What Is The Adolescent Age Range, And What Behaviors Should You Expect?

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated May 14, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
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Adolescence can be a turbulent time in a child's life as they transition to adulthood, experience new situations for the first time, and learn more about the world. As a concerned parent or caregiver, you may benefit from understanding the adolescent age range and the behaviors you might see in your child. 

Teenagers and adults who love them often establish new boundaries and communication patterns during adolescence. A thorough understanding of normal adolescent behaviors could make it easier to spot abnormal behavior, and you can sign up your teen for counseling if you are concerned about adolescent health.  

Do you have trouble relating to your adolescent child?

What is the adolescent age range?

While many individuals may refer to adolescents as teens, the adolescence definition according to the World Health Organization is the period between the ages of 10 to 19. Some sources may set a broader range, and others believe adolescence should continue until the mid to late 20s when the brain finishes developing.

No matter how you choose to define the adolescent age range, the period of life often begins a transition from childhood to early adulthood. 

What are the phases of adolescence?

Psychologists have broken down the adolescent age range into three distinct phases, each with biological, psychological, and social characteristics, challenges, and goals. 

The phases include:  

  • Early adolescence, between 10-14 years old

  • Middle adolescence, between 15-18 years of age

  • Late adolescence, from age 18 to 24

Early adolescence

The early adolescence phase includes early puberty, concrete thinking shifting toward abstract thinking, the progression of sexual identity, and the beginning of emotional separation from parents as adolescents strengthen their identification with peers. 

Middle adolescence

During middle adolescence, parents and guardians may expect their children to experience mid-late puberty and growth spurts, further development of abstract thinking, questions about reproductive health, seeing themselves as "bulletproof," and continuing strong peer identification. You may also see an increased risk of peer pressure and early vocational plans.

Late adolescence

In late adolescence, your child may experience the end of puberty, complex abstract thinking, a developed sense of morality, social autonomy, and the development of vocational capability as they work toward financial independence. They will potentially have many new changes to account for and mature into during this phase.

Adolescent rites of passage

Throughout adolescence, young people may go through many "rites of passage." Rites of passage can be thought of as ceremonies marking transition points in a person's social identity as they move through their lives -- like obtaining a driver's license or graduating from high school. Teen rites of passage serve the function of signifying children mainly concerned with play into socially responsible adults.

A few rites of passage that teens and young adults might experience include: 

  • Beginning menstruation 

  • Bar/bat mitzvah, baptism, or other religious and spiritual rites of passage 

  • Receiving a driver's license

  • Special birthdays including "sweet 16s," quinceañeras, 18th birthdays (when they become a legal adult in most countries), and 21st birthdays (the minimum legal drinking age in the United States)

  • A first date and/or first sexual encounter

  • High school graduation

  • Moving away from home and/or into a university dorm 

  • First job

Some teens and young adults may have other milestones. However, the above are some of the most common. 

Typical physical changes during adolescence 

While each person develops at their own rate, adolescents may face several challenges related to the physical changes their bodies undergo. Many may gain or lose weight during early adolescence before stabilizing later during the transition. Healthy children with proper nutrition might be at their peak physical speed and strength, which could help them cope with the physical changes during adolescence.

Your child may desire more independence at this stage of development. Some caregivers use this phase to offer age-appropriate choices while encouraging healthy eating and physical activity. Children who choose to add these self-care activities to their daily routines and at schools may continue to do so without parental prompting as an adult. 

Adolescents could also start adjusting to changes in their bodies related to puberty. They might experience new physical sensations and potentially notice the emergence of their sex drive and sexuality for the first time. Hormonal changes could be difficult for teenagers, physically and emotionally. While each teen develops at their own pace, offer your child support through validation and education about what they are experiencing. 

Common changes during puberty can include the following: 

  • Sweating more often 

  • Body hair growth on the armpits, groin, legs, arms, and face 

  • Mood swings 

  • Breast development 

  • Voice changes 

  • Genital changes 

  • Romantic or sexual interest in the desired gender

  • Weight changes 

  • Appetite changes 

  • Sleep changes 

Getty/Xavier Lorenzo

Typical intellectual changes during adolescence

Your child may experience significant changes to their intellectual ability and understanding during adolescence. Children can benefit from intellectual challenges and support as they mature toward adulthood. 

Typical responsibilities such as schoolwork and a more demanding schedule can require adolescents to develop time management skills as they build a greater capacity to plan and spend time with less supervision. They often learn more complex thought processes as they build their view of the world. On top of that, navigating social experiences or unintentional injury can help them adapt to the demands of the real world. 

During adolescence, many children begin to understand more abstract concepts. If your teenage child takes on a job, they might learn the requirements and skills to perform it successfully. Additionally, adolescents can be more susceptible to addictive behaviors and substance use as well as feelings of suicide. This is due to the inability to see the big picture as the brain is still developing.

Typical social changes during adolescence 

Your child might go through social changes during the adolescent years. Until adolescence, most of a child's social contact might have been with family. During adolescence, your child could develop stronger friendships and relationships outside the home. 

You may notice that your teen has become better at identifying and empathizing with other people's feelings. Adolescents often learn to expand their role in the community by broadening their circles of interaction. 

They may develop friendships with peers of both genders and experience their first romantic relationship during adolescence. Many young people understand the feeling of falling in love before adulthood. They also may engage in sexual activity, which makes considering education important in order to reduce the chance of unsafe sex. While you always want to shield your children, it is important to practice patience and understanding behaviors.

How adolescents develop a sense of morality

As adolescents mature toward adulthood, they might interact with more people and take on more moral responsibilities. They may find themselves in complex ethical dilemmas where they work to decide how they feel and what actions they will take, like when deciding to drink alcohol, for example.

As children and teens age, they face more complicated social situations in which their group alliance may contradict their own developing set of moral values. This is often referred to as peer pressure, where the threat of social exclusion may overpower their desire to hold fast to their morals.

Adolescents may face moral dilemmas regarding bullying, substance use, relationships, and future choices. From deciding if they have a moral responsibility to help others to determine whether they are mature enough for a relationship, adolescents may benefit from support as they learn to make choices and accept the consequences during this important time. 

Parents and guardians may feel they know the correct answers to these moral questions. Try to offer your knowledge while allowing children to make age-appropriate decisions. Even in a home that provides clear explanations and support for moral choices, teenagers might assess the situation and decide for themselves. 

Mental health conditions that may emerge in adolescence

The turbulent physical, emotional, and mental changes during adolescence can cause various psychological changes and challenges. Trusted adults can provide a foundation of safety for adolescents that they can rely upon for support and comfort as they learn and grow. 

Several mental health conditions may emerge during adolescence. Body image is a significant concern for many teenagers, and they may often compare themselves to peers and the images they see in the media. Feelings of low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and eating disorders can be common among teenagers. The concept of death can also be difficult for adolescents to digest in some cases.

Hormonal changes during adolescence can also cause emotions to flare. As a parent, watch for extreme changes in emotional expression, violence, or behavior that may indicate a more significant issue. If your adolescent is experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition, consider offering counseling as a solution. A teenager might feel more comfortable opening up to a therapist about the struggles they're experiencing.  

Building communication skills with your adolescent

Speaking to your teenager while trying to monitor them might feel challenging at times. You may feel that their communication has drastically changed since childhood. Children are often capable of understanding more complex concepts, but the evolving child-caregiver relationship can face many challenges as it changes. 

During childhood, parents can become accustomed to telling their children what to do and struggle to shift toward guiding them to decide for themselves. One of the risks of this approach is to potentially miss out on developing a deeper connection with your child. Try encouraging your teenager to ask questions and work to provide reasonable, and nonjudgmental answers. 

You can also try to do the following:  

  • Work on communication skills

  • Encourage responsibility

  • Promote independence

  • Validate your teen's feelings

  • Offer outside support when needed

iStock/SDI Productions
Do you have trouble relating to your adolescent child?

How counseling may benefit adolescent health 

Counseling may be an option for many adolescents. If your efforts to support your teen have fallen short, consider signing up for online therapy. Many people in the adolescent age range may feel comfortable with technology and prefer the text-based format over in-person therapy. Live chatting with a licensed therapist may also give adolescents a sense of control over their treatment. 

Online therapy has proven to be an effective treatment option for various mental health and behavioral conditions in children and adolescents when combined with family support. Online cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help teens cope with symptoms of mental health conditions, and it is often less expensive and more convenient than in-person treatment. 

If you're interested in signing up your teen for therapy, consider a platform like TeenCounseling for those 13-19. Suppose you are an older adolescent over 18 or a parent looking for support with the challenges of adolescence. In that case, you can also consider a platform like BetterHelp, which offers over 30,000 licensed therapists specializing in various treatment types. 


Your child might experience many physical, mental, and emotional changes as they mature through adolescence and adulthood. Parents and adolescents who struggle to communicate and relate to one another may benefit from counseling as they navigate this life period. Consider reaching out to a therapist to gain further insight. 

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