Dealing with difficult tween years

A parent asked me, “My 11-year-old is disrespectful, talks back to us, and unmotivated in school. We’ve tried talking to her, giving her rewards and punishment, nothing seems to work. What should we do?”

My son also had a difficult time when he was 11, just going into middle school. I’ve talked to several parents recently who are having similar issues with their 11 and 12 year-olds.

As the parent said in the question, they’ve already tried various methods. I think that most parents would’ve tried the usual common sense approaches. So I am going to approach this question from another angle.

Here is what I’ve learned from my experiences and studies:

Don’t take it personally.

Your kids are not out to get you, or trying to make your life miserable. They don’t hate you either, even though it seems that way.  It is a difficult stage of life they are going through and parents are an easy target. We are constantly getting in their way, which is our job.

It’s important to know that it’s not personal because it’ll help you with how you respond.

Put yourselves in the shoes of your tween for a minute. They are dealing with two big challenges in life – their hormonal changes and moving towards independence.

Tween insecurity

When I substitute in a 6th grade class, it’s hard for me to believe that a scrawny little boy who looked like a 3rd grader can possibly be the same age, in the same class with the 5’10″-almost-a-man-with-facial-hair student! The physical development disparity is also very obvious in girls. I won’t describe the details, you know what I mean. These physical differences are staring them in the face everyday.

I am no psychiatrist, but this has got to make the kids feel insecure. Even as adults, we often deal with body image and lack of confidence. How much more so for our kids who are just barely learning the ropes of life? Whether they are underdeveloped or overdeveloped, both of which are perfectly normal, the feelings are the same. They are self-conscious, and have problems with self-esteem and insecurity issues that are common among tweens and teens.

I’m not here to give you all the book explanations of low self-esteem in teens. All I know is that it sure doesn’t make for a child who is easy to live with or easy to get along with.

Our kids go through a rough day at school feeling belittled or embarrassed, but they don’t know how to express that in a healthy way. We come in and start asking questions, innocent as they may be -  “How was your day?” and it sets them off with their eyes rolling. We get angry, “DON’T GIVE ME THAT TONE OF VOICE, YOUNG MAN!!”, they slam the door, and the cycle spirals down, destroying our relationship with our children.

Stop the cycle with kindness

So my first answer to the parent with the question of how to deal with their daughter is to be compassionate. Do not take it personally when she is disrespectful. The situation will only be aggravated if you go at it head to head with your daughter.

Take a deep breath when she shows disrespect. Take the high road, be the loving parent, and give her a hug – “You must’ve had a rough day at school. Do you want a snack?”  She will resist you at first, but in her heart, this is what she needs from you. Keep at this approach, and in time, you will see your daughter’s heart soften a bit.

I may also add that at this age, a father’s acceptance is especially crucial. Make sure the father doesn’t come down as the heavy while the mother is compassionate. Have the father on board to give words of kindness and affirmation to your son or daughter. That will go a long way in helping them develop into a healthy adult.

In the next post, I will talk about the second challenge that tweens face – growing independence – and how we deal with that.

Dealing with difficult tween years, Part 2

3 responses to “Dealing with difficult tween years”

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