News & Views
from   The Parenting Center at Abington

. The Pre-Adolescent and the Parent
      Can They Get Along?

 Is your formerly likeable 10 to 12 year old transforming into a not so likeable person? Don't be alarmed: there is a short period of time, when our children, who are not yet certified teenagers, start to exhibit behaviors that may be considered teenager-like. This might include acting like a know-it-all, grumpiness, incessant questioning of our rules, insulting others, wanting freedom without the responsibility that goes with it, discounting our ideas as stupid, not wanting to be seen with us, being demanding, argumentative, and on and on. Additionally, you may notice odd physical changes (other than those associated with puberty) like clumsiness, facial tics or jerky movements.

   If your child is exhibiting the above-listed behaviors, I'd like to welcome you to the joys of parenting the pre-adolescent. It is now your job to try to understand and accommodate these behaviors and at the same time not take them personally. Part of understanding the behavior includes knowing that the aggressive push towards autonomy is part of the internal time-clock of the age group going off and not always your child trying to push your buttons with malice and forethought. Their sometimes annoying behavior is pushed by some very powerful developmental changes.

   It may be helpful to realize that these natural behaviors are really a cover-up for their fearfulness and vulnerability about becoming independent. Underneath her know-it-all attitude is a scared kid; her insistence on acting like a grown-up is as much to convince herself as you. This time of life is as frustrating for your child as it is for you because she is torn between wanting to be free of us and still needing us. Additionally, pre-adolescents are starting to worry about their bodies and how others perceive them. This may account for the 30 minute showers and the need to wear just the "right" clothes.

   While many of these behaviors can be overlooked, parents are sometimes hurt or threatened by the conduct and language of their pre-adolescents that can seem downright nasty. Parents can rest easier when they know that these are normal characteristics; that in order to move toward independence, the child must separate from the parent and must find his place among his peers. If he is truly to become autonomous, he may have to risk offending you. Again, try not to take it personally; many times, they are just blowing off steam and you are the one they feel most comfortable blowing it off to. They are driven by emotion, not reason, much of the time. If you can appreciate their strong emotions and displeasing behaviors as your children just "doing their job" of growing up, without feeling like you have to agree with them or change the person, that is a step in the right direction.

   But as usual in parenting, a balance is important. Understanding a pre-adolescent's behavior is key but it is not the same as allowing them to behave in inappropriate ways. We may need to implement logical consequences for behaviors that grossly exceed limits. Set the limits you need to set to his sometimes overly demanding wants and needs with no apologies and without criticism. Remember that his behavior is not always based on reason, or at least our reasoning, so you don't have to spend time arguing and trying to convince him that he is wrong and you are right. If he is asking you for an unreasonable request you can say things like, "I'll have to think about it and get back to you later" or "I have to do what is best for you and/or the family right now.

   Tips for riding out the storm:

      *   Choose your battles carefully.Settle for something less than perfection on issues that are not important in the overall scheme of things. Remain calm, and try not to match your child's level of intensity.

      *   Be available for your pre-adolescent without controlling him. The time that they want you is often at their choosing and convenience, not yours.

      *   Help him make smart decisions by considering alternatives.

      *   Establish networks with parents of your pre-adolescent's friends, even if they are new to you.

      *   Be aware of your child's temperament. The intensity of their behavior at this time is also based on their unique temperament.

      *   Let your pre-adolescent know they can always call on you when in trouble, without fear of punishment.

      *   Re-think some of your restrictions and offer a little more freedom, balancing this with increased responsibility.

      *   When they have done a good job of something, let them know, despite the fact that they may seem unreceptive or uncommunicative.

      *   Read up on child development; join a parenting support group or attend parenting classes.

      *   Remember that each child is unique. While behaviors of the general age group are typical, your child may start at an earlier or later age than his peers.

   This may be one of the hardest times to parent your child. While there are no guarantees, don't lose faith in your child's essential goodness and trust in his capacity to grow into a healthy, caring adult. For additional reading on this subject, check out The Roller Coaster Years by Margaret Sagarese and Charlene Giannetti, You and Your Adolescent by Lawrence Steinberg, and Uncommon Sense for Parents with Teenagers by Michael Rivera.


By Claire Gawinowicz, Certified Parenting Educator

Nov. 2001
Vol. 4/Issue 3

A publication from The Parenting Center at Abington
P.O. Box 596, Abington, PA 19001 (215) 576-0586

Printing of this newsletter is courtesy of the Abington Memorial Hospital.

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