16-Year-Old Child Development Milestones

Your child’s growth and development at age 16

Sixteen-year-olds can bring joy and frustration to a parent. There can be so many reasons for immense pride in how your son or daughter is growing up and accomplishing goals, but there are bound to be a few struggles along the way.  

It might be academic challenges, risky behaviors or straight-up rudeness, and none of that is easy to deal with. However, you might also enjoy seeing your teen land the starring role in a musical, head to the championship game with a sports team, get a driver’s license, or make the honor roll—it’s all about balancing and remembering both the challenges and the bliss of parenting a teen.

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

Physical Development 

The differences between genders are never as apparent as it often is around age 16. Girls are starting to slow down in physical development, while boys are sometimes just getting started.

If you have a son, expect physical changes to continue, such as rapid growth in height. With that, you might see your teen—of either gender—to be both sleeping more and eating more to keep up with growth.

Key Milestones

  • Need for sleep increases and the times change, given a teenager’s biological wiring for staying up and waking up later.
  • Boys continue to grow and mature physically, sprouting facial hair.
  • Both genders, but particularly girls, are consumed with looks and fitting in.

Parenting Tip

Your teenager’s future is right around the corner, whether it involves college, trade school, a job, or otherwise. Talk about expectations, risks, and opportunities without shying away from tough topics such as drugs, alcohol, and sex. Make your stance on issues known by saying things like, “I expect you will call me to pick you up if there is drinking at the party.”

Emotional Development

A 16-year-old knows that adulthood isn’t far away, and they will begin making decisions with that in mind—but it might not always feel like the right decisions to their parents.

If your child makes decisions that concern you, talk to your teenager. Pay attention to changes in behavior, particularly if your teen seems sad or depressed, and reach out for professional help if necessary.

Key Milestones

  • Concern about physical development and looks
  • Shows more independence but also engages in less conflict with parents
  • Goes through periods of sadness

Parenting Tip

A 16-year-old is quick to tell parents that they’re not needed, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Continue to strengthen your relationship with your teenager by showing interest in her life and praising accomplishments. Let your teen fail sometimes but make sure she has the skills she needs to handle the discomfort that comes with failure.

Social Development

Sixteen-year-olds are entrenched in a social world that includes friendships and romantic relationships. They spend less time with their families and more time with their friends or dating interest, or they might prefer to spend more time alone than they used to.

Teenagers often have strong sexual desires and may become sexually active. At the same time, they might begin to understand more about sexual orientation and become aware of their preferences.

Key Milestones

  • Enters into deeper platonic or romantic relationship in search for intimacy
  • Shows signs of confidence and increased resistance to peer pressure
  • Becomes aware of sexual orientation

Parenting Tip

Talk to your teen about the pressure to have sex, needless of gender. Forbidding a romantic relationship or burying your head in the sand as to your child’s sexual growth could end up backfiring. Instead, make your expectations known and talk openly about sexual desire and safety issues.  

The Most Important Things to Tell Your Child About Sex

Cognitive Development

No longer is your child simply thinking about her own life. In the mid-teen years, teens start to consider how the entire world works and how their life fits into it. They are mastering abstract thinking—that is, considering what is and what could be—as well as improving their reasoning skills.

Speech & Language

Sixteen-year-olds are, for the most part, able to communicate like adults. In school, they can understand both concrete and abstract thoughts, fully understand punctuation and grammatical rules and write and read complex sentence structures.

Play

Teenagers are often overscheduled, which isn’t necessarily good for their development. They need free time to pursue interests, whether it’s arts, sports, or otherwise, as well as time to rest and relax without expectations. During this time, they might prefer to unwind by watching TV, reading books, or playing video games.  

Key Milestones

  • Changes language and behaviors between school, home, and other settings
  • Exhibits defined work habits
  • Can explain the rationale behind their thoughts or decisions

Parenting Tip

Help your child plan for life after high school. There isn’t one set path that’s the “best” for a teenager, but your 16-year-old might need assistance in exploring all the options, including understanding the complex nature of both going to college and not going to college and how it will affect their future.

Other Milestones

Most teenagers begin driving around age 16. But driving responsibilities means more risk. Make sure your teen is mature enough to handle the responsibility of driving before handing over the keys.

Accidents are one of the top causes of death for teenagers, so ensure that your teen knows how to be safe on the road, whether he is driving or riding as a passenger.

When to Be Concerned

At this age, there might be two reasons to be concerned. First, you might be concerned that your child isn’t succeeding academically. This might be displayed through lack of organization, self-confidence around learning has waned, or if they seem disengaged from the learning process.

The first step is to discuss your concerns with your teen’s teachers, who might be able to offer up different perspectives and provide resources.

Secondly, this is an age where parents often see warning signs for mental health issues or substance abuse problems. If this is the case, reach out to a mental health profession or a doctor right away before the issue has a chance to grow even bigger.

A Word From Verywell

While some 16-year-olds need few reminders to do their chores, complete their homework, or save their money, others struggle to get themselves out of bed on time.

If your teen still requires a lot of help to function, it’s important to remember you only have a few short years until he’s done with school. Provide support and guidance but don’t do too much for your child. It’s important that he learn valuable life skills while he’s still living under your watchful eye.

How to Raise a Happy, Healthy Teenager
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