Loosen the Reins
Goldenkb | Dreamstime.com
The tween eye roll, the snarky voice, the morphing change of attitude — it seems to happen in a heartbeat. If you’re the parent of a 10-, or 11-year-old, then you’ve perhaps begun to see the shift. This change, from a child to a not-quite-teen, seems subtle at first. One minute, your daughter acts like the sweet darling she’s always been. The next, she’s a sharp-tongued little vixen who can’t understand why you just don’t get that she can’t be seen standing next to you. Ouch.
It can sting, that sense of not being needed or wanted as much, don’t you agree? Especially when this is the same child who thought you hung the moon just a few years ago. But you’ll find that as the tween years unfold, it’s not unlike that rebellious period that started when your child turned 2. It’s part of what childhood is seemingly about at every turn — our children’s need to outrun us, to gain their independence from us, to stand on their own and assert themselves, even when we don’t think they’re ready.
I’ve heard several friends speak about the shift in their tween-aged children. It can be downright maddening at times. When our kids sass back or begin to challenge our authority, it’s easy to take it personally. Hell, it IS personal. It’s long been our game, our house, our rules. Their snark is a personal affront to our authority.
But if you read the work of therapist Alyson Shafer, it’s not all about us.
In fact, it’s more about what we represent (read “authority”) and our children's need to begin separating themselves from us, to see themselves differently than the “baby” they were before.
We are the living dinosaurs whose knowledge is Just. So. Yesterday. We think our insights will help our kids make better choices. They simply see it as butting in — or worse, telling them what to do. Here’s another reality check. It will continue: the head-butting, the loud disagreements, the feeling that it’s suddenly become “us versus them” for, uh, the next several years.
Maybe more. (Take it from the mother of an almost 18-year-old.)
On the horizon of their teen years, kids this age are busy trying on new personas, determining who exactly they are as their bodies change and their moods become as mercurial as the temperatures in springtime. Since tweens don’t have the ability to determine risks and consequences, we must be learn how to guide them, listening to what they’re trying to say and responding in a helpful, less authoritative manner.
Their need for independence means we must loosen the reins a bit. I had a conversation about that when my son was 11 or 12. I think it started over something like watching movies with his friends. Films I thought sounded inappropriate. But I wasn’t going to be there, so I had to trust that my son would make good choices. I think that was the point at which he said, quite emphatically,
“Mom, you need to loosen the reins a bit.”
His comment took me off guard.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I mean, I’m almost 12. I should be able to make more decisions for myself. I do it a lot already,” he said.
As I gave his comment some thought, I realized what he was saying was probably true. He had always been a fairly responsible kid, perhaps because he swapped every week between two homes. I learned I had to back off a bit and give him more space when he was acting out-of-sorts. I needed to distance myself, too, realizing that much of what he was going through had nothing to do with me and much more to do with his day-to-day interactions with teachers, peers, and the pecking order of life. I had to learn to listen more and dictate less. And those times when tempers flared between us, I had to make sure he knew that no matter how mad I got, I loved him, regardless.
The most lasting thing I learned as I waded into the teen years was the importance of fostering good communication. It’s not easy but it is critical. Kids need your support now as much as they ever have. It’s just a different kind of support, more hands-off but the certain knowledge that you're available when the going gets tough. You’ve been busy building the foundation. Now it’s time to find out how the house will stand.