Childhood developmental milestones.
Infancy, toddlerhood, and early childhood are all about concise and medically agreed upon developmental milestones, and as parents we have a tendency (and in some ways duty) to ensure that our children are meeting all those important milestones, and at the exact time they should be meeting them. We also compare and contrast at what ages and stages our children are meeting those milestones with all the other children that surround us, but in general infants, toddlers, and young children all reach and surpass those stages and phases at roughly the same time. Give or take a few months, babies all walk at about the same time. Talking, self-feeding, tying shoes, holding pencils- all those things happen in children at about the same time, and we rarely use the term “late bloomer” for phases of childhood other than adolescence.
But it’s exactly in adolescence that we not only hear that term “late bloomer” more often, we hear it being used as a negative thing, and if it’s being used to describe one of our own teens, a whole new set of worries are born.
Is my teen normal? Why is he not as ready as his peers to do things? Is it laziness and immaturity or something worse?
There are several reasons some teens bloom later (both physically and emotionally) than others, and one factor that can cause your son’s best friend to have a 5 o’clock shadow on his chiseled chin at age 13 (while yours still has a baby soft, round face) is called “constitutional delay.” This means your child is simply following a familiar or genetic pattern that family members before him or her followed. For example, the age at which you started your period may be a good indication of when your daughter will start hers. Did your husband have a growth spurt in college? There’s a good chance your son will as well. Other variances in the timing of puberty include excessive exercise, or an underlying medical or genetic condition, but in most cases a healthy normal teenager who may start menstruating a bit later than her peers, or one who isn’t able to grow substantial facial hair until after age 16 is just that, a healthy normal teenager.
Of course at any time if you’re concerned about later than normal pubescent physical development, speak with your pediatrician, but as for late blooming in the emotional sense? Well, this is where things vary wildly, and recent studies have show that on a whole today’s teenagers are more emotionally delayed in several ways than former generations. They’re delaying activities and holding off on a variety of rites of passage that their parents may have done or experienced much earlier. What we did at age 15 our kids may not be doing until age 19.
What I mean is that your 16 year old may be ready on the exact day she turns 16 to head straight for the DMV to get her driver’s license (like all of us were in the late 80s and early 90s) and be able to confidently drive off solo in the family sedan, while the thought of driving alone gives her best friend panic attacks. Your 16 year old son may not seem able to complete the simplest of tasks and manage his time and responsibilities well, while the neighbor’s 16 year old has held a part time job for two years. Your high school senior may be totally content with living at home for a few years after graduation and in no hurry to move out, while his friend is applying to colleges across the country and has already started packing.
And when it comes to dating, well this is where both the situations and emotional readiness can really vary intensely. Many teens may feel pressure and/or be ready to date at around age 15 or 16, or in the least start have the desire to start exploring more interpersonal and intimate relationships, while others are far from ready for that form of emotional baggage and see no point in it, content with skipping proms and dances to hang at home with Mom and Dad on Saturday night.
As parents in a social media fueled world, one where we’re confronted daily with scenes of what appears to be perfect parents and their perfect teenagers, who seem to be achieving everything at the exact age and time they’re supposed to be achieving it, it’s often increasingly difficult to hang back and keep the faith a little when it comes to raising a late bloomer. There is pressure coming at parents and kids from everywhere- school, teachers, impending college admissions, their own peers and even yours, to make you believe you’re running in some adolescent achievement race, where if you’re not constantly in the top half of runners, you’re doomed to not even finish.
Remember when you were potty training and felt defeated, and you had to remind yourself that no child shows up to the first day of kindergarten in diapers? Raising a late blooming teenager is a bit similar to that. I can promise you one day they will drive, they will get a job, they will move out, and they will find a life partner, and even if it doesn’t happen in that order or in the time frame you think it should, it will happen. Just wait. They’re gonna be just fine.
This is a contributed post. Melissa Fenton is a freelance writer, adjunct librarian, and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital Awareness Ambassador. She writes at 4BoysMother. Her writing can be found all over the internet, but her work is mostly on the dinner table.