Ages and Stages

The Canadian Centre for Child Protection: The Growing Personality

As children get older, you will notice changes in their behaviour and interests. While it’s exciting to see them seek more independence, there are new personal and Internet safety concerns to be aware of as well.

Children 5 to 7 years of age – Attributes

  • Want everything to be fun.
  • Ask a lot of questions. They are trying to understand their surroundings and see the world with themselves at ‘centre stage’.
  • Are full of life. They often overstep boundaries and speak abruptly.
  • Thinking is in the here and now. Everything is black and white.
  • Enjoy fantasy play and haven’t completely ruled out the possibility that some fantasy isn’t real (such as monsters, ghosts and Power Rangers).
  • Experience more fear (e.g. of monsters, ghosts, witches, robbers, etc.)
  • Look to safe adults (especially parents and teachers) for how to process new information and whether they should be scared or not.
  • Tend to personalize events that happen to others and need reassurance that they are safe.
  • Need a positive relationship with a parent (caregiver) as well as their teacher.
  • Gain a more developed conscience.
  • Are beginning to learn that they gain positive recognition when they accomplish things.
  • Don’t generally follow rules for games. They are more likely to follow simple rules enforced by adults.
  • Develop a capacity for empathy and guilt, but can quickly lose that empathy if they feel jealous or competitive.
  • Feel shame and humiliation when adults discover something they shouldn’t have done.
  • Enjoy learning about their bodies.

Children 5 to 7 years of age – Interests

  • Walk to and from their friends’ houses on the same block.
  • Walk to and from school.
  • Go to play dates at their friends’ houses.
  • Play games electronically and online.
  • Take part in extra-curricular activities, such as art, dance, music, sports, sleepovers and birthday parties.
  • Go to school for full days, including staying for lunch.

Children 8 to 9 years of age – Attributes

  • Take games very seriously and losing can be taken personally.
  • Fantasy play becomes more realistic (Police vs. Power Rangers).
  • Identity is joined with parents. They can show embarrassment over their parent’s behaviour.
  • Embarrassment and disapproval can be very upsetting.
  • Begin to enter the complex world of peer relationships.
  • Language development helps deepen relationships. It is common for girls to build relationships through talking while boys tend to build relationships through activity.
  • Peer relationships become important and interactions are based upon rules. Recognition of a pecking order begins.
  • Self-image becomes defined by how peers treat them (e.g. if a friend doesn’t like them, they may take it as a personal failure).
  • Start comparing their body image to others.
  • May make inaccurate judgments about their appearance.
  • Begin to understand varying levels of feelings as opposed to things being black and white (such as being a little happy versus being elated, and being a little angry versus being furious) which helps build more stable relationships.
  • Security grows as they learn to understand how relationships work. They may feel insecure if they have difficulty with social skills.
  • Acquire pride and enjoyment from doing something well (e.g. academics, sports, music, art, friendships, games, etc.).
  • Have little abstract thinking. Their feelings are directly related to what they are thinking at the time.
  • Start to seek some privacy (e.g. start deciding how their bedroom should look, asking people to knock before entering their room, etc.).
  • Test parental limits through negative behaviour as it helps them learn appropriate

Children 8 to 9 years of age – Interests

  • Use online games
  • Use Instant Messaging (IM) programs such as Live Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, etc.
  • Use email
  • Use the Internet for school work
  • Use search engines (e.g. Google, Yahoo!, Live Search, etc.)
  • Go to birthday parties
  • Go to sleepovers
  • Take part in extra-curricular activities
  • Do more independent activities (bike rides, going to the park, walking to friends’ houses, etc.)

Children 10 to 11 years of age – Attributes

  • May start puberty.
  • Begin to develop a sense of who they are based on what they think vs. what others think.
  • Gain motivation internally, rather than just from friends or family.
  • Are aware of social judgment.
  • Their identity is still joined with their parents and they can be easily embarrassed by their parents, but at the same time they may seek a closer relationship with a parent of the same sex. This is typically only for a short time, until adolescence, when they tend to want to separate their identity from their parents.
  • Have an increased interest in role models.
  • Have increased body awareness, and negative feelings about their bodies are common.
  • Often act very independent and self-assured.
  • Have greater concern for right and wrong, and for people being treated fairly or unfairly.
  • Are more capable of following rules without outside guidance, but are also more capable of rationalizing breaking rules as they have more mature reasoning power.
  • Have a greater capacity for empathy.
  • Seek increased privacy as they have an increased need to start creating their own life.
  • Acquire pride and enjoyment from doing something well (e.g. in academics, in sports, in music, in art, in friendships, etc.).
  • Continue to test parental limits through negative behaviour, which consequently helps them learn appropriate behaviour.

Children 10 to 11 years of age – Interests

  • Use instant messaging (e.g. Live Messenger, Yahoo!, AIM, etc.) and email
  • Chat with others online, collect emoticons and find fun ways to dress up text
  • Research topics using search engines
  • Use online games, diaries, music websites, send photos (using webcams and digital cameras), and create personal websites
  • Post messages and photos on social networking sites (i.e. Facebook, MySpace, etc.)
  • Play video games through a console
  • Watch and create videos for online video sites such as YouTube
  • Use cell phones for web surfing, text messaging, etc.
  • Seek increased independence (e.g. going out for bike rides, going to play at parks, walking to and from school and friends’ houses, shopping at the mall, going skateboarding, etc.)
  • Stay home alone for short periods
  • Go out for Halloween with friends
  • Go to sleepovers
  • Take part in extra-curricular activities

Children 11 to 12 years of age – Attributes

  • Start puberty.
  • Develop “crushes.”
  • Start to see life more objectively — in “shades of grey,” rather than in black and white.
  • Acquire pride and enjoyment from doing something well (e.g. in academics, in sports, in music, in art, in friendships, etc.).
  • Start to imagine what they might become in the future.
  • Are developing their identity. They verbally compare themselves to others to figure out who they are.
  • Having things in common with friends becomes less important than talking together and confiding.
  • Have an increased capacity to empathize.
  • Conscience provides them with more guidance.
  • Test limits as they seek greater independence, discovering how it feels to be brave and confident (fluctuate between bold/defiant and clingy).
  • Feel things more intensely as they have a broader emotional scope.
  • Experience adult-like sadness that shouldn’t be trivialized. They mourn losses deeply.
  • Have a heightened sense of embarrassment (especially girls).
  • Can be vulnerable to someone who offers insincere flattery.
  • Understand justice and integrity, and can be outraged by those treated unfairly.
  • Seek increased privacy as they experiment with independence.

Children 11 to 12 years of age – Interests

  • Use Instant Messaging (e.g. Live Messenger, Yahoo!, AIM, etc.) and email
  • Chat with others online, collect emoticons and find fun ways to dress up text
  • Research topics using search engines
  • Use online games, diaries, music websites, send photos (using webcams and digital cameras), and create personal websites
  • Post messages and photos on social networking sites (e.g. Facebook, MySpace, etc.)
  • Play video games through a console
  • Watch and create videos for online video sites such as YouTube
  • Use cell phones for web surfing, text messaging, etc.
  • Stay home alone
  • Babysit
  • Start confiding in friends
  • Experiment with relationships (intimacy)
  • Go out for Halloween with friends
  • Go to sleepovers
  • Go to overnight camps

Adolescents 13 to 15 years of age – Attributes

  • Are extremely influenced by peers and their behaviour.
  • Have a ‘pseudo-maturity’ and feel they can handle more than they are ready for developmentally (feel invincible).
  • Are extremely sensitive and easily humiliated, especially to social judgment.
  • Would rather act shamelessly in front of adults, out of free choice, than be forced into activities that might embarrass them in front of their peers.
  • Acceptance and belonging are most important.
  • How they look and what others think of them can be the most important thing.
  • Are vulnerable to those who offer insincere flattery.
  • Separate from parents to form their own identity.
  • Test the loyalty of friendship through conflict.
  • Compare themselves to peers in an effort to define themselves.
  • Take huge emotional risks in search of their identity.
  • Will change the truth to avoid social judgment.
  • Have hormonal changes that affect their mood.
  • Their actions may be guided by what feels right in the moment.
  • May become rebellious and explore with minor delinquency.
  • May experiment with drugs and alcohol.
  • May explore sexuality.
  • Demand privacy.
  • Experience a change in sleep patterns. They stay up later and sleep in longer.
  • Misreading adult emotions is common. They often confuse an adult’s sadness with anger.
  • Focus on whether their behaviour conforms to the behaviour of others, not whether it is right or wrong.
  • Will be motivated to maintain appropriate behaviour if they believe they are being monitored by an adult.
  • Are more reactive and affected by stress than adults are.

 Adolescents 13 to 15 years of age – Interests

  • Use Instant Messaging (IM) programs, email, write weblogs, etc. to communicate with others
  • Play online games with opponents
  • Use webcams and digital cameras to take and send photos and videos
  • Use cell phones to talk with friends, surf the web, take photos, text message, etc.
  • Use peer-to-peer programs (e.g. Limewire, uTorrent, etc.) to download music, games and videos
  • Create personal profiles on social networking sites (e.g. Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc.)
  • Will use YouTube to post and watch videos
  • Confide in friends online and offline
  • Expect privacy and want more independence
  • Explore neighbourhoods with friends (by bike, skateboard, scooter, walking, etc.)
  • May consider running away
  • Babysit
  • Make their own money (employment)
  • Volunteer
  • Start dating
  • Go to movies, concerts, carnivals, and shop with friends
  • Go to sleepovers
  • Attend mixed gender parties
  • Increase their time spent doing extra-curricular activities
  • Could engage in self-destructive behaviour, such as taking drugs or alcohol to deal with stress (e.g. this age group is also when girls may start cutting)

7 through 10 years

During middle years, children gradually develop into more independent and separate human beings who are capable of exploring the world around them. They use more sophisticated language; learn a tremendous amount of new information; and acquire a host of new skills, including literacy, formal school studies, and knowledge about the world and people in it. They gradually break free from an egocentric perspective of life where they are placed at its centre, and learn to put themselves in the shoes of others. They are curious and develop social skills and friendships, as well as become more prone and receptive to a host of exclusion practices, such as gender and race stereotyping, bullying and victimization. They explore their environment more independently and continue to be prone to accidents. They can take more responsibility for their behaviour, gradually learn to delay gratification, and learn tasks that develop self-confidence and independence.

What children in middle years see and hear at home, in their school, their community and in media, influences their behaviours, attitudes and world views. Towards the end of this period, some children, particularly girls, already move into adolescence, and are challenged by dramatic physical and emotional changes.


 Domains Main Developmental Characteristics
  • Better distinguishing between fantasy and reality
  • Understanding inner motivation of characters
  • Understanding causality (that “one thing leads to another”)
  • Using more sophisticated language
  • Developing problem-solving and critical thinking skills
  • Developing understanding of television and other media codes and conventions (use of camera shots and editing, sound and music cues, etc.)
  • Becoming more independent in taking care of daily needs such as personal hygiene, feeding, taking care of possessions
  • Learning to follow rules of play and interactions
  • More interested in taking part in drama and playing sports
  • More concerned about body image and appearance
  • Taking more responsibility for their own actions
  • Friends gradually taking a more central role in their lives
  • Continuing to need supportive adults and positive role models
  • Clearly preferring same-sex friends
  • Learning about right and wrong and making moral choices
  • Developing exclusionary and stereotyping behaviours
Communication Needs
  • To nurture positive feelings about themselves, others and the world
  • To explore and test their own ideas, skills and talents
  • To be guided in using their potential in positive ways
  • To have their feelings and worries understood and respected
 Implications for Communication
• Present longer and more dramatic stories
• Offer child-centred stories and characters
• Portray learning and school achievement as an opportunity to develop new, interesting skills and talents
• Use strategies such as visual and auditory humour and cognitive challenges (e.g., brain teasers, riddles, tongue twisters, etc.)
• Include interactive problem-solving and critical thinking
• Model pro-social actions such as kindness, conflict resolution and caring about others
• Offer strong, positive adult and child role models with high moral standards
• Introduce sensitive topics that show other children dealing with social justice or difficult issues like death, anger, abuse, disability, etc., in creative and healthy ways
• Show children making a difference in their own and other’s lives

Eleven through 14 years

Adolescence is believed by many to be potentially a stormy and stressful period when young people are simultaneously handling physical, social, emotional and cognitive changes. This is the period of transition to adulthood, and adolescents may experience frequent mood swings and aggressive or emotional outbursts. They are often torn between rational thought and irrational risk taking, between adult responsibility and childish mischief.

Current research on brain development during this period of life supports the conclusion that adolescence is characterized by sensation-seeking and higher risk taking. Additionally, there is a disconnect with complex thinking as early adolescents whose executive functions have yet to develop, have difficulty demonstrating rational abilities of planning, setting priorities, making decisions and weighing consequences of their actions. Hormonal and physical changes associated with puberty, as well as a growing attraction and interest in sex and intimate relationships, bring about the development of couples and the onset of sexual experiences in societies that permit it.

Adolescents tend to rely on friends more than family, depending on their culture: This can help define their identity and be expressed in a variety of separation behaviours (unique fashion, taste in music, joining social groups and movements, expanding social networking on the Internet, producing their own visuals and texts). The search for identity also serves as a source of exploration and expression of thoughts and feelings about a wide range of issues. As a result, peer pressure plays a central role in decision-making and behavioural patterns, including those which are antisocial, unhealthy and put adolescents at risk (aggression, alcohol and substance abuse, unsafe sex and others).

Where the expectation of autonomy, individualism and self-reliance in Western societies is encouraged, such changes can become a source of conflict between adolescents and their families; while in more traditional societies, where a more collective view of society and conformity for adolescents is the norm, it is less likely to be a source of stress. In some parts of the world, adolescents have very little discretionary time, as they must help support their family, whereas in other places they have more time to socialize and be with their friends.

We can see then that the nature of adolescence is very much culturally constructed and that growing into adulthood takes different forms in different societies. Cultural differences play a very significant role in constructing what it means to be a child and an adolescent at different stages of development, and requires that our communication be culturally specific. What is clearly shared by all cultures, though, is the fact that while growing up, adolescents continue to need loving and empathic adults who provide guidance, serve as positive role models, set clear boundaries and expectations and guide them to make the best choices.


 Domains Main Developmental Characteristics
  • Capable of adult-like abstract and logical thought
  • Emerging concern for, and exploration of, options regarding future plans
  • Literacy levels might not be consistent with chronological age
  • Increasing independence and breaking away from adult authority (depending on culture)
  • Interested in mastering physical challenges
  • Experimenting with new behaviours, including risky ones
  • Experimenting with identity behaviours related to gender, race, religion, class, etc.
  • Often influenced by peer culture
  • Holding strong beliefs and principles on moral dilemmas
  • Exhibiting rebellious behaviours against authorities
  • Developing romantic and sexual relationships (depending on culture)
  • To be informed and guided into adult life, including about behaviours that put them at risk and about responsible sexual behaviours
  • To have strong, positive role models with high moral standards
  • To have recognition and respect of their opinions and ideas
  • To be allowed to learn from mistakes and correct self-destructive behaviours
 Implications for Communication
• Present positive peer-group behaviours and other adolescents who are resilient and positive
• Present divergent points of view, opinions and perspectives
• While presenting growing independence, continue to portray positive parent-child relationships/nurturing adult-child relationships
• Portray characters with high self-esteem, especially for girls, children from disadvantaged groups and ethnic minorities, and children with disabilities
• Portray gender-progressive roles in adolescents and adults
• Talk about issues of concern to their particular age group (substance abuse, unprotected sex, violence, romantic relationships, bullying and discrimination, friendships)
• Talk respectfully and not didactically: Do not “talk down”
• Present high-interest, low-literacy alternatives
• Present challenging stories with creative ideas, difficulties and solutions
• Use a lot of humour and creativity