GUIDING OUR KIDS THROUGH EARLY ADOLESCENCE
Laura Sessions Stepp
early adolescence, when our kids are between 10 and 15, they start
to ask in a serious way who they are, what they believe, and what
they have to offer the world.
is a crucial time„developmentally differently from the later teen
years„because children are beginning to adopt patterns of thought
and behavior that will stay with them for years to come. If we
provide the right kind of guidance, we can help our kids find
some of the answers they are looking for and make wise choices
for the future.
adolescence is partially about loss. Our children lose their innocence,
their unquestioning faith in adults, and their certainty about
themselves and their place in the world. It is about loss for
us, as well. We lose our kidsÍ adoration, their physical need
for us, and to some extent, our sense of control.
adolescence is also about gains„big gains. In giving up their
old roles, our kids take on new ones. And with few exceptions,
they donÍt turn into unrecognizable monsters. They just become
more of who they are. If we liked them most of the time when they
were 3, 4, and 5, chances are weÍll like them when theyÍre 13,
14, and 15„most of the time.
make no mistake; parents still have a key role to play.
research is consistent: young adolescents go back and forth between
wanting to separate and wanting to connect. While they look to
friends for guidance in dress, music, hairstyles, and entertainment,
they rely on their families for affection and basic values„no
matter how they may act.
are steps we can take, indeed, must take, if we want to increase
the odds that our sons and daughters will grow up to be happy
and responsible adults.
PRETEENS AS WORKS IN PROGRESS
parents are faced with the same dilemma: Is this the time to accept
your kids just as they are and stop trying to change them? Or
should you continue to push for the parts you feel need improvement.
but donÍt push,
said the kids I talked to for my book. Challenge us to do better,
but loosen the ties. Let us start making some mistakes. Praise
us when we exceed your expectations, but donÍt make us feel
thereÍs something seriously wrong with our half-finished form.
of it this way. When a wobbly toddler takes a tumble, we donÍt
say, ñBoy, what a klutz. SheÍll never learn to walk.î We say,
ñOops, try again.î ThatÍs exactly the attitude we need to adopt
with our young teens. Despite their sophisticated appearance,
they are still wonderful works in progress.
this age, young teens know that some mistakes can have serious
consequences„for themselves and for others. So we need to make
it clear what the big blunders
are: ñI can tolerate a messy
room most of the time, but IÍll be deeply disappointed if you
lie to me.
GO GRADUALLY AND CAREFULLY
reports of guns and violence make parents rein in their children
exactly at a time when kids need to begin to make their way into
the world. Such restrictions, while understandable and well intentioned,
are lamentable. Among the youth I followed over time for my book,
it was easy to pick out those who had been overly sheltered. They
were shyer and less self-confident than the savvier kids were,
or they were aggressive and even hostile.
of the Dads I interviewed had mastered two strategies that recent
studies say characterize successful parenting of adolescents.
He limited his sonÍs exposure to truly dangerous situations as
best he could. At the same time, he encouraged him to seek out
new circumstances and taught his son skills that would enable
him to take care of himself wherever he was.
TALK TO ABOUT YOUR KIDS
parents of young adolescents, itÍs not easy to give up the idea
of control. But events will yank it out of our hands, anyway.
This doesnÍt mean that we relinquish our influence over our children.
It means that we replace control with communication. Kids have
to learn to take control of their own lives„and how well we communicate
with them will help determine their success in doing it.
starts by asking good questions and listening closely to the answers
before we jump in. It means matching our actions with our words
and communicating our values and morals, our likes and dislikes
through our behavior.
also means sharing, and as our kids enter adolescence, we begin
to share them with a wider audience„relatives, teachers, coaches,
neighbors, storekeepers, parents of their friends. Young adolescents
forget (or donÍt want) to tell us lots of things, but if weÍre
plugged into this larger community, we learn many of these things
anyway. The most successful parents IÍve met were those who talked
regularly with each other and everyone else about their children.
They may have stood at the edge of their childrenÍs lives, but
they knew what was at the center.
TASKS FOR KIDS TO DO
key task in a young personÍs search for identity is discovering
what he or she is good at. True self-awareness and self-esteem
donÍt come from being praised all the time, but from performing
challenging tasks well, in activities that are valued by the people
kids care about. With increasingly stronger bodies, keener cognitive
skills, and budding creativity, young teenagers practically cry
out for pursuits that go beyond filling out ditto sheets or washing
jobs are appropriate for many kids, if the number of hours is
kept down. Volunteer work also appeals to a young teenagerÍs newfound
idealism. And beyond minimal chores at home, we need to ask ourselves
what other significant responsibilities a child can assume: build
a bookcase, shop for groceries, or balance a checkbook. One reason
so many kids this age become whizzes at the computer is that they
know their parents are not. They love being the in-house expert.
PARENTS WE CAN:
children to take on tasks that involve increasing levels of skill
and responsibility, showing appreciation for their efforts as
well as accomplishments.
kids early to a variety of possible interests and talents.
Enlist support from others for their enthusiasm.
for childrenÍs opinions about consequential matters and
show respect for their answer
to show how much you love your kids even when theyÍre being
unlovable„fathers of daughters, especially
Nurture childrenÍs friendships.
Keep your home open to friends. Get to know friendsÍ parents..
Ask children to help set their
own rules, as well as the consequences of failing to abide by
those rules. Enforce consistently.
Quietly observe your childÍs world
and the people in it. State clearly what is acceptable behavior,
allowing as much room as possible to act ñnormal,î according
to your childÍs definition.
Consider young teens
as resources, not problems. Speak up in public for your children
children for the world outside and then propel them toward it.
family routines. Find out activities to do together regularly.
from Work & Family Life newsletter, edited by Susan Ginsberg)