Stephen Cowan, MD, Director of Health & Education

This is the second in a six-part series on the Five Phase Journey through Adolescence.

Somewhere between the age of seven and ten years old, depending on your child’s inherent nature, the Wood stage of transformation begins. Out of the relative hibernation of preteen’s wintry innocence comes the subtle signs of transition. Remember that change comes in different ways to different kids. No two kids raised in the same house pass through this transition in exactly the same way.  A child with Wood power may begin changing first while a Water child may move through this transition much later. 

Take the Tournsesol Kids assessment here to see which power your child has the most of

Just like the smell of springtime in the air, the first signs of body odor coming from your child herald the awakening of the Wood stage. Wisps of underarm or pubic hair are sure to follow.  One of the earliest signs you may notice of adolescence transition is that your child’s sleep habits are changing. Your child may begin having difficulty  falling asleep at the usual times. Likewise, they may have trouble waking up in the morning. Children do most of their growing at night and the spurts of growth hormone tend to energize a child in the evening, just when you’re ready to go to sleep.  Your child may start asking for more privacy. I think in ancient times, these teenagers were the keepers of the fire when we poor tired adults retreated to our caves, leaving them to develop their own subculture. These are the first stirrings of Wood energy, the primal need for separation and independence.

In our modern mechanized society, we no longer allow for these subtle changes in our children.  Most of the adolescents I treat are chronically sleep deprived.  At night they are plugged into high-energy screens (TV, phone, video games) that trick the brain into thinking it’s daytime and suppress the natural melatonin levels that signal sleep. Supplementing with melatonin is at best a quick fix solution which overtime loses its effect while raising the risk of further suppressing the natural capacity to produce melatonin.  School schedules further compound the loss of day-night rhythms by failing to accommodate these adolescent changes. In fact, preteens and teens are typically expected to get to school earlier than younger children, despite specific recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics to delay start times for middle schoolers.[i] Studies have shown that chronic sleep deprivation puts undue stress on the growing child’s metabolism and may contribute to excessive mood swings, poor attention, and immune dysregulation.[ii]  There is evidence that these stressors may be factors associated with the increasing shift towards earlier puberty that we are witnessing in this country.[iii] 

Advice for parents: 

  1. Look for subtle changes in sleep cycles and explain (without judgment) the interconnection between sleep, growth and puberty.  
  2. Allow your teen to get their sleep needs in on the weekend. (They will thank you for this!)
  3. Wood power is planning power. Come up with a plan with your child to turn off screens well before sleep time to allow for transition into sleep.  This is a good time to practice some breathing exercises together.
  4. Screen time = Green time. Nature has a calming effect on our mood, providing more opportunity to get exercise and release pent up feelings.  Try making a new house rule; for every minute of screen time, you have to have an equal time in nature. Even ten minutes in a park can refresh your life.
  5. Practice what you preach!  Make sure you turn off your screens and get enough sleep too. (You’re going to need it in order to deal patiently with your teenager in the coming years.)


[ii] Chen MY, Wang EK, Jeng YJ. Adequate sleep among adolescents is positively associated with health status and health-related behaviors. BMC Public Health. 2006;6:59