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Learning Activities

All Learning Activities

Understanding Adolescent Development

This learning activity is a summary of a workshop on understanding adolescent development and includes the following sections:

Time Required

45 minutes

Setting and Audience

This activity is designed to be led by an experienced facilitator in a variety of settings such as:

  • A lunch-time workshop series in a work setting
  • Workshops at community-based organizations
  • Workshops sponsored by schools
  • Workshops sponsored by communities of faith
  • Support groups (formal and informal)
  • Weekend retreats

The audience for the activity is parents of adolescents ages 11-19.

Workshop Description

In this workshop:

  • Parents think back to when they were 15 or 16 and then share an adjective that described them at that age.
  • Parents respond to a series of questions exploring the ways they changed and developed from age 10 or 11 to age 15 or 16.
  • Parents review key information on a handout titled, "Understanding Your Adolescent's Behavior."
  • Finally, parents apply information from the handout to their relationships with their teens. They give examples of the ways their teens seek independence, report on how they typically respond, and brainstorm new and thoughtful ways of responding to those normal behaviors.

Workshop Objectives

By the end of this session, parents will be able to:

  • Recognize the aspects of teens' desire for independence/autonomy that are a normal part of adolescent development.

Materials Checklist

Set-up and Preparation

  1. This workshop covers information on adolescent development. It is important that you, as a facilitator, have an in-depth, working knowledge of the topic. For a more in-depth discussion of adolescent development, visit ReCapp's Topic in Brief on Adolescent Development.
  2. Choose a warm-up activity that will help create a safe and comfortable learning environment for the activities in this workshop.
  3. In advance, think of an adjective that describes what you were like as an adolescent. This will prepare you to model what parents do in Activity 2, "What Kind of Adolescent Were You?"



  1. Introductions (15 minutes)
    1. Introduce yourself and explain that today's session will:
    • Explore the concept of "adolescent development." This is a term used to describe the common abilities and behaviors that can be seen in most teenagers. They are a sign that teenagers are moving from childhood towards early adulthood.
    1. Ask parents to introduce themselves.
    2. Outline the following ground rules to help create a safe and comfortable environment for today's discussion:
    • Listen with an open mind.
    • Respect different points of view.
    • Take care of yourself — trust your gut.
    • Share the time with each other — don't dominate the discussion.
    • Ask any questions — there is no such thing as a stupid question.
    • Recognize that it's normal to feel a range of feelings — joy, sadness, anger, guilt, etc. — when discussing your childhood and your own children.
    • Recognize that all parents want the best for their children and are doing the best they can with what they currently know and understand. All parents have both strengths and challenges.
  2. What Kind of Adolescent Were You? (15 minutes)
    1. Ask parents to briefly remember what they were like as adolescents — around age 15 or 16. Ask each parent to think of an adjective that describes what they were like as a teen. Model the process by giving your own adjective. For example, you might say that you were "shy," "a late bloomer," "athletic," "a behavior problem," or "fun-loving." Then have parents share their adjectives.
    1. When everyone has given an adjective, ask these questions:
    • When you were 15 or 16, in what ways (other than physically) had you changed from the person you had been at age 10 or 11?
    • What was different about your ability to think and analyze situations?
    • How were you different in your desire for independence?
    • How were you different in your ability to handle things on your own?
    1. As you look back, what kinds of things were important for you to experience on your own, completely independent from your parents, to become a successful adult?
  3. Review of Adolescent Development (15 minutes)
    1. Distribute the handout, "Understanding Your Adolescent's Behavior."
    2. Review (by either reading aloud or having parents read silently) the information under the headings, "Changes in Thinking and Reasoning" and "Social Changes."
    3. Point out any examples of these developmental issues that you heard from parents when they were talking about their own adolescence in the "What Kind of Adolescent Were You?" activity.
    4. Use the following prompts to lead a brief discussion with parents:
    • Does this make sense to you? Why or why not?
    • Can you see any of these developmental issues in action with your own children? For example, how do you see your teens seeking independence? Give some examples. (Note: Make the point that teens' style of seeking independence might be influenced by factors such as their personalities, their peer groups, and your family background and culture.)
    • How do you typically respond to your children? (Note: Record these responses on flipchart for future use.)
    1. Do you think you might respond differently if, before reacting to your teens, you were to stop and think about how your teen's behavior might be a part of normal adolescent development? If so, how might your response be different?
  4. Conclusion (3 minutes)
    1. Tell parents that the session is coming to a close. To wrap up the session, ask the following questions:
    • What ideas from this session do you want to think more about?
    • What, if anything, do you want to try to do differently with your teenager?