A Guide to the Middle Years
Maybe it is the nagging educator in me – or my somewhat nerdy and unquenchable thirst for learning – but whenever I am faced with a mystery or perplexed by an unknown, I have an almost obsessive desire to find out the “why” behind it. My mantra for everything mysterious or baffling is, “knowledge is power.” (Just ask my kids!) I will forego sleep to comb through search engines, books and magazines, looking for answers to the unsolved enigmas in my life. And so, when faced with the eye-rolling, mood-swinging, changed-over-night challenges of tween behavior, I naturally turned to the internet to help explain the roller-coaster ride of the no-longer-child but not-quite-teen, complex brain of the nine to twelve-year-old.
This is what we know:
Many tweens experience a sense of disequilibrium in their adolescent years. It is no wonder – this period of growth is only second to the rapid growth seen in infancy! Parents may notice a changing child who is moody, anxious, confused, or even angry. Nine to twelve-year-olds can waiver between grown-up, responsible and independent one day; to a youthful innocence, with clinginess and insecurities the next. Essentially, the adolescent’s brain and body are on change-growth overdrive. Here are some interesting facts to help understand what happens in the tween years:
Physically — Your adolescent will experience rapid growth spurts along with hormonal changes.The tween brain undergoes an amazing and significant rewiring as it produces new cells and makes new connections. Sometimes the fast-paced brain growth makes it difficult to focus on other tasks. Even though they are capable of both complex, abstract thinking, and deductive reasoning, the brain still has a lot of cognitive growth ahead.
Socially — Tweens move away from their parents as the center of their world and are increasingly influenced by friends and peers – as they try to fit in and belong, they may become self-conscious and anxious.
Emotionally – Nine to twelve-year-olds mature and grow, yet this is a tumultuous time for them. They are capable of more complex feelings and emotions, and they worry about the image they portray. The hormonal changes can leave them feeling a bit “moody,” overly sensitive, distracted, and sometimes dramatic as they try to shape their identity. It may be difficult for children to acknowledge how much they still need their parents because they are trying to feel independent and “grown up”.
On the bright side, if you can accept the changes in your adolescent as a positive step in their development, you just might be able to keep your sanity. This is a perfect time to re-think and adjust your parenting style, and create a secure, lasting bond that will strengthen your relationship before the teenage years hit.
What you can do to stay close:
Foster independence with reasonable limits. Limits will be tested…often! Offer empathy if they rebel, but stay firm.
Pick your battles – remember how your two-year-old tested you? Your tween will make that seem like a cake-walk! Decide which issues are most important and let the rest slide (as long as they don’t go against your values).
Listen more and talk less. Pay attention and try to avoid judgments and criticism.
Set Boundaries – it is important to have rules in place and equally important to compromise occasionally. Children of all ages want and need boundaries that are clear and fair.
Encourage sleep – your pre-teen needs around 9-10 hours of sleep each night.
Media and popular culture try to tell children how to dress and act. They try to get children to grow up too fast. It is your job to keep them safe, despite their desire to feel grown up. Be a media guardian – keep the computer and TV in sight – set rules about use and monitor regularly. It is up to you to safeguard your child from images and messages that threaten your family values.
Connect with your child and make a habit of spending quality time together. Check in with your child daily and know who they have as friends.
Keep them busy – a busy, active child is one who has less time to get into trouble. Find activities they are passionate about and encourage their involvement. When our children find something that they are good at, it empowers them and brings joy, confidence and a sense of satisfaction.
Develop a thick skin – don’t take the mood swings, eye-rolling and attitude personally. If your tween lashes out, take a breath and stay calm. Parents need to model emotional self-regulation. Always take the opportunity to reinforce your love and connection while remembering “this too shall pass.”
As parents, it is important to remember that every developmental stage has its own joys and challenges, including the middle years. Your job during this time of rapid change and growth is to be a guide who offers stable, consistent and nurturing support. According to “A Guide to the ‘Tween’ Years ” by Laurie MacPherson, your relationship with your pre-teen is vitally important. Young adolescents who maintain a good connection to their parents and have a strong, healthy relationship with their family are much less likely to become involved in risky behaviors such as drugs, alcohol and sexual activity. Be encouraged! With patience, love and understanding, you can truly enjoy the transition from child to teen and help make it a positive experience for all.