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What's Special and Great About Kids in Their Preteens

The Middle Years

Too Old for This, Too Young for That

Get a Clue!: A Parent's Guide to Understanding and Communicating with Your PreTeens

by Susan Ginsberg, Ed. D.


It's hard to believe all those kids in Melissa's sixth-grade class are the same age, her father commented after attending a school play. But indeed they are. And those differences in the rates of growth and development that he observed--some tall, some short, some physically mature, others not--are one of the characteristics that define children from about 9 to 13. These are the kids we call middle-schoolers, preteens or preadolescents. And because they are changing at such different rates, any descriptions of early adolescence should be considered merely as guidelines rather than hard or fast rules.


*       Preteens often feel awkward and insecure because of the physical changes they are undergoing. And just when they most want to be like everyone else, their friends are all maturing at different rates. Typically, preadolescents become preoccupied with how they look. What made me realize Karen was an official preteen, says her Mom was when she started spending so much time in front of the mirror--deciding whether to wear her shirt tucked in or hanging out, and fussing with her hair.

*       Preteens rely on their friends and feel the need to belong. Their group gives them a sense of security--and, often, it seems as if friends replace family as the center of a child's life. But this can also be a turbulent time for friendships. As old friends drift apart, kids can feel hurt, and parents worry whether or how to intervene.

*       Preteens test limits and challenge rule. They have developed some strong opinions, often want to do things their way and don't hesitate to state their case and argue with you. To assert their individuality and protect themselves against what they consider to be arbitrary rules, they have a tendency to deny anything that seems to put them in a bad light.

*       Preteens are similar to toddlers in some ways. Eric wants to be independent, his Dad comments, but he still wants us to take care of him. He says things such as: ´Why didn't you wake me up?' or ´You forgot to remind me about my lunch money.' He wants us around, but at a comfortable distance, not hovering over him.

*       Preteens want privacy. Debby doesn't want to talk to her friends on the phone where anyone can hear, her mom reports. She closes the door when she gets dressed. She doesn't ask me what she should wear anymore, and when she decides on an outfit or how to do her hair, she changes it a few minutes later because she's not sure how she wants to look.

*       Preteens make excuses not to do chores or start projects that need to be done. Their planning and organizing skills are not well developed. In addition, their sense of time is fuzzy. If you ask a preteen to take out the garbage and he says Later, don't count on it. He's likely to get involved in something else and forget; just as he forgets to bring home his jacket or hat from school.

*       Preteens are beginning to have a social conscience. They are becoming aware of and interested in issues that affect society--and are often willing to take care of a baby, help out at senior citizens' center, or stuff envelopes for a cause.

*       Preteens on the whole are quite wonderful. Despite being forgetful and sometimes moody and irritable, they are energetic, enthusiastic and eager to learn new skills. Among other things, they are capable of playing complicated musical instruments, learning a second language and creating pieces of art and writing that are amazingly profound, says Judith Baenen of the National Middle Schools Association.


(adapted from Work & Family Life newsletter, edited by Susan Ginsberg)


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