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Growth and Development, Ages 11 to 14 Years


Topic Overview

How do children grow and develop between ages 11 and 14?

The ages 11 through 14 years are often referred to as early adolescence. These years are an exciting time of many varied and rapid changes. Your child grows taller and stronger and also starts to feel and think in more mature ways. You may feel amazed as you watch your child begin to turn into an adult. But this can be a confusing time for both kids and parents. Both must get used to the new person the child is becoming.

From ages 11 through 14, a child develops in four main areas:

  • Physical development. Adolescence is a time of change throughout the body. A growth spurt usually occurs near the time of puberty. Girls begin to develop breasts and start their periods. Boys grow facial hair. Both boys and girls grow pubic hair. Boys may lag behind girls in height during these years, but they usually end up taller.
  • Cognitive development. This is how the brain develops the abilities to think, learn, reason, and remember. Kids this age typically focus on the present, but they are starting to understand that what they do now can have long-term effects. They are also beginning to see that issues are not just clear-cut and that information can be interpreted in different ways.
  • Emotional and social development. As they start to move from childhood into adulthood, adolescents feel the urge to be more independent from their families. Often, friends replace parents as a source of advice. When at home, adolescents may prefer spending time alone to being part of the family. Still, family support is important to help them build a strong sense of self.
  • Sensory and motor development. Kids this age may be a little awkward or clumsy. Their brains need time to adjust to longer limbs and bigger bodies. Getting regular moderate exercise can improve coordination and help your child build healthy habits.

When are routine medical visits needed?

Yearly doctor visits are important to detect problems and to make sure your adolescent is growing and developing as expected. During these visits, the doctor will do a physical exam and give your child any needed shots. The doctor will also ask questions about your child's friends, school, and activities to see how he or she is doing.

It is a good idea to give an adolescent some time alone with the doctor. This gives your child a chance to ask questions that he or she may not feel comfortable asking you.

Adolescents should also have yearly dental checkups to make sure their teeth are strong and healthy.

When should you call your doctor?

Call your doctor anytime you have a concern about your child's physical or emotional health, such as:

  • A delay in growth or sexual development—for example, if puberty has not begun by age 14.
  • A big change in appetite or weight.
  • Body image problems, such as a girl believing she is overweight when she is actually very thin. This can be a sign of an eating disorder.
  • Signs of mental health issues, including depression, mood swings, fighting, missing school, or failing classes.
  • Drug, alcohol, or tobacco use.

A call or visit to your child's doctor can help you keep a healthy outlook and know how to recognize a true problem. This may help relieve tension between you and your child.

How can you help your child during these years?

Being the parent of an adolescent can be challenging. Even if your child pushes you away at times, you still play a very big role in your child's life. Try to stay positive and keep the lines of communication open. While it is good to let your child make decisions, realize that adolescents need and want limits that are fair and firm.

To promote healthy development:

  • Help your child build healthy eating habits and a healthy body image. Serve balanced meals, and keep lots of fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods in the house. Be a model of good eating and exercise habits for your child.
  • Urge your child to get some exercise every day.
  • Help your adolescent get enough rest. Set limits on phone, computer, and TV use after a set evening hour.
  • Encourage mature thinking. Involve your child in setting house rules. Talk about current issues together. Brainstorm different ways to solve problems, and discuss their possible outcomes.
  • Talk about sex and other adult issues in an open and natural way. Make this an ongoing conversation. It is best to begin this discussion before puberty so the child knows what to expect. If you don't feel able to do this, ask for help from your doctor, a trusted friend or family member, or a counselor. Don't let your child rely on information from TV or other kids.

Throughout these years, it is important to let adolescents know they are loved and accepted, no matter what happens, even if at times you don't agree with what they do or how they act.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning about adolescent growth and development:

Seeing a doctor:

Ongoing concerns:

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