17-Year-Old Child Development Milestones

Your child’s growth and development at age 17

While many 17-year-olds are looking forward to their future beyond high school, others might feel apprehensive about entering the adult world. Even parents or caregivers may experience stress and uncertainty as their child approaches the 17-year-old mark.

For instance, you may wonder if you have taught your teen everything they need to know to become a responsible adult. To be sure, it helps to consider their development and assist them accordingly to make sure they are prepared for the real world.

Below you will find information on what to expect from your teen developmentally. You will find information on how your teen is developing cognitively, physically, socially, and emotionally. We also provide tips on what you can do to help your teen grow and learn as well as how to keep them safe at this age.

17 year old child development milestones
Verywell / Emily Roberts

17-Year-Old Language and Cognitive Milestones

By age 17, most teens have good organizational skills. As a result, they are able to successfully juggle extracurricular activities, part-time jobs, and school work. But even though many 17-year-olds think they are adults, their brains still have not yet fully developed. So while they may have skills to regulate their impulses, they also may behave recklessly at times.

"Theoretically, 17-year-olds are developing more abstract thought but that is not solidified until more college-age," says Ellen S. Rome, MD, MPH, head of the Center for Adolescent Medicine at Cleveland Clinic Children's. "Consequently, they may do well with some areas of their life and not so well in others."

Most 17-year-olds also are thinking about their future by now and may start to establish more concrete plans after high school whether that includes plans for college, employment, or the military.

Fluid intelligence also is reached around this age, which means 17-year-olds have an improved ability to cope with new problems and situations.

"They are moving toward more formal operational thinking," explains Ashley Ebersole, MD, MS, FAAP, an adolescent medicine physician with Nationwide Children's. "They might think about thinking—or metacognition—as well as think about how others perceive them or how they feel about them."

As for communication, most 17-year-olds can communicate like adults. However, they may not ask for clarification or speak up when they do not understand a word or the meaning of a phrase.

Slang also is common among teens and may have more meaning than formal language at this age. Meanwhile, some 17-year-olds still struggle to understand double negatives. And although their attention spans are improved, it’s common for them to lose track of long, complex questions.

Additional Cognitive Developments

  • Can communicate like an adult
  • Use slang words often
  • Cope with new problems and different situations better than in the past

17-Year-Old Physical Development

Most males and females are fully developed by their 17th birthday. They have completed puberty and reached their full height. However, males may continue to develop physically, especially if they are late getting started.

"Most males and females will continue to gain weight even if they are not getting taller," says Dr. Ebersole.

Males also may grow more facial and underarm hair and their voices may continue to deepen as well. Body image issues are common at this age as some teens are not pleased with the physical changes they have endured. Acne also can become common.

"Metabolism has slowed by late puberty to more adult ranges, so sporadic eating is more of a challenge at this age," says Dr. Rome. "Establish good sleep and eating habits and some sort of workout schedule so that as they graduate from high school sports, they still have a personal wellness plan."

Additional Physical Developments

  • May have reached their full height
  • May have completed puberty
  • May continue to see muscle development in males

17-Year-Old Emotional and Social Milestones

Turning 17 represents an interesting fork in the road for many teens. Some of them take off on a smooth path toward adulthood. They become increasingly responsible and they are eager to become independent.

Others, however, may be feeling less confident about the realities of pending adulthood. They may even feel lost and confused over the future. Teens this age also may even struggle to show responsibility with their homework, chores, and daily responsibilities and may feel fearful about becoming an adult.

"Let your teen know that it is OK to make mistakes," suggests Dr. Rome. "In fact, you want them to make mistakes that are not life-threatening or catastrophic. Instead of being a helicopter parent or a snowplow, ask them what they learned from their mistake or poor choice."

For the most part, a 17-year-old's moods are calmer than they were in earlier teen years. This is due to fewer hormonal shifts and an increased sense of control. But that does not mean teens will not struggle with their emotions when they face a big problem. Whether they are dealing with a broken heart or a college rejection letter, many 17-year-olds are dealing with adult-sized problems for the first time.

"If your teen speaks in absolutes—like ABC always happens or XYZ never occurs—when problems occur, challenge these automatic beliefs," suggests Dr. Rome. "Rarely are these absolutes true in real life. Ask them if they can imagine or identify a time when that was not true and if they cannot think of anything, ask them to imagine it—what would it feel like or look like. And then ask them what steps they need to work toward to make that a reality."

Most 17-year-olds are goal-oriented. They are beginning to imagine what type of life they want to create beyond high school.

Be sure you are allowing them the space to figure out who they are and what they want to do.

Many 17-year-olds form strong relationships. They develop close friendships and become less likely to move back and forth between cliques. They also discover that it’s important to be dependable. When they make a promise to their friends, they want to honor their commitments.

Your teen may spend the vast majority of their free time with friends and when they're home, they may prefer to be in their room alone. The parent-teen relationship may shift a little during this age as well. For some, that may mean growing apart from their parents as they gain independence, but for others, it may growing closer to their parents as their desire to be rebellious fades away.

Additional Social and Emotional Developments

  • Show more independence from parents
  • Have a deeper capacity for developing more intimate relationships
  • Search for intimacy
  • Want adult leadership roles
  • Able to make and keep commitments

Other Milestones for Your 17-Year-Old

Seventeen-year-olds may be experiencing a variety of things for the first time. Some of them are getting a driver’s license if they have not already and possibly even a car. Others are getting part-time jobs while others may be engaging in riskier behaviors. Some may even be experimenting with unprotected sex, alcohol, or drugs.

And for some teens, age 17 is the first time they experience a serious romantic relationship and perhaps even their first heartbreak. Also, be on the lookout for unhealthy dating relationships, including teen dating violence. Many teens struggle to cope with these adult-like issues.

How to Help Your 17-Year-Old Learn and Grow

Help your teen focus on making healthy choices like eating nutritiously or exercising rather than dwelling on their appearance. You also should discourage dieting or bulking up. More than 50% of high school girls are concerned about their weight and are engaged in dieting.

You also should do what you can to promote your teen's independence and autonomy. Allowing your teen to drive a car, get a job, and stay home alone for the night are just a few steps toward becoming an independent adult. However, it is just as important to rein them in—especially if they are making poor choices or taking too many risks.

"Seventeen-year-olds are a step away from flying the nest," says Dr. Rome. "As a result, parents should gradually increase responsibility. Make sure they know their way around the kitchen, how often sheets and towels should be washed, as well as how to manage their finances. You don't want them heading off to college naive about their credit rating."

You also should establish clear rules about dating and talk often about healthy relationships, safe sex, consent, and dating. You also can encourage your teen to explore their interests and hobbies. You also should do what you can to get your 17-year-old to read for fun. Reading helps build a teen’s vocabulary while also improving their writing skills.

How to Keep Your 17-Year-Old Safe

Substance abuse, safe driving, sexual activity, and mental health issues continue to be top safety concerns for kids this age, says Dr. Ebersole. In fact, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey, 38% of high schoolers had sex in high school, more than 20 million new STDs were reported in young people ages 15 to 24, and nearly 180,000 babies were born to teens between 15 and 19 years of age.

"Many teens this age are sexually active," says Dr. Ebersole. "Make sure you are aware of their sexual needs and keep in mind that they may need to see a healthcare provider."

If you suspect that your teen is sexually active, make sure you are talking about the importance of consent as well as safe sex. You also may want to discuss birth control with them and provide them some tips on safe dating.

Also make sure you touch base with them about how they are feeling mentally and emotionally, Dr. Ebersole adds. Ask open-ended questions and listen to what your teen is really saying.

"Make sure you also are having positive conversations about their growing independence," Dr. Rome says. "You also should keep track of their well-being and safety. Pay attention to their mood, self-care, sleeping habits, and eating patterns, as well as look for signs of depression and anxiety."

When to Be Concerned

If the thought of sending your 17-year-old out into the real world within the next year terrifies you, you are not alone. Many parents can't imagine their teen navigating the adult world independently. But often, there's a lot of growth between 17 and 18 years old. And within that year, teens become ready to enter college, the military, or the working world.

If your teen seems especially ill-equipped for the realities of adulthood, you might want to talk to a healthcare provider. You also should be concerned if you see major changes in your teen’s mood or behavior. A decline in grades, changes in sleep habits, or a change in weight or appetite are just a few symptoms that could indicate a mental health issue or another underlying problem.

If your teen is dealing with anxiety or depression, reach out to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information about treatment facilities and other support resources near you.

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

A Word From Verywell

As your 17-year-old moves toward such milestones as high school graduation and the first year of college, you may start to wonder if you have done everything you can to prepare them for life outside of your home. But it is important to remind yourself that it is never too late for teens to learn new skills like managing money, staying safe, and even cooking for themselves.

Proactively look for areas in your teen's life where they might need to sharpen their life skills. As their parent, you play an instrumental role in guiding and teaching them to become the best version of themselves that they can be. And if you run into a few snags along the way, do not be afraid to ask for help from a healthcare provider or mental health professional.

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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