The Differences Between Educating a Child and a Teenager

From autonomy to topics of interest, there are differences when it comes to raising a child and an adolescent. Learn more.
The Differences Between Educating a Child and a Teenager
Maria Fátima Seppi Vinuales

Written and verified by the psychologist Maria Fátima Seppi Vinuales.

Last update: 06 February, 2024

Childhood and adolescence pose their own challenges when it comes to education. A child’s need to be close to their parents is very different, and sometimes even contrary, to that which is experienced by an adolescent. Let’s see a little more about the differences between raising a child and a teenager in the following article.

About the brains of children and adolescents

Álvaro Bilbao, in his book El cerebro del niño explicado a los padres (The Brain of Children Explained to Parents), refers to the fact that we have three types of brains, each one with its own characteristics and particular contribution. These are the following:

  1. Reptilian: This is the most primitive and deals with our survival.
  2. Emotional: This is the one that helps us look for pleasant emotions and avoid or resolve those that are unpleasant. It also allows us to distinguish those emotions from one another.
  3. Rational: This is the brain that allows us to make decisions, organize ourselves, and reason, among other functions.

The challenge with children, according to Siegel and Payne Bryson in their book The Child’s Brain, is integration: That is, accompanying them in the process that leads them to use all three brains. This is because, at an early age, they use the reptilian and emotional brains more.

In the case of adolescents, it’s worth noting that young people have already developed and learned norms, rules of coexistence, and limits. In other words, they’re already “full-brained,” as Siegel and Payne Bryson put it. However, this will also be a stage of challenges, of retracing some paths and beginning to exercise their autonomy. It’s at this point where they often confront their parents as they need to build their own identity.

You may be interested in: Risky Behavior in Teenage Children

A teenage boy with a toddler boy on his shoulders.
Although there are similarities with respect to children, for example, adolescents also live with emotional intensity, they have other resources to understand what’s happening to them, in addition to acquiring new ones.

What differences exist between raising a child and an adolescent?

Some of the differences that we can establish are the following:

The demand for attention is different

Parents’ experience indicates that children demand a lot of attention in fairly predictable and repetitive activities. For example, hygiene (changing diapers or brushing teeth), feeding, and play, among others. They also need closeness and physical contact along with displays of affection.

Adolescents, on the other hand, are more independent and don’t need us to assist them in activities such as those mentioned above. However, they do need us to stay on alert and look out for certain red flags. Namely, first sexual experiences, contact with substances such as alcohol or drugs, or their use of the Internet and social media, among others.

By no means does this mean that adolescents don’t need our affection. However, raising young people requires a measured balance between proximity and distance. In other words, be close but not intrusive.

Interests and concerns

It’s clear that at each stage of life, our brains change, and we broaden our experiences. Therefore, some things attract our attention more than others, while we become disenchanted with many others.

For example, it’s to be expected that, between the first and second year of life, children experience fear and anguish when separated from their parents. In contrast, this may happen to an adolescent in rare circumstances, for example, if they have to be separated due to surgery or a long trip.

In the case of young people, they may start to worry about their physical appearance, their body image, or what their friends think of them. Also, some existential issues arise, such as who am I? and what am I doing in this world?

Role models

When children are young, family and close adults are their reference figures. This group then expands, especially when the child begins to attend other spaces, such as kindergarten or school.

In adolescence, the “de-idealization” of parents takes place: That is, parents become real flesh and blood human beings with all their faults and virtues. In this regard, it’s now the peer group that becomes the main figure of trust and reference for young people. At this time, they begin to spend more time with friends than with family and spend more time away from home.

A small boy and girl sitting with their parents on the couch and smiling.
There is no doubt that parents are the reference figures for children. However, in the case of adolescents, they also have their peer group.

Some recommendations regarding raising children and adolescents

Beyond the differences, among the keys that we can take into account to accompany the raising of children and adolescents, we find the following:

  • Establish limits. This implies, in the case of children, explaining why it’s important to respect certain rules (it protects them or avoids pain, among others). In the case of adolescents, the “yes and no” are already clearer, but we must make them more flexible and negotiate new rules such as schedules, outings, and permissions.
  • We must be receptive and open, willing to listen, and present. In the case of teenagers, even if they keep their distance, it’s important that we approach them, take an interest in their activities, and ask them how they’re doing.
  • Be an example. Minors always observe how we act and what we say and do.

Give your child what they need according to each stage

It’s important to know what the characteristics and differences of each vital stage are in order to provide your child with a respectful education. Otherwise, we run the risk of accelerating the processes, of pressuring, and of not giving the time required for each learning process.

Understanding the difference between educating a child and an adolescent allows us to provide more appropriate and empathetic responses. Also, it allows us to choose better strategies. At the same time, it’s not a matter of comparing whether raising a child or a teenager is better or worse, but simply different.

Finally, we mustn’t get confused and believe that teenagers no longer need us as parents or adults. Affection and attention must always be present, but they mutate and transform as people change and relationships change.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Cuervo Martinez, Á., (2010). Pautas de crianza y desarrollo socioafectivo en la infancia. Diversitas: Perspectivas en Psicología, 6(1),111-121.[fecha de Consulta 28 de Marzo de 2023]. ISSN: 1794-9998. Recuperado de:
  • Gaete, Verónica. (2015). Desarrollo psicosocial del adolescente. Revista chilena de pediatría86(6), 436-443.
  • Bilbao, Alvaro (2015) El cerebro del niño explicado a los padres.Plataforma Actual.
  • Siegel D. y Payne Bryson T. (2020). El cerebro del niño. Alba Editorial.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.