Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood

Certainly the teenage years can be hard as adolescents and young adults develop more of who they are and persist in school, work, and dating. Even with these challenges, these years can be a joy as parents focus on appropriate parenting principles

Milestones of Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood

Physical Development


Some Things to Keep in Mind

  • Girls develop before boys
  • 1st highest risk group for puberty timing- early developed girls.
    • They are risk because older boys may be interested in them even though cognitive maturity has not caught up
    • Additionally they may struggle with body image issues more because they look different from their peers
  • 2nd highest risk group for puberty timing – boys who developed late
    • They may struggle with peer relationship and body image issues because they are small compared to their peers
    • Usually over or underweight

What Parents Can Do

  • As a parent the key is to be open and communicate often
  • Both parents should talk to children about what to expect and how to interpret what is happening
  • With periods, make daughters aware of options (tampons or pads) and help them ease into the transition

Other Resources

Body Image Issues

Body images issues are particularly a problem for early adolescent girls, but affect both genders. Here is what to do as parents to help children with this issue:

  • Don’t:
    • Put down your body or the body of others
    • Make comments about your child’s body, but rather focus your discussions on health
  • Do:
    • Engage in family activities together that promote health
    • Help them value physical exercise (ex. hike or play soccer together for family home evening or at home in the evening)
    • Avoid comments about the value of others based on body type (ex. movie stars, super heroes)
    • Help them see everything they see on movies or TV is airbrushed and not reality
    • Don’t make comments about peoples weight even if it’s positive
    • Encourage your child to focus on what his/her body can do
    • Encourage your child to establish patterns of healthy eating and exercise without obsessing
    • Remind children that the goal is to use our body for good, not to have an amazing body
    • Focus on health rather than losing weight

Other Resources


Over 2/3 of teens don’t get enough sleep even though they need 9+ hours of sleep per night. What can parents do? Here are some suggestions:

  • Don’t allow devices in the bedroom
  • Discuss school start times with school board
  • Promote consistent sleep-wake schedule
  • Let in morning light
  • Set a communication curfew

Other Resources

Cognitive Development

Some of the Cognitive Challenges Adolescents and Emerging Adults Face

  • Adolescent Egocentrism: Adolescents fail to separate between what others focus their thoughts on (the object of their thoughts) and their own concerns (ex. “Everyone is as focused on my thoughts as I am”)
  • Imaginary Audience – Belief that everyone notices what one is doing (ex. “everyone will notice my zit or acne…”)
    • This can relate to why teenagers want privacy. Possible reason? To not be scrutinized by others
    • For those who feel this way and spend excessive time alone, say “we miss you”, and ask them why they spend so much time alone.
  • Personal Fable: Failure to focus on what is unique and what is universal (ex. “no one has ever loved like I have!”)

What Parents Can Do

  • As a parent, reach back to your own experiences and share them. Be sure to not only share the good experiences but the bad as well
  • Give advice on the teenagers level, not on yours (ex. avoid lecturing)

Managing Emotions

Teens aren’t any more emotional than most people, but they show more of the extremes. Here are some ideas for parents as they seek to help teens and young adults deal with emotions:

  • Help them discover what emotion the anger [or another emotion] masking
  • Help them what’s the real issue or the root cause
  • Help them see that anger is not bad, but just needs to be appropriately expressed
  • Participate in helpful activities
    • Exercise (lots of literature on exercise and control of body)
    • Music
    • Writing/drawing
    • Deep breathing
    • Yoga/stretching


Phases of Identity Development

  • Identity Achievement: Identity has been discovered. Linked with authoritative parents
  • Moratorium:  Actively exploring what one’s identity is, linked with permissive or authoritative parents. Have to go through this phase before you get to identity achievement
  • Identity Foreclosure: adopting beliefs without considering others views. Linked with authoritarian parents
  • Negative Identity: push against parents identities. Linked with authoritarian parents
  • Identity Diffusion: floundering and giving little care to identity development, linked with permissive parents (ex. a child who doesn’t don’t have major after a long time in college, and doesn’t care that they don’t)

Parents can help their children develop their identities by being authoritative parents (see parenting philosophy page to learn more)

Adolescent Autonomy

Types of Adolescent Autonomy

  • Emotional: can find emotional strength within oneself
  • Behavioral: making decisions, self-governance, looking after one’s self

How To Help With Autonomy as Parents

  • Gradually relinquish control, but monitor
  • Allow children to make their own decision and then follow up (except in situations you can’t live with the consequences). If children make poor decisions allow children to feel guilt and learn from it.
  • Have rules and regulations but keep to a reasonable minimum
  • Be warm and supportive – even in face of inevitable conflict
  • Don’t punish when children come to you with things they have done wrong

Milestones for Moral and Spiritual Development

Stages of Religious Beliefs:

  • Synthetic-conventional faith (early adolescence): more aware of symbolism, more complex understanding
  • Indicative-Reflective Faith (late adolescence, emerging adulthood): develop individualized faith by questioning beliefs and incorporating personal experiences

What Parents Can Do to Foster Religiosity

  • Remember, keep a strong relationship no matter what
  • Talk about gospel doctrines and debates – engage child in higher level thinking
  • Encourage seminary and Sunday school – ask children what they are learning
  • Let them teach gospel truths in family settings
  • Bear testimony as a family
  • Create opportunities for spiritual experiences
  • Go to temple open houses, firehouses, family scripture study, going to temple together
  • Do family history together

Some Relevant Concerns for Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood

The Effect of Friendship on Adolescence

When it comes to how much influence (for good or bad) friends have on children, parenting style really matters. Ultimately, if you are an authoritative parent, better outcomes are likely to come. Children of authoritative parents:

  • Experience parental influence which is more long term and peer influence which is shorter term
  • Share friends with similar values such as
    • Educational values
    • Job aspirations
    • Religious values
    • Sexual and moral values
    • Political views
    • Drug use

A Take-Away

  • Authoritative children will still be influenced by friends, particularly when it comes to social activities, clothing, music and media, but will be influenced in the moral domain more by parents
  • Children of authoritarian and permissive are more influenced in moral domains by friends and media than by parents

Staying Away From Drugs

What Parents Can Do to Help Children Stay Away From Drugs

  • Talk to them about drugs (lessens likelihood by 42%)
  • Monitor children
  • Promote child disclosure
  • Don’t disparage other people. If they start doing something, they will never want to tell
  • Use parental solicitation (ex. Ask, “how was school, any concerns?”)
  • Don’t use parental control, it will not work

Other Resources

Working During the School Year

Everyone wants their child to develop a good work ethic and many turn to employment to foster it. Here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to adolescence and employment during the school year

  • If the job is high quality, it is usually related to good outcomes (responsibility, punctuality, dependability and others). Although these values are good, they can also be taught in other ways (ex. home responsibility, school teams or groups)
  • The number of hours varies per job, but when children work more than ten hours per week during the school year, this is linked with negative outcomes:
    • Negative outcomes of working between 10 and 20 hours per week
      • Anxiety
      • Depression
      • Sleep per night declines
      • Disruptive to eating and exercise habits
    • Negative outcomes of working beyond 20 hours per week
      • Significant problem behaviors
      • Adolescent affluence, the mindset that the child can spend whatever money they wish when they wish (because of the extra money they have). This becomes a larger problem when children leave the next
    • Summer work of more than ten or twenty hours per week does not have these negative outcomes

Dating In Adolescence

Here are some tips for parents as they help their adolescents begin more regular dating:

  • Always explain the “why” (behind waiting till 16 and not pairing off) not just the “what” (of chastity and dating)
  • Pairing off is powerful – therefore parents should wait to have thier children begin dating at least until 16
  • Healthy dating starts earlier than parents realize
  • Texting can be a method of pairing
  • Encourage young adult dating
  • Don’t over talk not dating when children are adolescents (or they will be less likely date more seriously to when they become adults)

Dating In Emerging Adulthood

Although parents have much less control over children when they leave the nest (and rightly so), here are some resources for helping emerging adults with dating:

Supplementary Materials for Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood

LDS Resources for Youth

LDS Resources for Parents of Youth and Young Adults

Good Reads




Note for Author: For information not provided in links, see 2017 personal notes on lecture about the parenting adolescents and emerging adult lectures of parenting from SFL 240 class