Growing Healthy Canadians:
A Framework for Positive Child Development

Transition 3

Puberty, Peers and Personhood

Children who make a healthy transition to adolescence are developing ...

A secure and integrated self-identity

Young people with secure and integrated self-identities have positive self-esteem--they feel valued and worthwhile. They have a sense of belonging and being part of their culture and community. They are adjusting to the physical and sexual changes of puberty and have a growing sense of independence and personal power.

Strong social skills

As children move into the teen years, they expand their relationships with family members, peers and people in the broader community. Young people with strong social skills can communicate their ideas and feelings. They resolve conflicts peacefully, without aggressive or antisocial behaviour. They can protect their interests and are sensitive to the needs of others.

A commitment to learning and participating in school

Young people who are committed to learning are motivated to participate in school and have learned how to learn. They have the opportunities they need to develop self-discipline and the intellectual and life skills required for a successful transition to adolescence.

The ability to make healthy choices

During the preteen and early adolescent years, young people experiment and make important decisions related to sexuality and the use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. Teenagers who have effective personal values and the ability to resist peer and social pressures are most likely to make healthy choices.


Adaptable teens are learning to be resilient--the ability to adapt and cope despite adversity. Adaptable young people have problem-solving and stress management skills, and a positive view of their personal future.

Who Am I?

Like all other stages of child development, a healthy transition to adolescence depends to a large extent on past experiences. But other factors exert a great deal of influence, including gender, culture and the physical, emotional and sexual changes that accompany puberty.

Children who mature earlier or later than their friends may feel awkward with their peers. Adolescents growing up in immigrant, refugee and Aboriginal families may experience a crisis in identity due to a lack of continuity with past traditions. Adolescent girls are more likely than boys to have lower levels of self-esteem and to exhibit emotional distress. Boys are more likely than girls to be physically aggressive and to drop out or be expelled from school.

What Influences a Healthy Transition to Adolescence?

In addition to gender and culture, a healthy transition to adolescence is greatly influenced by:

Home Environment

The support, interest and involvement of parents is particularly important to children in the school-age years. Families that provide affection, respect, challenge, opportunities for success and freedom to make choices within clearly defined limits, help children develop a sense of responsibility and feelings of self-worth.

Support of Significant Others

Teachers, older adolescents, adult leaders (for example, coaches, Scout or Girl Guide leaders, activity instructors), spiritual leaders, older citizens and adults from workplaces and unions can have a positive influence on a young person's developmental needs. So can extended family members, such as aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers. When caring adults or older peers form a stable, supportive bond with children, it is often called mentoring.

School and Community Support

Young people respond best to schools and communities that have high but achievable expectations and provide meaningful opportunities for them to participate in decisions and activities that affect their lives.


Media is a powerful transmitter of culture, learning and values. It has an increasing influence on children as they grow--both positively and negatively. Young people need to develop media awareness skills that allow them to critically analyze media messages and images, especially those that glamorize violence, unrealistic body shapes, stereotyping, discrimination, smoking, drinking, drug use and unhealthy sexual behaviours.

Helping Children Grow Into Confident Adolescents

When governments, businesses, schools, communities, families and young people work together, children have the best chance of making a successful transition to adolescence.

What Can Families Do?

What Can Communities Do?

What Can Schools Do?

What Can Workplaces Do?

What Can Governments Do?

Social Engagement and Healthy Child Development

Social engagement refers to a child's relationships and involvement with other family members, peers, community members, local institutions and the broader community. Stable, supportive relationships with all of these individuals and groups are important to the healthy development of children and youth. As children grow into adolescence, the quality of their relationships with peers, teachers and community members becomes increasingly important. Research shows that helping children learn prosocial skills such as interpersonal problem-solving in school and community settings equips them with strategies for resisting stress and an enhanced ability to get along with others.

This fact sheet was developed by the Promotion and Prevention Task Force of the Sparrow Lake Alliance and the Strategic Funding Task Group of the Funders Alliance for Children, Youth and Families as part of their work on a Framework for Positive Child Development. It was written and produced by The Alder Group Inc. For more information, please see the web site for this project: