Ages 15-18: Developmental Overview

What to Expect

Three teens walking through a park talking and laughingSo, your teen has entered high school, and soon, he or she will be off to college or entering the workforce. While you’ve been helping your child to prepare for adult independence and responsibility all along, it’s important to realize that your teen’s plans for him- or herself may be different from what you want.

Listen to your teen’s thoughts about the future. Support and respect his or her decisions, and offer ideas about what you think he or she might be good at. Encourage your teen to get involved in the community, and help him connect with other caring adults who can positively influence his or her development.

Intellectual Development

  • Abstract thinking becomes more common with older teenagers. They’ll gravitate more to the “gray” areas between the “black-and-white” issues of their early years. They’ll also change their mind about the “grays” to suit their goals and wishes.
  • Older teenagers, such as those in this age range, expand their logic and reasoning abilities, although many still struggle to match their thinking abilities with their actions. Thus, a lot of kids will talk intelligently but then have trouble with planning.
  • Their thinking now considers the future. They can think and have thoughtful discussions about war, college, the economy, and their visions of what would make the world better.
  • Because older teenagers are more intellectually advanced than a child or younger teens, adults can have more back-and-forth conversations with them. They’re better able to understand other people’s points of views, and they’re more open to other perspectives and ideas.
  • Many older teenagers will use their new intellectual capacities as “logical weapons” against their parents. This has more to do with them separating from you. They’ll punch holes in your logic, and they’ll challenge you with thought-out reason.

Emotional Development

Help your teen learn how to recognize and deal with stress, anger, and sadness; to exercise regularly and eat healthy food; and to express feelings honestly as well as respect others’ feelings in friendships and romantic relationships. Your teen will continue to benefit from continuing to do his part around home and at school, and in taking care of his own well-being.

  • Emotionally, teenagers don’t typically like physical affection from their parents. Many do, however, like a lot of physical affection from their friends.
  • Expect a lot of tension and conflict with your teenager, because your teenager is separating from you. The path to independence is rocky for both parents and older teenagers.
  • Some older teenagers will go anywhere—except where their parents are. Be patient with this. Typically kids will draw closer to parents once they leave home. Once they’ve experienced “true independence,” they discover that their parents aren’t as idiotic as they thought when they were older teenagers.
  • Monitor your teenager’s emotional states. Most have an emotional state that they’re most comfortable with. Some are easygoing. Some get angry easily. Others get depressed. Intervene if emotions are overwhelming your older teenager.
  • Some teenagers will give you the silent treatment when they become angry—or if they don’t get their way. Give them time to simmer down. They’ll talk to you again (usually when they need something from you).
  • Some kids begin dabbling in more serious risk behaviors (such as self-harm, drinking alcohol, trying drugs, and having sex). Help kids steer clear of these behaviors. Talk with them about what they’re experiencing—and what they’re seeing going on with their peers. Some are struggling with difficult issues.

Physical Development

  • Older teenagers typically look physically older than they are. Fifteen-year-olds can be mistaken for 21-year-olds, which is why some teenagers find themselves in troubling situations.
  • Since all kids go through five stages of puberty, you’ll continue to see older teenagers mature. Even during the high school years, you’ll notice teenagers maturing at different rates. This is normal, even if teenagers don’t feel like it is.
  • Most teenagers have trouble waking up in the morning. Part of this is because they stay up later. But part of it is biological. Older teenagers tend to shortchange sleep, which can hinder their development. Don’t be afraid to let them sleep until noon—or even until the middle of the afternoon—on weekends.

Social Development

  • At this age, friendships and romance become more important while cliques become less so.
  • Older teenagers are less influenced by peer pressure. They’re more likely to seek out experts when they want to know or do something.
  • Teenagers are heavily influenced by their friends when it comes to clothing, styles, music, and fads.
  • Your child is more likely to seek out advice and help from a friend than from you.
  • A lot of teenagers pair off into couples. Dating becomes more pervasive, and some teens develop intense romantic relationships.