Because I've been counseling teens for the past 15+ years, I've had lots of conversations with friends who are afraid for when their children become adolescents.
For a majority of teens and their families, the difficulties that arise in the teen years are not new. What's new is the intensity and potential danger of the consequences.
NOW: Expecting mom to bring homework that was forgotten at home
BECOMES: Entitlement about mom calling the high school to get them out of detention.
NOW: Talking back to dad now
BECOMES: Yelling disrespectfully at his boss and getting fired.
NOW: Assuming things don't apply to them because they are "a good kid"
BECOMES: Getting into a car with a buzzed friend and assuming they will make it home safely.
So what can you do now to make the teen years smoother?
- Talk to your Pre-Teen. These may be some of the last years that your child may actually listen to what you have to say. Pre-Teens are concrete thinkers, so if you have anything difficult to discuss, now is the time to do it. This includes talks about dating, drugs, sex, body changes, smoking, peer pressure, adoption, or any other tough topic.
- Give your Pre-Teen opportunities to practice. You don't want your child's first experience with credit cards to be when somebody hands them a free card at college. Likewise, you don't want your child's first time thinking through natural consequences to be when they are behind the wheel of a car. By giving your Pre-Teen opportunities to develop skills now that they will need for adolescence, you are ensuring their use of these skills.
- Spend time with your Pre-Teen. Again, these may be some of the last years they don't mind being seen with you in public. Take advantage of these years to build an open dialogue about life. Create wonderful memories together. You and your child will lean on these times when you're going through the teen years.
- Acknowledge the importance of the same-gender parent. Or the same-gendered adult mentor. This is a time where generally daughters more identify with their mothers, and sons more identify with their fathers. You'll notice that girls often hang out with girls, and boys hang out with boys at this time. If you are a single parent of the opposite gender child, don't despair. You may want to look at the relationships in your child's life, and see if there are any same gender adults you view as a good influence. Encourage their relationship during this time. Know that you are still important, and nothing replaces the significance of your time with your child.
- If you have concerns, get help now. I often hear parents of older teens looking back on some of the warning signs in the pre-teen years.
- "We saw his grades dropping, but thought the work was just getting harder."
- "We knew some girls were teasing her at school, but kids can be mean, and we thought it wasn't bothering her this much."
- "We saw her having meltdowns, but thought it was just hormones."
- "We saw him drop 20 pounds in a few months, but thought he was going through a growth spurt."
- "We knew she was angry about the divorce, but assumed that she would eventually move on."
To use a medical metaphor, the sooner a person is diagnosed, the better the outcome of their treatment.