Teen Ages and Stages: Your 16-to-17 Year Old

Handing over your car keys to your 16 year-old can be a scary thing.

At age 16-to-17, a whole new world of risk and vulnerability opens. Suddenly introduced to your teen are complex responsibilities that can have life-defining consequences.

hispanic teen
A 17 year old wants to establish an identity

This is a time of high stress and significant decision-making such as choosing a college or career path. There is confusion, uncertainty and all kinds of changes to their identity.

Yet, they still:

  • live in the moment,
  • need to belong,
  • have a hard time realizing the effects of their current behavior,
  •  and have a frightening sense of invincibility

Intellectually, 16-to-17 year olds remain more interested in personal social issues than academic goals. Concern for how their friends manage their lives becomes paramount.  

So, how does a teen this age learn? Motivate him or her by making learning useful–such as trying a new job skill–because they prefer to use their intellect to solve problems. They also begin to realize that there are things they do and do not know. Yet, they can seem nonchalant about the future or of how their decisions may impact themselves or others. 

A Desire for Intimacy  

17 year olds desire more intimacy

Physically, hormones still cause drastic mood swings. Sexual feelings deepen because of a greater desire to experience intimacy. Usually they have poor health, less endurance, strength and flexibility, and often gain weight. Their metabolism can fluctuate to extremes causing listlessness or restlessness. They are at greater risks for accidents.

Psychologically, emotions can shift from invincible to confused, inferior and scared. While they can sometimes be very rational, they can also act childishly. It is not uncommon for a 17 year old to display sensitivity, tears and insight for one moment and then the next moment flare to anger or even out-of-control giggling.   

They see parents as old-fashioned and naïve and will begin distinctly “moving away” from their same-sex parent.  They see themselves as able to manage life on their own.  Don’t be surprised if your teen threatens to leave home temporarily as an attempt to push you to give him or her more independence and power.   

  • There is a continued asking of the “Who am I?” question as they establish their own uniqueness and identity. 

Socially, 16-to-17 year olds need a circle of friends. Unfortunately, insecurities may lead to their sabotaging these same friendships if friends appear to “out-perform.”  They are also fiercely loyal to peer groups values. 

These teens want total social independence even though they are not yet capable to handle it.  Parents can be thought of as stifling their lifestyle. Still, these teens do not want to live without their parents.  

A 16-to-17 Year Old Wants Answers 

Morally and ethically, 16-to-17 year olds spend more time seeking in-depth answers to and serious and unanswerable questions. If adult responses seems trivial , they will “turn off” to those responses.  They are usually introspective, reflective, and analytical and about their thoughts and feelings. 

Questioning teen girl
Teens this age are introspective and analytical

If they do not have clear verbal and ethical values presented at home and baseline spiritual sources they are at risk for the decisions they make.  They want to be seen as an adult instead of a child but can lack information, resources and knowledge for wise decision-making. 

With these changes and the overall sense of independence that is characteristic of this age and stage, it is easy to understand why power struggles, conflicts and challenges occur in families.  A better understanding of these developmental changes will help parents and caregivers to have more clarity and patience in relationships with this age group. 

This information is taken from the research of Bettie H. Youngs, as published in her book Safeguarding Your Teenager from the Dragons of Life.  

Gerry Vassar, President and CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

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