I just might take my daughters to a family counselor when they turn 12. Maybe before. During the post childhood and preteen years, the body is chemically falling off balance as it begins to enter the pinnacle of puberty. Many destructive behaviors emerge and normal, happy, “good” children can become monsters or complete strangers. If you add the extra effects of stress- familial, financial, academic, social, etc- and the cortisol it can bring with it, you have the recipe for the perfect storm.
I was binge watching “Louie” on Netflix. Toward the last couple episodes he catches his daughter smoking weed at 12. The episode becomes a retrospective series of episodes where he recalls his own final months of middle school. The most compelling part for me was how he reacted toward his daughter. He wasn’t hypocritical. He saw his daughter’s actions as an extension of his own. His acting out manifested itself in theft, drug use and cursing out his father. He recalled how a community counselor informed him that it was his parents' divorce that actually contributed to his radical self medicating and destructive behavior. Though the divorce happened years before, it hadn't really gotten to him until he was on the cusp of high school.
The apple doesn't fall far from the tree and I can only imagine how the tweens are going to shake out for my own kids. I wasn't an angel. I was the student with straight A's and 4’s and 5’s on my report card. (The higher the number the worse behavior you had) I acted out. I talked back. But because I had straight A's, I'm certain many teachers were conflicted with what to actually do with me.
In fact I hadn't made the decision to match my behavior with my grades until the promised 8th grade trip to Washington, DC. In the 7th grade meeting at the end of the year, I learned that it didn't matter how your grades were; if your behavior was below a certain level (1’s and 2’s) you weren't going. I remember making the conscious decision to make a change and go on that trip. No more 5’s for behavior and I of course would keep my straight As as well. The biggest lesson in all of it, throughout the 8th grade school year, I'd learned that I could actually wield more power that with my new improved attitude.
Interestingly enough, I had a discussion recently with a close friend about our own preteen and teen years. I was explaining to her that sports may be the only solution for my kids. Although the arts and music may be great, they need to be in an environment where they compete and can work off their aggression in a positive way. As I talked I realized that the years of my tweens that I was not on a sports team, my behavior was the worst. My acting out was very destructive. I remember 10, 11 and part of 12 (the part I was not playing volleyball and basketball) was spent thinking about gangs, stealing, plotting to run away from home and sex. I had a friend who lived in my apartment complex that was older and not the best influence on me. There was an older boy who rode the bus who kept pressuring me to have sex with him in the laundry room (I didn’t). I’ve taken things that didn’t belong to me. I fought with my mom regularly (because I was mad we were broke). Imagine if I’d really followed these people or followed up on this behavior hard core… where would I be today? I wasn’t doing anything minor, I was leaning toward major life destroying choices.
The tween years are hard. They are confusing. They are filled with more freedom and tempting choices. Friends become more important than family (no matter how tightly knit your family is). It’s as though you raise your child and then lose them for a couple years. Hopefully the good parenting and values you tried to instill in them the years prior to 11, 12 and 13 will save them. I’m scared. I’m scared as hell. But I’m not going to be naive about it. I know my girls aren’t going to be angels. I know they will hate me at some point. I know they will hate each other. I know they will hate their bodies, their hair and maybe even their features. I know they will get their heart broken by some jerk. I know they’ll have urges to do destructive things that create adrenaline rushes. I know they may be irrational about options and choices. They’ll lie, they may steal and they may cheat. I hope not, but I don’t want to believe that I will have perfect kids and be fooled into believing they aren’t capable of x, y or z. As a parent I vow to provide positive options; communicate even if it hurts; and act with love rather than conviction.
My hope for them is that if they can have someone to talk to (who is a licensed professional probably) they can find guidance outside of my own mothering that helps them understand their frustrations, fears, hopes, joys and dreams. That they are normal and that they can act positively. I hope that they find strength in the pack rather than going it alone or relying solely on their school friends. Hopefully they value the friendship of their siblings and act positively as a unit; peer pressuring each other and challenging each other positively. I hope they compete and release their negative emotions in a healthy and physically positive manner. Even if they aren’t the best on the team. I want them to learn the value of teamwork and sacrifice. I hope that even though their father and I aren’t together, they can see us as allies in their struggle to morph into healthy teens and adult women. If I can get through three in diapers, toddler life and get them safely through their “girl” or childhood years, I think I can make it through that dark period of the tweens.
I'm a former teacher and former college athlete, currently working in edtech. My mission is to get parents to partner with their child's teacher.