This year, my kids are starting middle school and high school. Their book bags are filled with the requisite school supplies and summer homework. Now all that’s left to do is say, “Goodbye and have a great day!”
Gone are the preschool days when it felt like I dropped them off only to run a few quick errands, turn around and pick them up. Some would say the tween/teen years are easier than raising young children, but parents of the 11-and-older set will tell you that it’s a matter of perspective.
Yes, it is less physically draining. Parenting a tween or teen is marvelous in that you mostly get a good night of sleep. But it is certainly not stress-free as both you and your child try to keep up with the physical and hormonal changes. Some parents say it feels like their 10-year-olds are acting like teenagers. They are not wrong, with so many kids entering puberty earlier these days.
But is it possible to stay connected to your developing adolescents even if it seems like they are pushing you away? I would say yes.
Despite what you might have heard about needing to prepare for the day when your teen hates or rejects you, what you need to do is just shift a little in your thinking and get creative about how to forge new connections.
When kids are young, how we take charge of them is much more clear cut. From morning to night, there is no question that parents are the managers of their children’s lives. To ease the transition to parenting a tween or teen, it is imperative that we start viewing ourselves as consultants instead.
Remember when your child was 2 years old and had a tantrum? You didn’t take it personally (although it certainly could be more than a little trying sometimes). You probably just said to yourself, “Oh there he goes again with those terrible twos.” Just like when your child was 2, your tween or teen is now exhibiting certain behaviors because of where he is in his development.
Adolescence is a time of immense growth in the brain, specifically in the areas that affect impulse control and decision-making activities. Teens are now able to engage in abstract thinking, but not all of the time. They also often live in the moment, so they don’t always know why they do the things they do. This is normal development.
Think back to when your child was 6 and wanted to show off her newly acquired skills on the monkey bars. Your teenage daughter does the same thing when she argues with you (it often doesn’t really even matter what the conflict is about) or tries to make a point about what she believes is true or right. She is not necessarily being combative for no reason; she is demonstrating a new skill. This behavior actually relates to where she is in her development.
Looking at your own burgeoning teen through this developmental lens can help you meet and support her where she is and forge important connections. Because she needs you just as much as when she was small — just in a different way.
Below are some helpful books I recommend for parents of tweens and teens:
• “How to Hug a Porcupine: Negotiating the Prickly Points of the Tween Years” by Julie A. Ross
• “How to Talk So Teens Will Listen and Listen So Teens Will Talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
Jennifer Kogan is a clinical social worker in Northwest Washington who works with parents.