Beginning at age twelve, a tween (age ten to twelve) develops critical thinking skills. This shift literally transforms a child’s mind from being receptive to others’ opinions into an adult mind that constantly questions opinions and facts. Gone are the days a child just believes what is said. Now begins the jouney of conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information using observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication.
The goal is to help a child develop these skills, not impair them. Impairment can happen by demanding that everything be done the parent’s way without questioning or explanation. While this is practical at a younger age, it doesn’t work during the teen years where peers begin to have a greater influence than before.
For example, it happened all at once for Korina, a parent of a tween. One moment her son was being praised for good behavior and the next thing she knew, he was completely different in an awkward teen body. Not only was his clothing different, but his shoe size rapidly increased, his attitude became disturbing, his vocabulary added new shock value, his interests were unusual, and he became moody. To make matters worse, Korina didn’t understand the difference between normal and abnormal teen behavior. She was exhausted and felt beaten down.
Think about it for a second. Which is better: a teen who questions what others tell them or a teen who believes everything others tell them?
Hormones. Imagine PMS times ten for a teenage girl, or a midlife crisis times twenty for a teenage boy. This is a better understanding of the intensity of hormones running through their body. No, this does not give justification for poor behavior, but it does explain the origin of mood swings. These hormones are new to a tween/teenager. It takes many years to become used to emotional mood swings. This is a process, not a one-time event.
Respect. Respectful children are likely to become disrespectful teens for unknown reasons. With such poor behavior it is easy to make a disrespectful attitude the subject of nearly every conversation but this is unproductive. Instead, begin with the end goal in mind of having a good relationship with the teen. Then, pay attention to what they are really saying rather than how they say it. Find some area of common agreement (however small) it further minimize the intensity and then the disrespect can be addressed. A teen is more likely to positively respond to requests after they have been heard.
Love. Be patient first and then kind. No matter how long it takes for the teen to demonstrate a loving attitude, the adult must continue to wait for them with kindness. This is loving behavior that is fitting for a parent or caregiver. It does not mean that the teen can walk all over someone and be repeatedly rude. It does, however, mean that when the teen is rude, you don’t return the rudeness but instead act lovingly.
Discipline. The days of time-outs are over now so new tactics are in order. For instance, video games are a privilege (not a right) that must be earned with good behavior. If the behavior is inappropriate, remove the video games. The hobbies or activities your teen enjoys are luxuries, not necessities. They can be used for discipline. Yet there must also be an absolute bottom line such as boarding school, reform school, or some alternative program always in your back pocket and ready to bring forward when needed. Don’t threaten this last resort unnecessarily, but if the situation ultimately calls for it, don’t back down. The most loving thing that can be done is to get them the help they need to blossom into adulthood successfully.
Teens are an interesting group of people and no matter how exhausting the struggle, they are well worth the effort. Don’t let exhaustion overwhelm to the point of no action as a parent or caregiver; this is not the time to give up. Love does not give up.