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Exploring Social-Emotional Changes in Adolescence: What You Need to Know

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Our teenage years are one of the most extreme periods of change in life; it’s confusing when you’re going through it, and even once you’re out the other side it can feel like you need to study psychology to really wrap your head around it all. When we think of adolescence, we often think of puberty and the physical changes that come with it, but there is so much more going on than just the physical. Adolescence brings with it physical, social and emotional changes. They’re normal, but they can be difficult, both for the person going through them and those around them. 

What to Expect 

Teenagers typically experience a whole host of social and emotional changes as they navigate their adolescence. There is no one across-the-board experience when it comes to teenagehood, but there are some very common developments that you might encounter through adolescence. 

Emotional changes

We all know mood swings are a right of passage throughout puberty and it’s easy to write them off as overreactions or dramatics, but mood swings and emotional changes are an important part of learning to manage our feelings — how we feel and how we react when we do. Teenagers might not be throwing the same tantrums they did at two years old, but they are still learning how to control and express their emotions. 


Above most things, adolescents are really just figuring themselves out. In order to do that, it’s not uncommon for young people to experiment with different factors of their identity; this could include personal style, music interests, hobbies and social groups. Teenagers often feel pressure to look and behave in particular ways, and this can be influenced by friends, family, social media and pop culture. While this is all very normal, it remains important that young feel comfortable enough to experiment and truly figure out who they are outside of external influences.

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A point of contention for many families occurs when teenagers start asking for more independence. It can be overwhelming for everyone involved, but it’s all part of finding yourself as a young person. Independence might mean more time and space away from family, taking control of things like work and money, or taking on more responsibility to look after themselves, such as getting themselves to and from school or preparing more of their own meals. 


We all have our own values; what we consider right and wrong, and the causes we hold close. During adolescence, young people might start to get a feel for new causes or issues they hold a personal interest in. They might figure out where they draw the line on different issues or go as far as joining activist groups for specific causes. In the same way that we all hold different values, we hold them with varying degrees of interest, and adolescence is often when we start to recognise this within ourselves. 


Insecurities are all too common in the often judgemental social world of teenagers. Whether it’s about physical appearance, grades at school, sports or arts performance, or who they hang out with at lunch, teenagers unfortunately have a habit of finding ways to compare and be hard on themselves. While they can be incredibly difficult, most self-esteem issues that arise in adolescence are normal and should never go as far as to significantly impact a young person’s day-to-day life. 

Supporting social and emotional changes in an adolescent 

The developments that occur through adolescence, while important, can be challenging. If you’re a parent or support person for a young person, there are some things you can do to help them through this time.

Make sure they know you’re there for them 

It seems obvious: “be there for them,” but it’s one of those things that is so often easily forgotten by those who need it. Social and emotional changes can feel incredibly isolating, so a young person needs to know that they are, in fact, never alone. They might want to talk or they might not, but knowing you’re ready to listen either way could make a world of difference. 

Be honest

Teenagers, particularly those in the later years of teenagehood, are not young kids, and they typically don’t want to be treated as if they are. This means being honest with them, even when it’s difficult or uncomfortable. Knowing that you respect them enough to have difficult conversations, or ask difficult questions, encourages them to also behave as the respectful adult you are raising them to become. 

Lead by example

Young people aren’t silly — they will realise if you don’t practise what you preach. Behave in the way that you expect them to, treat them the way you’d like to be treated, and guide them on their way to being the best version of themselves.

Supporting yourself (as the support person)

Don’t forget about yourself; as the support person of a teenager, you’re playing an important and sometimes taxing role, so it’s important to look out for your own wellbeing, too. 

Don’t take things personally

When it comes to developments such as unfavourable mood swings or a desire to be more independent, don’t take it as a reflection of yourself or your relationship. Remind yourself that these changes are normal and it more than likely has nothing to do with you. Young people are figuring themselves out, and sometimes you need to do that on your own, or at least, not with your closest family members. 

Take time for yourself 

Run yourself a bath, hang out with your own friends, and do whatever you need to do to ensure you’re getting the “you time” you need. Taking on someone else’s stress can be incredibly taxing. Looking out for someone else’s best interest is tiring. Having honest conversations and resolving tension is difficult. It’s all worth it, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Rest, relax, recover, and prepare yourself as best you can to do it all again tomorrow. 

Adolescence is a time of personal development, and this includes some significant social and emotional changes. To best prepare yourself or a loved one, get to know these developments, work out how to respond to and support them, and look after yourself in the process. 

Exploring Social-Emotional Changes in Adolescence: What You Need to Know
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