15-Year-Old Child Development Milestones

Your child’s growth and development at age 15

The years between 15 and 18 can be instrumental in helping your teen mature and gain the skills they need to become a young adult. Not only are they taking on more responsibilities, navigating high school, and gaining more independence, but they also may be getting more confident in their abilities.

There's a good chance, however, that as your 15-year-old becomes comfortable in their own skin, they will think they are ready to take on the world now. They may even behave like they know everything. While this attitude—often mixed with a hint of rebellion—can be par for the course for many 15-year-olds, it doesn't make it any less frustrating or challenging for parents or caregivers. 

But, understanding how these things play into your teen’s development can be instrumental for successful parenting during mid-adolescence. Below we take you through what to expect from your teen as they embark on this stage of their development. From cognitive milestones and social and emotional development to physical development and keeping your teen safe, we provide you with the information you need to navigate this time in their life with confidence.

15 year old child development milestones
Illustration by Emily Roberts, Verywell

15-Year-Old Language and Cognitive Milestones

It is normal for teens to be rather argumentative at this stage. No matter what you say, your teen may want to debate the opposite point of view. Try not to be discouraged by these interactions as they are simply your teen’s way of asserting their independence and demonstrating the fact that they can see viewpoints from another angle.

Many teens begin thinking more about their future during this time and they are usually able to start identifying potential career aspirations or college plans. Likewise, most 15-year-olds are able to give reasons for their own choices, including what was right or wrong.

"From early adolescence to middle adolescence, the predominant thought process of teens is concrete thinking," says Ellen Rome, MD, MPH, the head of the Center for Adolescent Medicine at Cleveland Clinic Children's. "What's more, their cognitive processes can develop unevenly and they may not have abstract thinking in all areas of their life. So, a 15-year-old might have the skills to get their homework done on time but still choose to go vape or drink their buddies."

Some teens at this age can talk to their friends all evening, despite seeing them all day at school. Yet when asked about their day by their parents, they may have very little to say.

Additionally, many 15-year-olds often prefer to communicate via text message and social media. Some may even find blogging or writing to be a helpful way to express themselves.

Reading and social experiences also play a big role in a teen’s language and vocabulary development. Most 15-year-olds can communicate in an adult-like fashion and are able to hold appropriate conversations. They can tell more involved stories and are able to use more sophisticated communication skills. Yet, some will still resort to slang when speaking with their friends.

Many 15-year-olds also have specific interests or hobbies that they enjoy. Whether they like video games, sports, music, robotics, or movies, they can identify activities that bring them pleasure. And while some teens are content to be alone, many prefer to spend time with friends. Their time together may range from playing video games together to attending sporting events or going to the movies.

Additional Cognitive Developments

  • Show more concern about their future
  • Exhibit more defined work habits
  • Can explain the reasons for their choices

15-Year-Old Physical Milestones

Fifteen-year-old boys may continue growing for another year or two. Usually, around this age, their voices become deeper and they may begin to grow facial hair. They also may gain muscle rapidly at this age.

Meanwhile, most girls have reached their full height by age 15. Many of them are insecure about their appearance, especially their weight with nearly half of all high school girls choosing to diet to lose weight.

"Every adolescent matures at their own rate," says Ashley Ebersole, MD, MS, FAAP, an adolescent medicine physician at Nationwide Children's. "There is no specific weight or height for adolescents and even though they may not be getting taller, it is normal for teens to put on weight. At this age, weight gain is very developmentally normal even though most do not want to."

It is important to note that your child's pediatrician or healthcare provider has likely been monitoring your child's growth progression since birth. So, while your 15-year-old may appear to be ahead of or behind their peers in terms of physical development at this age, they are likely right on track for them.

"Interestingly, emotional development does not parallel physical development," says Dr. Ebersole. "Although there are not a lot of specifics out there with regard to emotions, typically males who develop earlier are often perceived as being older and more responsible while females who develop earlier have a higher risk for depression, body image issues, and have sex at an earlier age."

What's more, the physical changes they are experiencing may not occur in a smooth, regular schedule. Consequently, teens may go through awkward stages, both in their appearance and physical coordination.

Additional Physical Developments

  • Boys' voices grow deeper
  • Boys begin to grow facial hair
  • Girls have reached their full height

15-Year-Old Emotional and Social Milestones

Most teens begin to engage in less conflict with their parents around age 15. They show more independence from their parents while also showing greater respect for the rules when privileges are contingent on their behavior.

Friends are very important to 15-year-olds, Dr. Rome says. They are likely spending more time with their friends than they did in the past.

"When they were a tween, life revolved around their parents and who their parents let them see," she says. "Now, their time may revolve around who they have access to as well as who they want to see. This can be surprising for parents that their loving tween has transformed into a teen that wants to be out with friends on a Saturday night instead of at home for family game night. At this age, friends have become more important than their parents."

For this reason, it is important to know who your teen is spending time with because they often experiment with different personas and activities based on what their peers are doing. Be that parent that goes out to the car to meet and greet who your child is leaving with, Dr. Rome suggests.

"If your spider-sense is tingling, talk to your child about that," she says. "Ask them to tell you more about the person and then share what you see and why your alarm bells are ringing. Reassure them that you trust their judgment but also let them know that you want to be sure they are out in safe circumstances."

By age 15, many teens also have a strong interest in romantic relationships. While some relationships may mostly evolve over social media or text messages, others will want to spend a great deal of time with their romantic interest. Additionally, many 15-year-olds are aware of their sexuality and show a budding interest in sexual activity.

At the age of 15, teens also may start to think about what it would be like to be on their own. While some teens may be imagining college, others may be thinking about getting their own apartment.

Additional Social and Emotional Developments

  • Experience less conflict with parents
  • Show increased independence from parents
  • Exhibit greater emotional regulation skills
  • Have an interest in romantic relationships
  • Have a deeper capacity for caring
  • May struggle with peer pressure

Other Milestones for Your 15-Year-Old

For many teens, 15 is the age where they get to take driver’s education. Obtaining a learner’s permit can be a big deal. And of course, it’s a big responsibility.

Make sure your teen is ready to handle the rules of the road before allowing them to drive a vehicle. If they cannot be responsible when it comes to chores or homework, this may be an indication that they are not yet ready to handle the responsibility of driving a car; and that is OK.

Not all 15-year-olds are ready to drive. Think carefully about whether your child is emotionally and socially mature enough to get behind the wheel.

How to Help Your 15-Year-Old Grow and Learn

At this age, most teens still struggle a bit with maintaining healthy relationships, both with their peers and in their budding romantic interests. Make sure your teen is hanging out with healthy people and establish clear dating rules.

You also should show an interest in your teen’s activities. Step inside your teen’s world to learn about their favorite video games or to talk about the sports they enjoy. Your teen will appreciate your interest in learning about the things they are passionate about.

"The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents adopt an authoritative parenting style," says Dr. Ebersole. "This parenting style involves cultivating a positive relationship with your child, loving them unconditionally, and being able to still establish rules."

This type of parenting style is especially useful during the teen years because it allows you to let your teen know that you are there for them no matter what, says Dr. Ebersole.

"Having these types of interactions with your child may delay risk-taking and promote academic achievement," Dr. Ebersole says. "For instance, you might communicate to your teen that you expect them not to vape, but if they would happen to experiment with it, that doesn't mean you would not be there for them to help them solve the problem."

Another way to encourage good decision-making skills is to make your teen's privileges contingent on their ability to be responsible. Tell them they can earn more independence or freedom by showing you that they are able to handle more responsibility and make good decisions.

How to Keep Your 15-Year-Old Safe

Many 15-year-olds also are dealing with a fair amount of stress. Some of them may struggle academically while others are dealing with romantic issues and perhaps even their first sexual experiences. Some even are stressed over their physical appearance.

Teens this age also may be dealing with peer pressure, bullying, or even dating issues. Even longtime friends can experience challenges at this age. For this reason, you should be connecting with your teen as often as you can.

Ask open-ended questions and spend more time listening than you do offering advice.

You want to be sure they know you are there for them even if all they need is a sounding board. Also talk to your kids regularly about sex, substance use, vaping, and being safe in cars.

"Instead of looking at the big topics as a one-time conversation, plan to have a series of conversations with your kids about these issues," suggests Dr. Ebersole. "Be proactive instead of waiting for your adolescent to come to you with a problem."

You also should be paying attention to how things are at school as well as online. Know what platforms they are using and actively monitor what they are doing online, Dr. Ebersole says. "You should have an idea of what they are doing online," she says. "Talk to them about their content and the things they are reading."

And when your child makes a poor decision, make sure you address it in a calm manner. Instead of responding in anger, try to use the mistake as a learning opportunity rather than letting it derail your relationship or your emotions.

"Before losing your cool, take a big breath and give yourself a timeout," suggests Dr. Rome. "Give yourself and your child time and space. So, if your teen slams the door and doesn't want to talk, it is not useful to barge into their space when they need a break. Text them to come out when they are ready to talk and encourage them to share their thoughts and opinions."

When to Be Concerned

Teens often experience a number of different stressors and pressures not only from their peers and those around them but also through social media. This can lead to a number of different issues.

For instance, there is a great deal of pressure on kids to look a certain way which often leads to self-esteem issues, struggles with body image, and anxiety. Familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms of eating disorders and other mental health problems. If you suspect your child has an eating disorder, body image issues, or mental illness, contact a mental health professional.

Pay attention to any changes in your teen’s mood or behavior as well. Difficulty sleeping, refusal to attend school, changes in appetite, or loss of interest in activities can be signs of a mental health issue.

"If your child shows any signs of depression or anxiety like a drop in grades, low self-esteem, difficulty sleeping, and so on, have them evaluated by a pediatrician and potentially a therapist," says Dr. Rome. "Trust your instincts. If something is not right, it is worth looking into. This is an age where smoking, drinking, and other forms of self-harm can get hardwired, so it is worth having frank conversations with your kids."

Also, have a conversation with your child. Ask what is going on, how they are feeling, and what they are thinking. If your child expresses feelings of hopelessness or mentions death, you may want to ask if they have ever experienced suicidal thoughts, particularly if they seem sad or depressed. Let them know you care about them and that you are there for them. You also should reach out to a mental health professional for help.

If your teen is having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

A Word From Verywell

Fifteen can be a big year for teens. And while you might be thinking they are not ready for the rigors of the real world, keep in mind you have two years to prepare them for life after high school. Pay attention to the skill deficits that you see and proactively teach them strategies that will serve them well in their adult life.

Originally written by
Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin

Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, international bestselling author and host of the The Verywell Mind Podcast.

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