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How Parents and Caring Adults Can Support Physical Development

Here are some ways that parents and other caring adults can support adolescents through these physical changes:  

  • Let adolescents know that what they are going through is normal. Although “normal” development covers a wide range, even older adolescents (and sometimes, their parents) are concerned with “fitting in.” Remind teens that despite their concerns, their personal developmental path is okay, even if it is different from that of their peers. People develop at different times and not all bodies will look the same even when fully developed. Variation is not at all unusual. 
  • Encourage adolescents to have a positive view of their bodies. Beyond reassuring that the timing of changes in the body varies from person to person, parents and caring adults can help adolescents appreciate their own bodies and developmental experiences. Reminding teens that they are valued and accepted no matter how they look can help nurture self-respect and self-esteem in adolescents and counter negative body image issues or other anxieties.
  • Help adolescents eat well. Parents and other adults play a large role in adolescents’ nutrition, by modeling healthy eating, following dietary guidelines, and making sure adolescents have access to healthy foods. Keeping healthy snacks at home and limiting junk food goes a long way to promoting solid nutrition. Consider preparing and sharing meals with your teen to promote healthy eating. 
  • Get active with adolescents. As with healthy eating, parents and caring adults can model physical activity, making it easier for adolescents to avoid becoming “couch potatoes.” If able, parents can go on walks or bike rides with their adolescent or just toss around a ball. If a teen is competitive or very social, parents can help the teen to sign up for a sport at school or in a community league. For video game fans, parents can select games that involve physical activity, such as Just Dance. The President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition offers additional resources so parents can help teens stay fit and healthy.
  • Teach adolescents to avoid drugs. It’s important for parents to talk to adolescents about how smoking and other drug use can hurt their health and keep them from growing strong and to lead by example. Check out the National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens website for more information, including videos, games, and blog posts.
  • Make sure adolescents get enough sleep. Sleep helps adolescents grow and strengthen their bodies and perform better in school, sports, and other activities. Strategies for parents include having a “lights out” rule, limiting the number of electronic devices (e.g., cell phone, computer) in a teen’s bedroom, and encouraging routines that help adolescents relax at the end of the day, such as reading a book before bed.
  • Show adolescents how to discuss and maintain optimal health. Adolescents should receive regular healthcare, including vaccines and preventive care, such as “well visits.” Parents and other adults also can help adolescents by giving them the skills to comfortably and effectively communicate with doctors and other healthcare professionals, as well as time alone with healthcare providers to discuss health concerns in private. This support matters even more for adolescents who have chronic conditions or disabilities.

Additional information on adolescent physical development can be found in The Teen Years Explained: A Guide to Healthy Adolescent Development, produced by the Center for Adolescent Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.


Content created by Office of Adolescent Health
Content last reviewed on July 31, 2018