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Goodbye Girl, Hello Teen Signs of Development

teen signs of development

Being the mom of four, with one who is well into adolescence (16 years), I have been seeing little glimmers of change here and there, teen signs of development warning me that the throes of adolescence are near for the next one in line (14 years).

Do you ever wake up, acutely aware that you’re in the midst of something big, but wonder how it happened so fast? How you missed the clues to the inevitable?

Today that happened to me. A simple early morning conversation with my 14 year-old daughter, and my reality became clear.

“Can I have a sack for my lunch?” she said.“A paper sack? Oh. Okay,” I said. Slowly (reluctantly), I unpacked the cute, quilted, flowery lunchbox my daughter had used through junior high school, and re-packed her lunch in a brown, plain paper sack.

I paused and wondered if I should ask her why she wanted paper instead of the soft, cushiony, colorful fabric. Since ‘positive conversation’ is a long shot these days, I decided to hold my tongue, and not mention that the cold water bottle would sweat and possibly dampen her paper sack, causing it to tear. I refrained from mentioning the peanut butter and banana sandwich may get squished by the water bottle. And the two clementines nestled tightly nearby would make things worse.

I decided these things were better left unsaid.

That she should live and learn.

But I must admit, I couldn’t help but feel this is a teen sign of development.

She doesn’t want to carry a lunch box anymore.

Things are changing and I’ve got proof.

She wants a ‘plain lunch’ (translated: sandwich, fruit, and snack), not the small garden salads, cut up veggies, the nice little fruit salads I make, or even leftovers from the night before.

Forget yogurt. “I’m not eating that in the cafeteria—nobody does,” she says.

Sometimes, I notice she’s too rushed to eat, or her backpack is too full to squeeze in a snack or her lunch. She’d rather buy from school instead. Sometimes she is too busy with homework to come to supper, and we have to heavily encourage her presence.

There are other signs of change too.

She doesn’t want to wear a coat to school, even when the temperatures are freezing or it’s raining outside. She doesn’t want to be late to practice, but she doesn’t want to be early either. She worries whether her outfit matches and whether she’s on target with the other fashionistas in school.

The girl is gone.

We’ve hit the teen years, with all the normal teen developmental stuff that goes with it.

Strong peer influence: Most teens in early adolescence (12-14 years) want to be in sync with their peers. It’s not until much later that teens differentiate from their friends and pursue uniqueness. That’s why there is preoccupation (or heightened concern) with doing things the way other peers are doing them.

Separation from parents or caregivers: I haven’t known a teen yet who doesn’t use food as part of the equation to separate from parents. Eating alone, going out with friends (without family), cooking independently, or trying on different dietary practices (vegetarianism, diets, etc) symbolize the necessary task of individualization. Separating and becoming more independent is normal and manifested in many ways, including food, nutrition and eating.

Development of own identity: This process takes years to accomplish, and in the meantime, there is much ‘trying on’– Different clothing styles, different hairdos (or colors!), different viewpoints, and even different voices and laughs.

It’s hard to determine who you are if you don’t try on who you’re not.

While asking for a sack to pack a lunch doesn’t seem like the hallmark of teenage-dom, the clues– the hints of change– tally up to signal its time to brush up on understanding the teen and the WHY behind these quirky requests and behaviors.

For me, even though I’ve been through this once (and I am not on the other end yet, so I am still learning too), reminding myself of these teen signs of development allows me to step back and weather the storm. Not fall victim to it, but steer the most effective and positive route possible.

Most importantly, knowing the norms of teen development helps me not take things personally, be threatened by teen behaviors and choices, or dig in my heels in search of total control. Rather, I view this as yet another normal part of growing up, allowing me the freedom to be flexible and understanding.

A paper sack for lunch? Yeah, I can handle that one.

Are you seeing signs of adolescence from your teens? Share them in the comments below!

Also, check out the new Fearless Feeding website!

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  1. Had to laugh when I saw this blog….I have a 13 year old daughter who has turned to vegetarianism (and really prompted the men in our family to embrace more chicken and fish) as a way to individualize herself. Turns out, her move to cut out red meat, milk and limit other animal foods created a shift for the better in the entire household. As a wife, mom and registered dietitian, I did the best I could at dinnertime to create the change that I know leads to better health. So, today, after reading your blog Jill, I am celebrating that my “gone girl, hello teen” has helped our family even more to be healthier. She may have done this for herself as a symbol of growing up, but all of us are better for it. Isn’t it fabulous that one person taking a stand can make a difference for many?!