Child development: Teenagers (13+)

Good support from parents and carers will help teenagers feel safe and secure as they navigate this challenging but exciting time in their lives. 

Becoming a teenager is an important time in a child’s life. They will go through many changes physically, emotionally, and socially.  

These can include: 

  • starting or continuing puberty  
  • transitioning into high school 
  • testing boundaries with risky behaviours 
  • developing and changing relationships with friends and family. 

You may find that teenagers start to pull away as they grow independent and discover who they are. This is difficult, but normal.  

Developmental milestones

During the teenage years, developmental milestones are less formal, and the focus is largely on children’s performance and outcomes in key learning areas at school. Every child is different in their development, and children may be stronger in some areas than others.

It is important to work closely and collaboratively with your child’s school teachers as they may be able to identify any developmental delay or missed milestones in their learning through assessment. 

Gross motor skills

Gross motor skills use larger muscles to help perform basic movements such as walking, running, and jumping. They usually require the whole of the body or key core stabilising muscle groups.

In high school, students refine, transfer, and adapt movement skills in different physical activity contexts. Children also learn to control and execute movement with more accuracy and apply skills to more challenging situations.

Fine motor skills

Fine motor skills involve the coordination of small muscles in the wrist, hand, fingers, and even toes. They help your teenager interact with the world in more detail. 

In the teenage years, skills such as writing, cutting, and drawing are still important to allow children to demonstrate their learning. However, in the high school years, children extend on this and learn new skills that require more specialised fine motor skills, such as sewing, baking, or woodwork. This will build a skill set they will use day-to-day or even to gain employment after school.

Language and communication

Language skills involve the ability to document, communicate, and understand thoughts, feelings, and needs through words, speech, and texts.

In the high school years, children learn to reflect, critically assess, and make connections between comprehensive texts. They are taught how to recognise themes in texts and express points of view. Children also learn to compose and produce longer texts for different purposes and audiences. Opportunities to practice oral communication skills are often provided to develop tone, pronunciation, confidence, enthusiasm, speed, and fluency in speech.

Ensuring your child is developing at the right speed or skill for their age allows them to be prepared to learn effectively. Talk to their school teacher, their sporting coach or your family doctor if you have concerns about your child’s development.

Developmental delay

Developmental delay

The term developmental delay is when a child is developing skills more slowly than other children in the same age group. All children with developmental delays still have the potential to learn and develop at their own pace. 

There are many services that can assess and support children with developmental delays to help them reach their full potential. 


Neurodivergence is when a child’s brain functions differently from the majority of people who are at a similar age and stage. People who are neurodivergent may see the world differently from others. This includes diagnoses such as Autism and ADHD.

If your child is neurodivergent and you haven't already, talk to your doctor about accessing support for your child through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The NDIS provides funding to assist children with neurodivergence and developmental delays in accessing therapy and support for early intervention as well as ongoing services. 


Puberty is a normal part of growing up - everyone experiences it! It is when a child is transitioning into an adult and undergoing significant physical, emotional, and social changes. 

These changes are driven by a natural increase of chemicals in a child’s body called hormones, and these hormones help reach reproductive and emotional maturity.

Onset of puberty

Puberty happens at different times for different people, and there is no way of knowing when your child will begin puberty. Your child will develop at their own pace; however, girls tend to start puberty earlier than boys. The age range when puberty happening includes:

  • girls: generally, between 8 to13 years
  • boys: generally, between 9 to 14 years.

Puberty won’t happen overnight. Your child will experience hormonal changes before physical changes gradually occur. 

Puberty can take anywhere between 18 months and five years to complete. Your child’s body will develop at the right pace for them. However, if you are concerned about your child’s development or the onset of puberty is before or after these ranges, speak to your family doctor.

Physical changes for females

The increase in hormones in your child will trigger the following physical changes in females: 

  • breasts: breasts will start to develop as small buds under the nipples. The skin around the nipple called the areola, will get bigger and darker and may grow hair. It is normal for breast buds to feel tender or sensitive while growing. Underwear such as crop tops or training bras can be worn to give extra support.
  • body shape: the pelvis, or hips, gets wider, and her body may become curvier
  • hair: hair on the arms and legs gets darker. Hair will also start to grow around the vulva and underarms. There may also be hair growth on the nipples, stomach, back and face.
  • height: girls get taller, and this is often referred to as a ‘growth spurt’
  • muscles: muscles will start to grow, and they will become stronger
  • genitals: the external genitals will become darker in colour
  • vaginal discharge: there will be discharge (a clear, whiteish, or creamy-coloured secretion) that comes out of the vagina about 6-12 months before the first period and between or during subsequent periods. This discharge is natural and can be thin, thick, sticky, or gooey. Discharge helps keep your vagina clean, moist and works to prevent infections. Your child may like to wear a liner in her underwear to keep them dry.
  • menstrual cycle: also known as a period where the lining of the uterus grows, the ovaries release an egg, and the lining sheds when the egg is not fertilised. This may come with period pain such as cramps, back pain or aches. Your child may also experience pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS). See the 'Periods' section below for more information.
  • pimples: the glands in the skin get bigger and produce more oil. This can lead to dirt and oil build-up in areas such as the face, shoulders, back and neck, which have more oil glands. Increased oil production in these areas can cause whiteheads, blackheads and pimples. Severe breakouts of pimples can be caused by a condition called acne. Talk to your child's doctor or dermatologist if you are concerned.

There is a large variation in development throughout puberty, and it doesn’t look the same for everyone. Your child can increase their independence by learning to manage their different hygiene needs during puberty. See the 'caring for the body during puberty' section below for advice to support your child and their body during puberty.

Physical changes for males

The increase in hormones in your child will trigger the following physical changes in males:

  • voice: the voice will become noticeably deeper because the larynx (or Adam’s apple) becomes larger and may become more obvious. The voice may take a while to ‘break’, causing his voice to fluctuate in depth. 
  • hair: hair on the arms and legs gets darker and thicker. Hair also starts to grow on the face, underarms, pubic area, chest and back and can continue to grow into their 20s. Hair gets thicker and darker as they grow and age.
  • height: males get taller, which is often referred to as a ‘growth spurt’ 
  • muscles: muscles will start to grow, and they will become stronger
  • body and face shape: shoulders will widen, the chest will broaden, and the shape of the jaw and face will change
  • pimples/acne: the glands in the skin get bigger and produce more oil. This can lead to dirt and oil build-up in areas such as the face, shoulders, back and neck, which have more oil glands. Increased oil production in these areas can cause whiteheads, blackheads, pimples, and acne.
  • breast development: it is normal for males to have some small breast growth and tenderness during puberty but this will usually go away as they age. The skin around the nipple called the areola, will get bigger and darker and may grow hair.  
  • genitals: the scrotum, which is the skin that holds the testicles, lowers and darkens in colour. The external genitals (penis, scrotum and testicles) also grow bigger. Penises come in all shapes and sizes and are unique to each person. Reproduction and sexual function don’t depend on penis size.

There is a large variation in how your child develops throughout puberty, and it isn’t the same for everyone. These physical changes mean that your child will need to take increasing responsibility for their hygiene to ensure they are healthy and clean. See the 'caring for the body during puberty' section below for advice to support your child and their body during puberty.


During puberty, the menstrual cycle will begin. 

The menstrual cycle is a process the female reproductive system goes through each month to prepare the body for pregnancy. The ovaries become active and release matured eggs around once a month. A period will occur if eggs aren’t fertilised and a woman doesn’t become pregnant.

The menstrual cycle

  1. Hormones in the body tell the ovaries to produce an egg, usually from one side of the ovary but sometimes both!
  2. While this is happening, the uterus will start to grow a lining full of blood and nutrients to prepare for an egg. 
  3. When the egg has matured, it will be released by the ovary. The egg will travel down the fallopian tubes and arrive in the uterus 16-32 hours later. This is called ovulation.
  4. Pregnancy:
    1. If there is sperm present, it can meet with an egg. This is called fertilisation.
    2. The fertilised egg can then bury itself into the lining of the uterus. This is called implantation.
    3. A fertilised egg that has implanted in the uterus can grow into a pregnancy.
  5. No pregnancy:
    1. If there is no sperm to fertilise the egg, the egg will continue to travel and eventually break down and be absorbed back into the body
    2. Because there is no pregnancy, the lining of the uterus is not needed and will start to break down
    3. Once the lining starts to break down, it will flow out of the cervix and vagina as a bleed, also known as a period
    4. While the bleed is happening, the ovaries will be preparing for the next cycle which will then repeat each month.

Did you know? The left and right ovaries usually alternate releasing an egg each month.

What to expect

The first period will usually start between 11 to 14 years old. Generally, a period or menstrual cycle is about 28 days, including 3 to 7 days of bleeding. This can vary and is not always the same. It is normal for periods to be irregular for the first few years, but they tend to settle into a regular pattern over time. Periods usually last anywhere between 3 to 7 days.

The cycle is counted from the first day of the period or bleed until the first day of the next period. Periods tend to be heavier on Day 1 and get lighter towards the end of the period.

What is normal for one teenager can be different for another.  A person's period is unique to them. A period can look different in terms of:

  • what colour or texture the bleed is
  • how it makes you feel physically and emotionally
  • how long the bleed goes for and how long in between
  • how old you are when you get your first period.

It is important that your child is familiar with what is normal for them so they can be confident in managing their period. Talk to your family doctor if:

  • you or your child have any concerns
  • something changes
  • mood swings, pain or other symptoms disrupt their daily activities
  • your child does not feel quite right.

Supporting your child with their period

It is normal for parents, carers and children to be anxious about expecting the first period and the many changes it brings. You can help your child by having early conversations about:

  • different period products, where you can buy them and how they are used
  • what to expect from your first period
  • how to dispose of used period products
  • managing cramps, pain and other symptoms
  • how they can continue doing activities like sports and swimming when they are on their period
  • eating and drinking well during their period 
  • pain and other signs that something might be wrong
  • where relevant, your own experience with periods.

Conversations with your child about sex, pregnancy, and the menstrual cycle are important to:

  • explain why their period happens
  • learn about how to prevent pregnancy
  • safeguard your child from harm
  • help your child understand how their body works and how to take care of it
  • reduce stigma
  • help your child know when something is not right.

Blood on clothes or sheets

Getting blood on underwear, clothes, or sheets is very common and is nothing to be ashamed of. It happens to most if not all, females at some stage throughout their reproductive years. If this happens, sheets or clothing can be rinsed, soaked, and washed with cold water and detergent.

Managing periods

You can help your child develop their independence and manage their period on their own by:

  • making a period pack that contains period products, tissues, spare underwear and other items 
  • encouraging them to keep track of their periods on their phone, an app or a diary
  • trying different products to figure out what works best for them.

In NSW, every public school offers free period products to support students’ access to clean and hygienic materials from clean dispensers. The period products available will depend on local needs and preferences and may include one or a combination of pads, tampons or period underwear. Talk to your child's Principal to see if this applies to their school.


Pads stick to the inside of the underwear and absorb blood that comes out of the vagina. There are different pad options depending on flow rate and activities participating in. Pads should be changed every 3 to 4 hours, or when they are full, and can be purchased at most supermarkets and pharmacies.


Tampons are inserted into the vagina and absorb blood before it leaves the body. Tampons are useful for activities such as swimming. 

Remind your child to wash their hands before inserting and removing a tampon. Tampons should be changed every 3 to 4 hours during the day, or when full, and should never be left in for more than eight hours due to the rare risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS). Tampons can be purchased at most shops and pharmacies.

Period underwear

Period underwear looks like regular underwear but has an absorbent and leak-resistant layer. Period underwear can be purchased at most supermarkets and pharmacies. They are washable and reusable and can be used in combination with other period products.

Menstrual cup

Menstrual cups are small silicone cup that sits inside the vagina and catches blood before it leaves the body.  Follow the manufacturer's instructions on safely emptying, cleaning and reusing your menstrual cup. Look out for trusted brands to help prevent the rare risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS).

Disposing of period products

Never flush period products down the toilet as they will block drains. Instead, place them in the bin or a sanitary disposable unit, if available.

Male reproductive system

Erections happen when the penis fills with blood and becomes thicker, stiffer and longer. This can occur when boys are excited, nervous, have lots of blood going through their body, have romantic/sexy feelings, or sometimes there is no reason at all. 

Boys begin to produce sperm in the testicles during puberty which allows them to ejaculate. If an erect penis is stimulated, sperm, in a fluid called semen, is carried through the urethra and out the tip of the penis. This is called ejaculation and allows males to reproduce. Males can’t urinate and ejaculate at the same time as there is a valve in the penis that only lets one through at a time.

Wet dreams occur when ejaculation happens during sleep. The name can be misleading as your child might not necessarily have a dream or physically wet the bed or sheets. It occurs whilst their bodies are getting used to sperm production and the frequency of wet dreams reduce as teenage boys gets older. If this happens, explain to your child it is a normal part of puberty and guide them through the correct hygiene tips to clean and wash any semen off clothes or bedsheets.

Starting early conversations

Talk to your child about puberty before these changes start to happen to them. This will help your child understand what to expect and better prepare them.

Talking with your child about puberty

Having a child who is about to go through or is going through puberty can be challenging to navigate. It’s important for you to talk to children early about puberty to ensure they get the right information delivered in a safe and age-appropriate way. 

How to talk to your child:

  1. pick the right time when your child isn’t busy or distracted and seems open to talking
  2. find out what they know
  3. provide the correct information in a safe and age-appropriate way and correct any mistakes or misinformation
  4. give them the opportunity to ask questions 
  5. keep the line of communication open.

Supporting your child through puberty

When your child is going through puberty, there are some things you can do to support their healthy growth and development during this time:

  • Nutrition: during puberty, your child will have a bigger appetite and need more energy. Provide your child with a well-balanced diet and plenty of water. Foods high in calcium and iron, especially for girls who lose blood during menstruation, are essential for their bones, muscles, and blood circulation. Food and drinks that contain caffeine should be limited as they reduce the absorption of some nutrients such as calcium.
  • Sleep: during puberty, children start to produce melatonin, the sleep hormone, later in the day, meaning your child may want to go to bed later and not get up as early in the morning. You can help by ensuring they have a regular sleep schedule and get sufficient sleep. See Sleep hygiene for more information.
  • Wellbeing: there are a lot of social and emotional changes during puberty, so check in with your child regularly to see how they are coping. If they are struggling, get your child to talk to their local doctor. See Mental health for more information.
  • Exercise: encourage at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity or exercise each day to lower your child’s risk of excess weight gain. Exercise also helps increase self-esteem, lower anxiety and stress, and improve mood, which can be largely impacted during this time.
  • Privacy: your child will want more privacy and personal space as they experience changes to the way they look, feel, and think. It is important to respect your child's privacy and always knock before entering your child’s room.
  • Support: provide support and reassurance to your adolescent during this time. Remind them that changes are entirely normal. Be patient and keep an open line of communication to ensure they can come to you for any questions or if they are in trouble.

Caring for the body during puberty

During puberty, the body undergoes hormonal changes that cause the sweat glands to get bigger, become more active, and produce more oil. This increased oil production can lead to dirt build-up, clogged pores, and acne. 

Additionally, increased sweat production can cause body odour which your child may not have been previously aware of in themselves. Maintaining good hygiene during this period is essential to ensure your child is healthy, clean, and confident. 

Here are some key hygiene tips:

  • apply antiperspirant deodorant regularly to reduce underarm sweat and body odour, for example, roll on or spray deodorant
  • shower daily and pay extra attention to areas that tend to sweat more, such as the armpits, genitals, and feet
  • wash the face with a mild soap or cleanser or as recommended by your doctor or dermatologist
  • if pimples arise, avoid squeezing or scratching them, as this can scar or make them worse
  • wash hair at least once a week to clean the oil build-up on the head
  • wash clothes regularly as body sweat transfers to your child’s clothes, causing clothes to smell
  • if shaving, use a gel or soap, change the blade regularly (or throw it away if disposable), and rinse the razor every few strokes to prevent razor burn, cuts, or slices
  • for girls, always wash hands thoroughly before and after applying and removing period products
  • for circumcised boys, teach your child to always wash their penis every time they shower
  • for uncircumcised boys, teach your child to clean under their foreskin every time they shower and rinse thoroughly with water before re-covering the head of their penis. 

Speak to your doctor if you or your child have any concerns with these hygiene tips.

Social and emotional development

The teenage years are a time of significant social and emotional development. The hormonal changes and rapid brain development will impact the way your child thinks, acts and feels. 

Adolescence is a time of growing independence, problem-solving, and identity formation. Their exposure to new people and settings will also result in changes to their friendships and relationships. 

As a parent or carer, be available to listen to and support your child through this process and seek support from your family doctor if you have concerns.


Adolescence is a time of self-discovery as children become more independent and self-aware. Teenagers start to shape their identity by developing opinions and a stronger understanding of their beliefs, values, and their place in the world. Their identity can significantly affect their growth, success, and overall wellbeing.

As teenagers are figuring out who they are, they may experiment with new ways of looking, thinking, acting, talking, or even trying new hobbies or interests. Identity is shaped by your child but is also impacted by their environment and relationships with others, including you.

Morals and values

As teenagers become more aware of themselves and the world around them, they will develop a stronger sense of what is right and wrong. Children are likely to question things to figure out what is fair, equal, or just in different situations. Their morals and values guide their decisions, impact their behaviour and subsequently shape their identity. 

You can help your child develop good morals and values by demonstrating and encouraging them to be:

  • honest
  • respectful
  • kind
  • responsible
  • generous
  • cooperative
  • caring.


During this time, it's common for teenagers to seek independence, take on new responsibilities, and make decisions on their own. Teenagers may start to question authority, take risks, push boundaries, and seek privacy. Age-appropriate independent activities can assist your child to shape their own identity and explore relationships and settings outside of their immediate family. 

You can support your child safely develop their independence by:

  • setting clear rules and boundaries
  • having discussions about safety
  • providing age-appropriate opportunities to be independent, for example, cooking at home, packing school lunch, or getting a part-time job
  • teaching children effective problem-solving skills to help manage risks
  • offering children more choices as they grow up
  • modelling effective decision-making
  • being fair and consistent
  • maintaining an open line of communication.

Mood changes

The increase in hormones during puberty will impact how your child thinks, feels, and acts. Your child is still learning how to manage their emotions and, therefore, may have fluctuations in their mood. Your child may be happy and excited one minute and flat, sad, or insecure the next. Some fluctuations are normal, and discussing helpful coping strategies with your child can be useful. However, if mood swings or negative emotions persist or disrupt daily activities, speak with your child, and seek support from your local doctor. 

See Mental health for more information.

Transitioning to High School

The transition from primary to high school is a significant period of change for your child. Your child may feel happy or excited as they embark on a new journey, discover new interests, and meet new people. Alternatively, they could feel nervous, anxious, or frustrated because of the numerous changes they are experiencing. 

Each child responds differently, and all these feelings are entirely normal during the period leading up to, and the initial weeks of high school.

What to expect

Preparing your child can help manage their expectations and make the transition as smooth as possible. Your child can expect to:

  • attend a larger school with more students 
  • meet new people, some of whom might become their friends
  • participate in set classes called “periods” that focus on one subject at a time
  • learn from a new specialist teacher for each subject
  • move around the school between periods to get to the next classroom
  • participate in a ‘roll call’ or ‘home room’ each day to track attendance
  • be provided with a timetable to help them manage their new routine
  • have more responsibility and freedom in completing their schoolwork and homework
  • be given larger projects called ‘assignments’ or sit exams that test their knowledge
  • explore new interests and skills through subjects such as food technology, drama, language and more
  • occasionally get lost in the first few weeks; however, teachers and older students are able to help your child.

Every high school is different. Talk to your child’s high school for specific information about their new school.

Supporting the transition

As a parent or carer, you can:

  • talk positively about the opportunities of high school
  • take them to orientation events that will familiarise them with the school, teachers and peers
  • ensure your child has the correct uniform and the required equipment for subjects
  • promote healthy habits that encourage them to be active, get sufficient sleep, eat well, and drink lots of water
  • encourage a regular routine as much as possible
  • provide a quiet space that is free from distractions to complete homework, where possible
  • provide your child with contact numbers and some money in case of emergencies, for example, forgetting their lunch or missing the bus
  • reassure and validate your child’s feelings
  • inform your child’s school about any allergies, intolerances, or health conditions
  • keep an open line of communication so that your child can discuss any concerns or questions.

There will be a sense of unfamiliarity in the first few weeks, but everyone at high school was new once! Remind your child of the new opportunities they will explore, the new interests they will discover and the new people they will meet.


Friendship development

As teenagers enter their teenage years, they tend to seek stronger connections with people outside their family. Teenagers tend to develop friendships based on similar interests, attitudes, values, and shared activities. Friends and peer groups are likely to gradually change as teenagers take more control over their social lives.

It is completely normal for friendship groups to shift, change, and evolve over these development stages. In the teenage years, friendships tend to become ‘deeper’ with increasing communication, contact, and support. Communication through social media is a common way for children to continue friendships when they are not physically together. Same-sex friendships are common in the earlier teenage years, with friendships from the opposite sex developing more often in the later years of high school. 

Although your child is growing up and becoming more independent, they still require your support to guide them towards healthy, positive relationships of all kinds. It is important to teach your child what qualities a good friend has by teaching good morals and values. See the ‘Identity’ section above for more information.

Benefits of friendships

Quality friendships allow your teenager to feel supported in both the good and bad times, sometimes when you are not there. Having a good circle of friends can positively benefit your child. Positive peer groups can:

  • boost their confidence
  • provide support
  • help them accomplish their goals
  • encourage them to try new things
  • enhance their social skills and 
  • provide them with a sense of belonging.


Making friends

As your child transitions from primary to high school, they may be concerned about losing touch with friends from their old school or nervous about making new friends. These feelings are completely normal. Some children will easily make friends; others may find it more challenging.  

If your teen is struggling to make connections with others:

  • encourage your teen to reconnect with an old friend, such as a primary school friend
  • find after-school or weekend activities that your child enjoys to find like-minded people
  • consider car-pooling with another child your child likes being around; this could also save you time and allow your child to develop stronger connections
  • if your child is old enough, see if they are interested in getting a part-time job where they could meet new people outside of school
  • teach them how to be a good friend as this is likely to attract other good friends
  • ask your child if there are lunch clubs at school that they could join; these are often facilitated by teachers who can offer a safe space for conversation
  • organise get-togethers with families and friends that have children of a similar age to your child.

In addition to maximising opportunities to make friends, connect with your teen and make them feel loved, valued, and appreciated. Spend time talking and engaging with them to build a stronger relationship. It may not always seem it, but your teenager's relationship with you is an extremely important one.

Encourage your child to be themselves without compromising their values. Children who don’t have as many friends may be more susceptible to peer influence to try and fit in within new social circles. See the ‘Peer pressure’ section for more information.

Peer pressure

Peer pressure is when your child is influenced by their friends or other children to act in a way they normally wouldn’t to help feel accepted and valued within their social circle. Peer pressure can be positive or negative and may influence your child’s:

  • clothing choices
  • language
  • behaviour
  • interests
  • social media use
  • nutrition
  • motivation and attendance at school
  • morals
  • substance use.

Teenage friendships can greatly affect social and emotional development, but some parents may worry about negative influences from friends. Your teenager might have some friends you like or friends you don’t like, and this is normal. Criticising your teenager's choice of friends can be unproductive. Instead, try to focus on their behaviour and how you can support their confidence, knowledge, and agency. 

Negative peer pressure could result in your child being coerced or feeling pressured to do something risky, dangerous, or impulsive. It is important to remember that your child is trying to belong, and they may need your help in finding the balance between fitting in and making sensible decisions. You can:

  • teach your child about peer pressure and the harms of risky behaviour
  • instil strong morals and values in your child from a young age
  • set realistic boundaries with your child
  • role model positive independent decision-making
  • teach your child problem-solving skills
  • maintain open lines of communication
  • build your child’s confidence
  • encourage different activities that allow your child to meet new people and have friends from different groups
  • talk about different ways your child can say ‘no’ in uncomfortable, risky, or dangerous situations.


During the teenage years, children’s friendships are evolving. Teenagers are:

  • testing new boundaries
  • striving to establish their place and
  • competing with peers for status within groups. 

This can sometimes lead to disagreements, arguments or some children being mean or rude. However, it is important to understand that there is a difference between disagreements and bullying. 

Bullying is considered to be intentional, repeated, aggressive behaviour toward someone. It is where an individual or group threaten, harm or control someone to cause harm or distress. It can take many forms and may include a combination of verbal, physical, social, cultural, or cyberbullying.

See Emerging topics-Bullying for information on warning signs and how you can help children who are being bullied or who are bullying others.


In the teenage years, your child might start to be attracted to other people and develop intimate feelings towards others. Physical and hormonal changes from puberty increase sexual feelings, thoughts, and desires. Dating is often the way teenagers explore these new emotions.

By 17 years of age, approximately 2 in 3 teenagers have had a romantic relationship.  

Dating is a significant milestone in the life of a teenager and can be a fun and enjoyable experience. Your child is discovering their emotions, preferences and needs in romantic relationships. Dating allows your teenager to develop their social skills and sense of identity and explore their sexual and gender identity. 

It's important to: 

  • speak to your child about what a healthy relationship looks like
  • role model a healthy relationship
  • encourage your child to talk with their significant other about how they feel and their limits. 

Sexual orientation

Your teenager may be interested in someone from the opposite sex, same-sex, or both sexes. Others may not be interested in dating, which is also common. There is no right or wrong age to develop attraction towards others, and your child shouldn’t feel pressured to date, even if their friends are.

See Navigating gender identification for more information.

Online dating

Popular dating applications, such as Tinder, Hinge, and Bumble, mandate that users should be 18 years old or above. However, your teenager may still explore romantic connections and feelings online through social media platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat. Talking about online safety and stranger danger with your child is important. 

See Online safety for more information.


Romantic relationships during the teenage years can be short-lived or unstable. Sometimes, feelings aren’t mutual. This may lead to breakups or upsetting emotions which can be challenging for your child. 

Although your child may seem young, the experience and emotions of a breakup can be very real for them – even if the relationship didn’t last very long. It is important to be supportive of your child and not dismiss their feelings. Be there to listen, discuss helpful coping mechanisms and remind them of the amazing qualities that make them unique and who they are.


Self-esteem refers to the opinions, attitudes, and feelings we have towards ourselves and our perception of worth and value. It encompasses how we see ourselves in the eyes of others and how we believe we are capable of coping with and thriving in the world around us. Self-esteem is affected by:

  • self-talk
  • interactions with others 
  • new experiences.

The teenage years can be a rollercoaster of emotions for teenagers, and self-esteem can grow and change during this time. 

Low self-esteem

Low self-esteem is when your child has low self-belief and negative thoughts about themselves and their worth. Someone with low self-esteem may regularly compare themselves to others or seek external approval or validation. They may lack motivation or avoid trying new things due to fear of failing or embarrassing themselves. This can result in your child feeling sad, frustrated, or anxious. 

Parents play a large role in supporting their children’s esteem through everyday interactions. Here are some simple ways you can foster your child’s self-esteem:

  • praise effort, not outcome
  • take an interest in your child’s opinions and beliefs
  • talk about topics that interest them to encourage their passion
  • encourage them to learn a new skill that demonstrates their capabilities
  • help them identify when they have made good decisions
  • encourage your child to surround themselves with supportive and encouraging friends
  • encourage participation in activities they are good at so they create a strong belief in themself
  • encourage positive self-talk in challenging situations
  • frame mistakes as learning opportunities for future success
  • practice mindfulness, meditation, and positive affirmations.

It is important to foster positive self-esteem from a young age. With the right support, you can help support your child’s developing self-esteem. It’s okay to feel sad or lack confidence from time to time; however, when self-esteem is persistently low, it is important to seek professional help.

If your teenager is frequently struggling with low self-esteem or has underlying problems contributing to low self-esteem, speak to your family doctor for advice or referral.

Positive self-esteem

Positive self-esteem is when your child feels good about themself, are confident in their abilities and value themselves and their worth. 

Positive self-esteem allows children to try new things, solve problems, and make independent decisions. It enables children to believe they can cope, effectively manage challenging emotions, and be resilient. Positive self-esteem can help children feel happy and motivated leading to further opportunity and success later in life.

Body image

Body image is a child's thoughts, feelings, and attitudes about their body and appearance, including their shape, size, and weight. A healthy body image is when your child feels comfortable and confident in their own body and appreciates their worth irrespective of their physical appearance. During puberty, children may become more self-conscious about their appearance and vulnerable to developing negative body image due to the physical and emotional changes they experience. 

See Body image and self confidence for more information on supporting your child's body image.

Mental health

Mental health is a key component of a person’s health and wellbeing. Mental ill health can impact the way your child feels, thinks, and acts across the day and can have secondary impacts on the way they perceive relationships, schoolwork, stress, and everyday life. Adolescents are more at risk of suffering from mental ill health due to significant life changes.

Half of all the mental health conditions experienced will have started by the age of 14.

Mental health challenges often begin during childhood and can contribute to poor health outcomes if left untreated. Early intervention and prevention are key to promoting good mental health and wellbeing. Talking to your child about their mental health may seem like a difficult task, but it is a critical aspect of raising children. Supporting your child’s mental health is an ongoing process. 

Did you know?

  • 1 in 5 young people aged 11 to 17 years had either high or very high levels of psychological distress.
  • 1 in 7 young people aged 12 to 17 years experienced a mental disorder.

Finding relevant and useful services is one of the best places to start seeking help for mental ill health. However, if you think you or your child is at immediate risk of harm, call Triple Zero (000) or visit any hospital emergency department.

See Mental Health in Australia for more information on support and services.

Physical activity

Physical activity is essential for your child’s physical development, emotional resilience, cognition and social development. In the teenage years, physical activity may be through organised sport, active travel, play, or incidental movement. Physical activity all adds up to create happy, active kids with habits that will benefit them well into their older adulthood. 


Children and young people aged 5 to 17 years of age should aim for at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day involving mainly aerobic activities. 

They should incorporate strengthening activities on at least 3 days in the week for example: 

  • climbing 
  • hopping 
  • jumping 
  • running. 

When exercising, your child will likely lose fluids and electrolytes faster than they normally would. Therefore, fluids are essential to maintain hydration, especially on hot or humid days.

Fundamental movement skills 

The fundamental movement skills are basic movement patterns that assist your child in participating and mastering more complex physical and recreational activities. Children do not participate or master fundamental movement skills by themselves, naturally. They need to be intentionally taught by parents, teachers, coaches and role models in their lives.

In the teenage years, fundamental movement skills should largely be mastered. The more confident your child is in the fundamental movement skills, the more likely they are to be active and participate in sport and physical activity, both competitively and socially with friends. 

See Physical activity for more information.


Your child needs good quality sleep for their growth, development and learning. While they sleep, their brain and body are working hard to recover, restore and prepare for the next day. If your child has enough sleep, they are likely to be happier, have more energy, and be more active.

Sleep recommendations

  • Children aged 5 to 13 years of age need 9-11 hours of good quality and uninterrupted sleep every 24 hours.
  • Children aged 14 to 17 years need 8-10 hours of good quality and uninterrupted sleep every 24 hours. 

Every child is different, and your child may need more or less sleep than the guidelines. If your child is having regular daytime naps at this age, is struggling with their sleep, or their sleep schedule is impacting your wider family, speak with your doctor. 

See Sleep for more information.

The impacts of puberty on sleep

As children reach puberty, they often do not get as much sleep as they need. The pressures of schoolwork, social life, and peer contact can create later bedtimes and regular sleep-ins. 

This sleep pattern should not be encouraged as it can lead to an altered sleep phase where your child wakes late and is unable to easily fall asleep at night. Going to sleep late makes it difficult for teenagers to get the recommended sleep they need each night and be ready for school or work the next morning. 

Screen time and sleep

The social and recreational use of screens can significantly contribute to sleep disturbances in children. Screens such as TVs, phones and tablets release blue light, which blocks the release of melatonin. 

Melatonin is a hormone that is released by the brain in response to darkness and helps children fall asleep. As screens emit light later at night they can offset melatonin and delay your child’s body clock. Try to help your child strike a sensible balance between late-night socialising and sleeping. Here is what you can do to help your child sleep:

  • avoid using electronic media, including television, computers, and mobile phones, for at least an hour before bedtime 
  • keep screens out of the bedroom to reduce your child’s temptation and time spent on screens before bed
  • having screens outside the room also allows you to supervise the content they are engaging with. 

See Screen time and Protecting your child for more information on online safety. 

Sleep deprivation

If your child doesn't get enough sleep, it can impact their physical, emotional, and cognitive health. 

7 out of 10 teenagers are sleep deprived.

Not enough sleep can make it difficult for your child to learn and concentrate, manage their emotions, follow directions, be creative, solve problems, and they may be more likely to become sick. All these physical, mental and immune functions are essential for your teenager to learn and develop effectively. See Sleep hygiene for more tips on improving your child's sleeping patterns.

"There is a huge reduction in negative mental health outcomes during adulthood if children sleep well during these important development stages. Think of it as an investment" - Dr Chris Seton (Paediatric & Adolescent Sleep Physician).

Screen time

Screens have become increasingly part of children’s lives and can be useful and enjoyable for teenagers. In the teenage years, screens are frequently used for:

  • homework and assignments
  • education at school
  • communication with friends and family via social media
  • leisure activities, such as video games.

Screen time recommendations

For children and young people aged 5 to 17 years, it is recommended they have no more than two hours of sedentary recreational screen time each day (this does not include required schoolwork).

While screen time has many benefits, excessive time spent in front of a screen can impact many aspects of a child’s growth and development, including their physical health, mental wellbeing, ability to form social connections, and disrupted sleep patterns. 

See Screen time for more information, including tips to reduce your child’s screen time. 

Nutrition and eating habits

It is crucial to support your teenager to eat a well-balanced and nutritious diet to support their physical, social, emotional, and mental health. When puberty begins, adolescents undergo significant changes that make them feel hungrier and, as a result, eat more food. 

See Healthy Eating for Children for information on encouraging healthy eating habits.

Food independence

As your teenager gets older, they are likely to develop more independence and accumulate pocket money. This will allow children to make choices about the foods they eat and when they eat. This may result in children eating more highly processed foods due to their low costs, popularity and availability. Processed foods are often high in salt, sugar or saturated fats and lack key nutritional value. 

To limit this intake for your teenager, you can:

  • role model healthy food purchasing and choices
  • avoid using highly processed foods or takeaway as a reward
  • encourage healthy choices
  • educate your child on how to have a balanced, nutritious diet. See Nutrition for more information.

Food restrictions or fad diets

Online influences, unrealistic beauty standards, or negative body image could lead teenagers to consider starting diets or limiting their food intake. Diets or restricting certain food groups without medical advice may lead to nutrient deficiencies that can negatively impact your teenager's overall health and wellbeing. 

See Lifestyle diets for more information.

Energy drinks and caffeine

Consumption of energy drinks has become increasingly popular among teenagers. However, the biggest concern for this population group surrounds the level of sugar and caffeine within products. Children under 14 are not advised to consume caffeine. For teenagers aged 14 to 17, intake should be 100mg of caffeine or below. 

See Energy drinks and caffeine levels for more information.


Tap water is recommended as the best drink of choice and is essential for hydration. Active children should be encouraged to drink regularly to make sure they do not feel thirsty. Children should be encouraged to keep a water bottle with them and to drink during activities such as sports as well as in the classroom.

Children aged 9 to 13 years are recommended to have 6 cups, or 1.5 litres of water per day.

Children aged 14 to 18 years are recommended to have 7+ cups, or 1.8 litres of water per day.

Immunisations and health checks


The best way to protect your child from serious, preventable diseases is to give immunisations on time and in line with the recommended NSW Immunisation Schedule. This schedule ensures that your child is provided with the earliest protection from disease. All immunisations on this schedule are free, if your child is eligible for Medicare benefits. Evidence of your child’s immunisation status must be provided for school enrolment. 

If your child missed any immunisations in early childhood, talk to your vaccination provider or doctor. They can provide a catch-up schedule based on your child’s age, previous vaccinations, and medical history. 

Year 7 immunisations

Year 10 immunisations

Influenza vaccine

It is also recommended that your child is vaccinated against influenza, more commonly known as the flu, every year. Getting the flu vaccine each year protects your child from the types of flu expected to be the most common that season. 

See the Influenza factsheet for more information. 

Missed a vaccination?

Children who miss the recommended vaccinations on the NSW Immunisation schedule can still get them for free until they turn 20 years old if they are eligible for Medicare – but it is better to start a conversation with your doctor earlier rather than later.

Health checks

Regular health checks

Regular health checks with your local doctor are still important in the high school years to ensure that your child's health and development is on track. Each child develops at their own pace; however, as a parent, you know your child best. If you have concerns about your child, speak to your family doctor. 

Concerns may include, but are not limited to:

  • physical growth: overweight, underweight, overeating, or undereating
  • movement: difficulty coordinating movement or finding regular movement patterns challenging
  • emotional development: are consistently unhappy, frustrated, angry, tired, or anxious or have excessive and frequent mood swings
  • cognitive skills and thinking ability: difficulty concentrating, following directions, solving simple problems, or following directions
  • communication skills: difficulty with speaking, hearing, or writing
  • social skills: difficulty with eye contact, empathy, or engaging with other children.

Your doctor can assess your child, provide advice and education, or refer your child to appropriate services or professionals. You should also see your doctor if your child is unwell, sick, or injured. However, if your child is experiencing an emergency, immediately call Triple Zero (000).

Sexual health checks

A Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) is an infection a person can get from unprotected sexual contact with someone who has that infection, such as chlamydia, syphilis, and gonorrhoea. It can be passed on through unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

The signs and symptoms of an STI may not always be obvious, but if left untreated, it can cause serious health complications or infertility. If your teenager thinks they may have an STI, they will need to see their local doctor.  

Parents can play a key role in educating their children about sexual and reproductive health. It can seem daunting, embarrassing, or awkward – however, research shows that educated young people are often more responsible in relationships. Children and young people look to their parents as a trusted source of information, so opening a line of communication can benefit your child. 

See Sexual health for more information.

Dental hygiene

Dental development for teenagers

Your teenager is likely starting to have developed most of their adult teeth by 12 years of age. Children will get their second molars around 13 years of age. The last teeth to come in are their ‘wisdom teeth’, which are known as third molars. The wisdom teeth don’t come in until the late teens, around 18 to 25.

From 13 to 18 years, children may start to have more independence in their choice of food and drink or even start to have pocket money to purchase their own food and drinks. It is important to encourage a healthy diet and talk to your child about the risks of tooth decay from sweetened food and drinks.

Looking after your teenager's teeth

Your teenager is likely to have developed most of the teeth that they will have for the rest of their life.  

It is important to help your child look after their teeth with the following advice:

  • book regular dental check-ups every 6-12 months
  • brush twice a day with a small toothbrush that has soft bristles – morning and night can help set a good routine
  • use a small, pea-sized amount of regular adult toothpaste
  • teach your child to spit out toothpaste instead of swallowing
  • don’t rinse with water after brushing as the fluoride from the toothpaste is working to protect your child’s teeth.
  • remind your child to brush their tongue
  • encourage your child to floss daily
  • teach your child to lift their lip once a month to check for signs of tooth decay
  • offer your child healthy snacks such as fresh fruit and vegetables, cheese and plain yoghurt
  • don’t share cutlery, straws utensils – this can pass bacteria and germs to your child’s mouth that can cause tooth decay.

Sport and teeth

Sport is a great way to get your child active. It is also important to take precautions to protect your child’s teeth during certain forms of sport or exercise.

Sport and tooth protection

Children are often at risk of chipping, breaking, or knocking out their teeth from things such as contact sports, rough play, falls or accidents. Losing a baby tooth early from an accident is not usually a cause for concern, and treatment will focus on managing pain or infection to the tooth or gum. However, tooth injuries to adult teeth must be treated as soon as possible to avoid further injury, infection, and permanent loss. 

See the Tooth injuries in older children factsheet for more information, including treatment and management.

A quarter of all 15-year-olds have had some type of injury to their front teeth.

Sports drinks:

Where possible, sports drinks and sugar-sweetened beverages should be limited or avoided to prevent tooth decay. Regular sports drinks contain sugar, which interacts with bacteria in the mouth creating acid that can decay teeth. If your child does have a sweet drink or food, ensure they drink water and/or brush their teeth afterwards to reduce the risk of tooth decay. When playing sport, water is the best choice to rehydrate your child. 

If you would like further information about fluids, sports drinks or electrolytes for your child's specific sport, book in to see an Accredited Practicing Dietitian or a Sports Dietitian.

Last updated Monday 6th May 2024