What Is The Adolescent Age Range, And What Challenges Do Adolescents Face?
Updated November 11, 2019
Reviewer Aaron Horn
Adolescence is a unique time in which children become adults. This journey is full of firsts. Teens and the adults who love them may find that new boundaries and communication patterns being established. There are many things to celebrate about this season, as well as many challenges. Here are some helpful facts to understand about this developmental phase and some advice as you navigate a new season of your relationship with a teenager.
Challenges of Adolescence
Young people in the adolescent age range are commonly described as rebellious, self-centered, troubled, or just plain difficult. This time is also full of freedom, independence, and accelerated growth. While it is true that adolescence can be a tumultuous time for children and parents alike, the adolescent can navigate these years successfully to mature into healthy adults. Adults can better understand the goals of adolescence and work with their teens by providing support in their growth. Adolescents and 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 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 about 24 years old when the brain actually stops developing. Whatever the specific numbers are, adolescence is loosely defined as occurring between late childhood and early adulthood.
Phases of Adolescence
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 occurs between 10-14 years of age
- Middle adolescence occurs between 15-17 years of age
- Late adolescence continues from age 18 to adulthood
Rites of Passage
During adolescence, 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:
- 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
Adolescents 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.
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. Whereas childhood is lived mostly in the here and now, adolescents develop a greater capacity to plan for the future. Intellectual characteristics are also changing. During childhood, people see things in pretty concrete terms. However, during adolescence, people can 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.
Although children do have friends, much of their social contact is with family members. During adolescence, people 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 experienced the feeling of falling in love before they reach adulthood.
When we become adults, we gradually take on moral responsibilities. Adolescents are faced with difficult moral dilemmas that they must decide for themselves. Some of these might include:
- 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 of these moral questions. An important element of maturity is creating an identity that is distinct from your family of origin. Even in a home that has clearly articulated answers to these questions, a teenager will need to assess and decide for themselves.
Mental Health Challenges
Adolescence brings a host of psychological changes and challenges. Mentally healthy parents allow their children to develop independence and provide emotional support. 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 over-emotional, they're usually looking for the bigger picture of what reality is for adults.
Body image is a big concern in adolescents. 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 tend to 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, teens 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 and transitory during their adolescence, or they may indicate signs of a serious mental health condition.
How To Help Your Adolescent During These Years
Adolescence is an exciting time, both for the child and for their parents. There are some things you can do to help your child meet the challenges they're faced with and become healthy adults.
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 more sophisticated concepts. At the same time, it can be more difficult due to the evolution of the parental-child relationship. A parent may be accustomed to telling their child what to do instead of guiding them to decide for themselves. Parents 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 your teen to ask questions by providing answers that are reasonable, nonjudgmental, and emotionally neutral.
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 is important to be clear and consistent with rules, there are other responsibilities that the child needs to take on for themselves. Teens need to be allowed to make decisions. Their responsibility is more likely if they are in agreement about the rules or guidelines being proposed. 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 this by modeling responsible behavior or by chatting with them about what's important to them and what they think they need to do to accomplish those tasks.
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. An adult can be the emotionally strong and healthy base of support for their teen. This helps your child develop independence without feeling overwhelmed.
Sometimes, adolescents don't even consider that they can decide for themselves. If you recognize an opportunity to let your teen practice making 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, as well.
Seek a Professional Opinion
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. You may employ a therapist to help mediate conversations in family therapy. BetterHelp offers a variety of qualified counselors who can meet you and your teen online. The convenience of this may provide a helpful format to open communication with your adolescent. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from people experiencing similar issues.
"I have been working with Carolyn for 6 months now, and have tremendously benefited from her counseling as I support my daughter for Anorexia. Anorexia is a very complex mind-body illness, and the family members can play a very important role in the recovery by educating ourselves and understanding her behavior. This allows me to use correct words with her and watch my own behavior with her, so I am supporting her in a healthy manner and not enabling her illness further. Additionally, my own stress has been very difficult as I watch my sweet daughter suffer, so I had been in need of finding coping skills for myself. Carolyn's expertise, her very compassionate but clear guidelines and feedback to me have made me more confident and capable of dealing with this difficult illness. I am finding a lot of strength from her therapy, and most importantly, I am handling my daughter better and can see the difference in my interactions with her. I am thankful to Carolyn for coming into my life when I needed someone to guide me through this. In addition to our weekly video chats, I am able to send her quick texts on the BetterHelp app if an issue arises, and I need her thoughts, and Carolyn replies back very quickly with more tips to help me. I have recommended BetterHelp to friends as access to a great therapist like Carolyn would not have been possible for me without this platform... while I also do this from the convenience of my time and home. Thank you, Carolyn, and thank you, Betterhelp, for being here for me!"
"Tammi has made such a difference in my life. Had I not had her help, I'm pretty sure I would've lost all contact with my 19-year-old daughter, who chose to live with her father. She understands teenagers and moms of teenagers! So kind, wise, experienced, compassionate, and level headed, I can't say enough good about her!!"
People deal with many complex issues during adolescence. Teenagers' 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. Online counselors are available at BetterHelp 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. Take the first step today.