You can talk and talk till your face is blue!
But they still just do what they want to do!
Why can’t they be like we were,
Perfect in every way?
What’s the matter with kids today?
-Bye Bye Birdie, 1956
Imagine a scenario where you have no control of the changes happening in your body; where you begin to make cognitive leaps and are able to start to contact intellectual dots; and where, suddenly, your interests and friendships are starting to change-and it’s all happening at the same time.
Welcome to early adolescence.
I love middle school children.
They are wonderful, annoying, funny, irritating, honest, devious, mature, babyish, smart, play dumb, want to fly the coop; just as ready to climb on your knee as they are to bawl you out for your perceived transgressions. They are on top of the world; their world is always falling apart.
All in the space of two minutes.
I love them, and yet, I worry for and about them.
To understand the dramatic changes that take place during early adolescence, we must compare this time to the changes that take place from age 0-2, when a child first shows those important developmental skills in cognitive, physical, and emotional growth.
For the adolescent, the changes are just as dramatic.
Physical changes are the most obvious feature of this change, but the cognitive and social-emotional changes are just as important.
Puberty is a specific term that specifically describes the physical changes of adolescence.
The next time you are watching your child and a group of his/her friends together, observe their differing physical status. You will have children of the same chronological age that look very different from each other.
There is David, a six foot, 180 lb male giant who has begun shaving standing beside Rory, his best 8th-grade friend, who is 5’ 3 inches tall and weighs less than a wet towel. Mary is a 13-year-old girl who, if dressed up and wearing makeup, could be mistaken for a high school Junior.
Over the summer months, she suddenly developed a chest, long legs, and a killer smile. Standing a little apart from her is Jasmine, her lifelong friend that she does not spend any more time with because her flat-chest and cherub face do not fit with Mary’s new status among her peers.
To complicate matters, David goes home each night and still plays with his toys; Rory considers himself to be a ladies, man; Mary still wets the bed on occasion, and Jasmine is a straight-A student, looking at the fast track for high school.
Imagine being a teacher with twenty-five adolescents like this in your class, and you try to teach them verbs!
Now, add to the mix the new family dynamics of the 21st century that is rushing them to become independent earlier and earlier, and on top of this, add a culture that is poisonous to a twelve-year-old, and you can understand why I worry for them.
There is a fatal flaw in how we view our adolescents that is very harmful to them.
Research has shown that puberty-the physical changes that occur- is happening earlier than previous generations thanks to better diet and other suggested causes that are more controversial. The average age for girls starting their periods is now at 12 years, two years earlier than previous generations.
For boys, puberty is also happening at an earlier time, again likely because of diet-in its most extreme form their obesity is the trigger.
This trend is evident by just looking at your child and/or their friends, and there are potential long-term implications for your child’s long-term health.
However, the bigger implication may be for your child’s social-emotional and cognitive growth.
While the pattern of our children’s physical growth is changing, the other two legs of their development-social-emotional and cognitive have not. So, we have “big” boys and girls who are being pushed into age-inappropriate roles before their time.
Our grandmothers and great grandmothers married after puberty at age 15/16 years and above. No-one today would consider an early adolescent, 10-14 years, to be developmentally ready for such an emotional commitment, and yet, because they look ready, our society is encouraging them onward, and our culture is aiding and abetting.
So what our parents to do? It is not easy, but parents need to be counter-cultural, understanding that will take heat from their children, family, and friends that will be very uncomfortable, at times. Your child will miss parties; there will be much weeping and yelling, and threats to run away from the worst parent in the world.
You make, actually, have to encourage your child to make you the fall guy to give them cover among their peers. It is so much easier for a 12-year-old to place the blame for a destroyed social life on the parent as her friends can understand and sympathize with such outrageous parental behavior.
It is hard to do this alone. Your child can wear you down. Her anger will be real.
Encouraging A Realistic Outlook
By creating clear boundaries and expectations, you will be protecting your child from developmentally inappropriate expectations. I can assure you that her short-term losses will be more than compensated for when he is developmentally more prepared to deal with life.
In the end, what you will be buying your child is the time to grow and mature within the protective nest of the family-whether she wants it or not!
At Confident Parenting coach.com, we can help you create logical expectations and plan for you and your child that can serve as a roadmap going forward. At some stage, it will be appropriate to loosen the reins a little, and we can help in planning how you get to that point together.