KIDS ARE SPECIAL
by Ellen Galinsky
Surprise! Our kids are growing up. An increasing number of Moms and
Dads at the workplace have children who are “young teens”-
also known as “preteens,” “middle-schoolers”
or young adolescents. The years from 9 to 12 are the “in-between”
years and they often seem to fall in between the cracks--as demonstrated
by the fact that there’s so much less written about children
this age than about younger kids or older adolescents.
DESCRIBE A PRETEEN
One characteristic that defines preteens is the enormous variation
in their rate of growth and development. Some are tall, others short;
some are physically mature, others not. Many girls begin to look like
women, while many boys continue to look like little kids.
Still, it’s hard to make generalizations--even about preteens’
differences--because from year to year so many changes take place.
For example, some 9-year-olds seem to be maturing quickly, but it’s
at the age of 10 when children typically experience some important
developmental turning points associated with adolescence. At this
point, for example, many children take a huge leap in their intellectual
abilities. They begin to think logically. They apply reason in a more
sophisticated way and are able to organize their thoughts so they
can solve problems independently. At the same time, they start to
understand the consequences of their actions and begin to think deeply
about moral and ethical issues.
MAKING LIFE SMOOTHER AND EASIER
Be careful what you say, especially about your preteen’s physical
appearance. Dads often tease girls about their development or weight
gain and kids interpret this as a sign that there’s something
wrong with them. As psychologist Lawrence Kutner says, “Look
for ways to celebrate the changes they’re undergoing without
If your child has a falling out with a friend or there’s group
re-alignment and he or she is left out, be a sympathetic listener
but don’t try to intervene. Kids need to learn that they can
work things out themselves, that all relationships have their ups
and downs and friends can get back together again.
Because preteens’ planning and organizing skills are still developing,
they may need guidance in using their time. While you might want your
child to deal with the consequences of late homework, for example,
you still have an important role in helping kids learn good study
habits and problem-solving skills. So don’t back down, even
if you meet resistance.
Talk about yourself when you were a preteen. Sharing your memories
helps kids put some of their feelings into perspective and realize
that they are not the only ones who feel clumsy, overwhelmed or frightened.
In single-parent families, it might be good to find an adult of the
same sex as your child who will share some stories with him or her.
This is sometimes an awkward time for Dads with daughters. As Dr.
James Levine, an expert on fatherhood, puts it: “The little
girl who once jumped in your lap is as unsure of how to relate to
you as you are to her.” He points out that emotional and physical
distance go together, so Dads should make a special effort to spend
time with their preteen daughters and then “you’ll have
a much better sense of when to give her hugs.”
CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES.
Try not to criticize or nag about small things such as hairdos or
clothing you hate. On issues that matter to you and have consequences
for the future, take a stand. Communicate clearly and positively to
your child what you expect. Be consistent.
Notice if your child stops changing. For example, some kids feel tremendous
pressure to stop the weight gain associated with puberty which may
be an early sign of a potential eating disorder.
Preteens may seem grownup and independent, but they need you now more
than ever. Really listen when preteens talk to you and remember that
at this age it might take a while to find out what they are thinking
or what is worrying them.
(Taken from Work & Life newsletter, edited by Susan Ginsberg and
written by Ellen Galinsky).