The transition between young childhood and young adulthood is an exciting period of self-discovery and development. Between the ages of 7 and 16, children go through 3 distinct stages of child development: middle childhood, early adolescence and middle adolescence. Throughout these formative years, children gain self-esteem and a sense of identity, experience dramatic physical changes and develop interests and abilities that can last a lifetime.
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Middle Childhood: Ages 7 to 11
During middle childhood, children grow an average of 2 inches and gain 5 to 7 pounds each year, according to the authors of "Primary Care Pediatrics." Children this age progressively gain muscle mass and strength, and coordination improves. The early stages of puberty may appear, marked by testicular development in boys and breast development in girls. During middle childhood, children begin to base their self-esteem on success at school and with outside activities, along with how their abilities compare to their peers. Social networks broaden and children begin relying on adults other than their parents -- such as coaches and teachers -- for advice and guidance.
Early Adolescence: Ages 11 to 14
The most notable physical change in early adolescence is puberty, although it can happen earlier or later. Girls develop breasts and pubic hair and start to menstruate. Boys experience enlargement of the testicles and penis, and development of pubic, facial and body hair. Girls and boys experience a dramatic growth spurt during puberty as their bodies transition to a more adult physique. Socially, early adolescents spend more time with friends and begin to distance themselves from their parents. Parent-child conflict is common, and failure to anticipate long-term consequences of their behavior may lead to impulsiveness, such as aggressive confrontations or classroom outbursts.
Middle Adolescence: Ages 14 to 16
Children have usually gone through puberty by middle adolescence. Most girls have reached their adult height and weight. Many boys continue growing during and after middle adolescence since their puberty-related growth spurt sometimes happens as late as age 16, according to "Essentials of Pediatric Nursing." Middle adolescents are commonly preoccupied with friends and romantic relationships. Parent-child conflict is typically at its peak, say the authors of "Child Development and Behavioral Pediatrics." Children in middle adolescence spend more time and energy focused on their outward appearance. They still have a hard time seeing the long-term implications of their actions, which can lead to the risky behaviors like substance abuse and unsafe sex.
Helping Your Child Through These Formative Years
Along with enormous strides in social and intellectual development, children in middle childhood and early and middle adolescence may have trouble adjusting to developmental changes. This can lead to problems with self-esteem, anxiety and/or withdrawal. In addition to loving and supporting your child, you can take several helpful steps, such as:
-- Encouraging extracurricular activities, which provide extended social networks.
-- Helping your child form and nurture positive peer and adult relationships.
-- Letting your child spend time with friends while setting reasonable limits and implementing regular family time.
It's also important to talk with your child about issues of safety, like using seat belts and bike helmets, and the risks of substance abuse and sexually transmitted diseases. Talk with your doctor if you are concerned about your child's mental health or physical development.