Development Milestones for Your 16 Year Old Child

Sixteen-year-olds can bring both joy and frustration to parents. For instance, 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 too. It might be academic challenges, risky behaviors, or straight-up rudeness, and none of that is easy to deal with.

However, you also might 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.

Physical Development 

The differences between genders are never as apparent as they are around age 16. Girls are starting to slow down in physical development, while boys are sometimes just getting started.1

If you have a son, expect physical changes to continue, such as rapid growth in height and the growth of facial hair. With that, you might see your teen—of either gender—sleeping more and eating more to keep up with that growth. Also, shifts in their circadian rhythm cause them to stay up later at night and sleep later in the morning.

Key Milestones

  • Needs more sleep, while the time at which they fall asleep changes
  • Continues to grow and mature physically, and boys sprout facial hair
  • Cares about looks and fitting in, especially girls

Parenting Tip

Talk about expectations, risks, and opportunities without shying away from tough topics such as drugs, alcohol, and sex.1 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 them. Pay attention to changes in behavior, particularly if your teen seems sad or depressed, and reach out for professional help if necessary.1

Key Milestones

  • Develops concerns about physical development
  • 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 their life and praising accomplishments. Let your teen fail sometimes but make sure they have the skills they need 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.1

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.1

Key Milestones

  • Enters into deeper platonic or romantic relationships 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,2 regardless of gender. Forbidding a romantic relationship or burying your head in the sand regarding your child’s sexual growth could end up backfiring. Instead, make your expectations known and talk openly about sexual desire, sexting, and consent.6 Things Every Teen Needs to Know About Sexting

Cognitive Development

No longer is your child simply thinking about their 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 and problem-solving 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.3


Teenagers are often over-scheduled, 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
  • Explains the rationale behind their thoughts or decisions

Parenting Tip

There isn’t one future life path that’s the “best” for every teenager, but your 16-year-old might need assistance in exploring all the options ahead of them, including going to college or not going to college, and how the choice will affect their future. So help your child plan for life after high school.

Other Milestones

Most teenagers begin driving around age 16. But driving means more risk. Make sure your teen is mature enough to handle the responsibility of driving before teaching them to drive or handing over the keys. Accidents are one of the top causes of death for teenagers.4 So ensure that your teen knows how to be safe on the road, whether they’re 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. Slipping grades might be displayed through lack of organization or being disengaged from the learning process.5

Additionally, self-confidence around learning could also be a contributing factor. 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, around 16 years old, parents often see warning signs for mental health issues or substance abuse problems. If this is the case, reach out to a mental health professional or a doctor right away before the issue has a chance to grow even bigger.

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Source: Verywellfamily