You may wonder what happened. There’s stranger living in your house. The delightful little girl who loved to dance wants to text everyone, but you, all the time. And, your son, who shared all that was going on and his feelings, barely utters a word. Be assured, it’s not you. Your child’s transformation from child to adult is under construction. Here’s what’s happening.
The Trio of Trials
(Why Being a Tween is So Darn Difficult.)
At school, six grader James and his best friend, Chase, argue about who will sit in the one seat at the table by the window in the cafeteria. Popular and confident, James has never punched anyone in his life. Yet, he strikes Chase – in the face – as his buddy heads toward the window. Why? Because James’ immature brain lacks judgment and sound reasoning abilities. An adult brain would send alerts – flashing lights! screaming sirens! red flags! – “DON’T HIT CHASE!” Clear thinking would prevail. You would have worked it out calmly. But you’re an adult. James isn’t.
Fair or not the executive function of your tween’s brain is only fifty percent mature. The pre-frontal cortex weighs options, assesses appropriate responses, and exercises prudence …when that brain is mature. But your tween’s isn’t fully formed. This higher order cognitive processing will not achieve maximum performance until beyond age twenty-one. Yikes. That’s a ways away. Your child needs your help …now. And he will need that help for a long time.
Chad, an eighth grader, has intense feelings for Amy, a girl in his science class. He loves her fluffy hair, her sweet smile. He thinks of her and imagines… But then he learns from Amy’s best friend that she likes Michael (that nerd in web-design class). Ouch! It stings. How is this possible? How could Amy not have the same feelings for Chad that he has for her?
You know testosterone and estrogen emerge in these middle years and disrupt childhood. By ending it. These unfamiliar hormones jumble emotions: fear, excitement, urges, thrills, insecurity, sensitivity, worry, self-consciousness, curiosity, embarrassment, moodiness. Sometimes all in the same day. Topped off with new body parts and functions: pubic hair, zits, body odor, oily hair, being too tall or too short, not having breasts or breasts that are too big. The wet dreams, the first period, the monthly cycle. And, of course, a healthy curiosity about all things sexual. With no experience to draw upon and with no skills to manage the flux change, your child needs your understanding and support. You know. You have been through this.
In sixth grade Jenny suspects she might be “Goth.” She wears black clothes and black shoes to school one day. The next day it’s back to jeans, a plaid shirt, and cute boots. Jenny may wonder, “What was I thinking yesterday?” Yet, she determines she is not a “Goth” girl. That’s progress. Noted progress. And just maybe, the comfort of familiar clothes or identifying with her friends in the school band will help Jenny discover and decide who she really is. She’s trying to find what fits. She is Jenny searching for Jenny.
Identity is the third challenge. Desperate to fit in and hoping to be accepted by peers further complicate the tween’s search for self. Your child’s confidence grows step by step as the emerging self is defined and embraced. A slow, but steady awakening. Honored by your care and love as you listen to and accept your remarkable child.
Thanks for reading along-