challenges

When we become adults, we gradually take on the moral responsibilities that come with maturity. Adolescents are faced with difficult moral dilemmas that they must decide for themselves. Some of these might include:

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  • Is it right to stand up to a bully?
  • Must I follow my parents' religion?
  • Is it okay to cheat on a test?
  • Is there anything wrong with using drugs and alcohol?
  • Is it wrong to put me first?
  • Do I have a responsibility to help others?
  • Am I mature enough for a sexual relationship?
  • Is physical violence ever justified?
  • Should I leave home or try to work out problems here?

If you're a parent, you may feel like you know the right answers to all these moral questions. However, the reality is that adolescents will come to their conclusions, no matter what your opinion is. Either you allow them the independence to make those choices freely, or they will still decide them but might feel alienated from you.

Mental Health Challenges

Adolescence brings a host of psychological changes and challenges. Mentally healthy parents allow their children to develop their independence yet provide emotional support for them whenever their teens need them. For adolescents, trusted adults are a base of security that they can connect with for comfort in between ventures into the world of independence.

Adolescents may be looking for meaning in their lives in a deeper way than they ever have before. Even though they may seem flighty or overemotional, they're usually looking for the bigger picture of what reality is for adults.

Body image is a big concern in adolescents, too. During the adolescent phases, young boys and girls compare themselves to other adolescents as well as adults. They may become obsessed with their physical appearance, wondering if their look can measure up to what society expects of them. Adolescents can even be so obsessed with their appearance that they become anorexic or bulimic.

Many mental health conditions appear first during adolescence. Bipolar disorder is frequently identified during the late teenage years. As adolescents' hormones gear up, their emotions may flair. It's important for parents to be aware of changes in emotional expression or behavior that are so extreme that they stand out even among adolescents.

If faced with what are or seem like monumental difficulties and stressors for the first time, they may become depressed. They may even consider suicide, cutting or other forms of self-harm. When life seems too difficult or if they want to escape the emotional pains that come with making this transformation into adulthood, they may feel like giving up. These emotional problems may be purely situational, transitory during their adolescence, or they may be signs of a serious mental health condition.

How To Help Your Adolescent During These Years

Adolescence is a difficult and frustrating time, both for the child and for their parents. However, there are some things you can do to help your child meet the challenges they're faced with and become a healthy adult.

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Work On Communication Skills

Talking to an adolescent is both easier and more difficult than talking to a child. It's easier because they understand concepts on a level that's similar to an adult's. At the same time, it can be more difficult due to the evolution of the parental child relationship. One reason is that you may be accustomed to telling them what to do instead of guiding them to decide for themselves. Another is that you may use different words to relay the same meaning. If you feel that you're out of touch with adolescent culture, you're not alone. You can educate yourself or simply just ask them kindly to rephrase their question. You can also encourage them to ask questions by providing answers that are reasonable, nonjudgmental, and emotionally neutral.

If you feel you need help to communicate with your adolescent better, therapy can help. Individual therapy gives you a chance to learn new skills on your own. Or, you can get a therapist's help to mediate the conversation in a family therapy session.

Encourage Responsibility

It's common for parents to want to dictate responsibility to their adolescents directly. They may say to their child, 'Okay, you are responsible for cleaning up after meals.' While it's important to be clear and consistent with rules, there are other responsibilities that the child needs to take on for themselves.

They need to commit. If not, you'll have to enforce an excessive number of rules to ensure that they do what you want them to do. A good example of this is music lessons. If your child isn't interested in becoming a great pianist, they may not be willing to commit to daily practice sessions. If you insist that they do it anyway, you'll have to push every day to make them practice. This can cause serious conflict over something that isn't important to their successful completion of adolescence.

Rather than imposing unnecessary rules on your adolescent, you can do several things to encourage them to take responsibility for doing positive things and making contributions. You can do it by modeling responsible behavior. Or you can chat with them about what's important to them and what they think they need to do to accomplish them.

Promote Independence

Your child may rush to independence during adolescence, or they may balk at the idea of venturing out into the world. More likely, they'll move back and forth from dependence to independence as they learn to enjoy thinking for themselves.

You can be that emotionally strong and healthy base of support mentioned earlier. This helps your child develop independence without feeling overwhelmed constantly.

Sometimes, adolescents don't even consider that they can decide for themselves. If you recognize an opportunity to let them practice making those decisions, start by letting them know it's okay if they do, and that you know they'll make the right choice. Your confidence in them will help them feel more confident, too.

Getting Help with Adolescent Problems

Adolescents are complex people who have physical, social, and emotional issues people of other ages don't have to worry about. They may need help with these problems. Their parents may need help staying close to them while letting them spread their wings.

If you or someone you love is having a difficult time understanding, communicating with, or helping their adolescent child deal with these tumultuous years, you can talk to a counselor when and from where you like. Online counselors are available at BetterHelp.com to help you work through problems with your adolescent or guide you through the last phases before adulthood. Adolescence is certainly challenging, but with the right help, it can end successfully as the child becomes a healthy, independent adult.


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