“My almost 11 year old doesn’t want to kiss me or hug me goodbye in the mornings anymore!”
“I’m sick and tired of my teenager arguing about everything!”
“My 12 year old use to talk to me, now they are so secretive and come home and go to their rooms.”
When your child hits the middle school years one of the best ways to stay sane is to know that you’re not the only one experiencing these new behaviors and attitudes.
The middle school and high school years are a huge time of transition not only for kids but also for us as parents.
It’s incredibly helpful when parents become aware that the very behaviors and attitudes that they find frustrating, exhausting and oftentimes concerning are serving a greater developmental purpose (socially, emotionally, and intellectually).
Once you understand what is really going on with your tween or teen, you will be better equipped to support and guide your child toward positive growth and outcomes. But not only that, it can make the parenting journey a much smoother and more enjoyable ride for everyone! Who doesn’t need more of that?!
5 Things A Parent Needs To Know When The Tween and Teen Years Hit:
Their Brain Explains A Lot.
Tweens and teens can be moody, overly sensitive, and challenging at times.
What’s happening in their brain explains a lot and we have neuroscience research to thank!
Did you know that they’re right side of their brain and the left side of the brain are literally rewiring?
Yep. The connectivity of the brain moves from the back of the brain to the front. The last place to “hard wire” is the frontal lobe, which controls the “brakes and steering” and their impulse control.
And, if that’s not enough to deal with, the prefrontal cortex, which is at the front of your brain (behind your forehead) is the last part of the brain to fully develop (not finished until around 25). The prefrontal cortex is the thinking and CEO-center of the brain. It controls decision-making, problem-solving, judgment, and self-control.
To summarize in laywoman’s terms – The right and left sides of the brain are improperly balanced, which means the emotional part of their brains aren’t fully connected to the reasoning side of their brains.
What this might look like:
They have a higher urgency and intensity of emotional reactions. This means they may be moody and fly off the handle at times.
This “building” of their brain causes mood swings, irritability, impulsiveness, and roller coaster emotions.
They will make mistakes and not always connect cause with effect.
They may struggle to make rational decisions.
Risk-assessment is lacking. They may have limited impulse control.
They may struggle with executive functioning and focus.
They may be forgetful and have difficulties remembering to do something.
They Are Figuring Out Who They Are
The most important task of adolescence is their search for their own sense of identity and who they are.
The question they are asking themselves, although they probably aren’t aware they are, is “Who am I?”
“Who am I apart from my parents?”.
“Am I normal?”
“Where do I fit in?”
“Do I belong?”
“Do I matter?”
“What do I believe, value, think?”
What this might look like:
You may hear things like, “No one understands me!”
This is a time when it’s actually healthy for them to argue as they form their own sense of self, And it will it be exhausting when you say “white” and they say, “black.” (and we know it’s white!!”)
They may question your family value system.
You may want to pull your hair out at times and their reasoning may make no sense. They may do a 180 from what you believe for a time to figure out where they land.
They Are Wrestling For Independence
Along with the search for identity comes the struggle for independence.
There is an internal tug of war going on inside of them.
What this might look like:
During this time of transition they are experiencing a lot of conflicting emotions. On one hand they want to be an adult and on the other hand they are scared to grow up. I use the word wrestling because at this stage of parenting it can feel like you are in a wrestling match as they pull away and also are still dependent.
Your tween or teen may become more secretive and spend more time in their room. You may wonder if everything is okay, to which they answer, “I’m fine.”
Because they are wanting to be an adult at times they won’t want you to tell them what to do and they will hate to hear “no” because they want to be in charge.
They may test your limits and rules.
They Have A Strong Need For Peer Approval
During the adolescent years the need to belong and “fit in” becomes stronger. This can cause stress, anxiety and a sensitivity to peers’ opinions.
What this might look like:
Because of the strong need to “fit in,” be accepted, and valued by their peers you may experience a roller coaster of emotions as they try to find their footing.
They may begin to dress differently and follow fads that are popular as a way to fit in and belong.
They may act embarrassed by you in front of friends. It’s so important to remind yourself this is normal!
And the most popular symptom of this, they may act like they don’t want to spend time with you (believe me they still do!).
So What You Can You Do To Help You Both Through This Tough Transition:
Remind yourself of all of the above and that much of their behavior is explainable and understandable. They are going through so many changes socially, emotionally and physically that they desperately need your understanding and guidance, not your criticism or judgment.
Your tween or teen needs your presence and home to be a safe place for them to wrestle with all of these changes during this time.
Be that presence where they feel safe to share how they’re feeling honestly. Even though it’s uncomfortable, remember they’re searching to find themselves and their own voice. They need to learn to say “no” and not go along with “the crowd”, especially when “the crowd” is making poor choices. In your home provide a playground for your child to practice.
Don’t get into the fight about who is “right” or “wrong.” Instead get comfortable with allowing your family members to disagree with one another while also supporting individual interests and opinions.
Take a deep breathe and remind yourself when they’re arguing or testing the limits, this is part of them striving to become more independent and self-sufficient.
Provide choices and opportunities to build your child’s confidence.
Allow them to be uncomfortable as they learn something new.
Give specific duties that will allow for increased independence as a child grows.
Teach them important problem solving skills by guiding them versus giving advice or lecturing them. Ask them instead, “What do you think?” “What do you want to do about that?” “How can I support you?”
Allow them to learn from their mistakes versus stepping in to “fix” or rescue them from their natural consequences. Instead ask them, “What might you do differently next time?” “What did you learn from making that mistake?”
Understand that this time of transition can be a challenging time not only for you but especially for them. Research has shown that kids between the ages 11 to 15 can become sad and anxious because of social stress (such exclusion from social groups) and chances are they won’t tell you.
When they’re highly emotional, rather than react in anger, instead be curious about what might be going on underneath the surface.
Provide lots of positive attention.
While it may appear that you are chopped liver and your tween or teen only wants to be with their friends, you are still the most important person in their life.
They want your approval more than anyone else’s. They need to know they matter, especially if they’re being difficult.
So rather than avoid them, lean in.
Be curious to know their world – ask them to show you their favorite YouTube channel (and be careful not to be critical, not always easy when you’re watching a girl take 30 minutes to put on makeup!)
They care what you think. They want to be valued for who they are (there’s that identity piece again!)
And, don’t undervalue the power in affirming and building up your child during this time.