Social and Emotional Changes
Colleen Gengler, Extension Educator, emerita — Family Relations
2011. Reviewed February 2017 by Jodi Dworkin, Extension Specialist and Associate Professor — Family Social Science.
For teens' social and emotional growth, there are two major developmental tasks.
- Developing friendships that are closer and more supportive than those friendships in elementary school.
- Learning to understand and express more complex emotions.
These two tasks are intertwined and interdependent.
As teens change and grow, they typically spend more time with peers and less time with parents and family. Teens may think peer activities should now take priority over family events.
Young teens (ages 11 to 13) try to find a circle of friends where they fit and find peer acceptance. Typically friends at this age are the same gender. Because teens are maturing on different timelines, young teens may seek out those who are at similar maturity levels. Parents might be surprised when a teen is no longer close to a longtime childhood friend.
As teens move into middle adolescence (ages 14 to 16), they become more tolerant of different interests and opinions and gradually worry less about approval from peers. They may also develop friendships with the opposite sex.
In later adolescence (age 17 to early 20s), teens tend to have a variety of friends. They may have a few closer friendships and get into romantic relationships.
Understanding Complex Emotions
Self-awareness around emotions occurs as teens begin to identify and name their own emotions. Teens start to become more socially aware, recognizing emotions and feelings in those around them. This is the start of developing empathy for others. For instance, in a teen's group of friends, he or she might begin to notice how each person reacts a little differently to the same situation. They also begin to manage those emotions. In psychological terms, this is called “emotional regulation.” For example, a teen might take a step back and think about how angry he or she was about what a friend did. Instead of immediately showing that anger to the friend, the teen would consider possible reasons for the friend's actions, why that happened, and finally possible ways he or she might react to keep the friendship intact. This process is an important step in learning to interact and get along with peers, as well as making and keeping friends.
What Parents Can Do
- Talk about what it means to be a good friend. Point out examples in movies, books, or in other media.
- Model healthy ways to interact with others including being loyal, honest yet tactful, and considerate of others' feelings.
- Get to know your teen's friends. You might offer to provide rides. Make your home a welcoming place.
McNeely, C., & Blanchard, J. (2010). The teen years explained: A guide to healthy adolescent development. Baltimore: Center for Adolescent Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Simpson, A. R. (2001). Raising teens: A synthesis of research and a foundation for action. Boston: Center for Health Communication, Harvard School of Public Health.
Steinberg, L. (2008). Adolescence. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Social and Emotional Changes — Understand two important developmental tasks teen undertake during this time. Part of the Teen Talk: A Survival Guide for Parents of Teens series.
Changes in Thinking — Find out how your teen’s cognitive processes are changing. Part of the Teen Talk: A Survival Guide for Parents of Teens series.
The Teen Years Explained — Clea McNeely, PhD and Jayne Blanchard — This e-book can help both teens and adults to understand developmental changes and tips for how to apply this knowledge to your everyday life.