Developmental Fridays: The Thirteen Year Old

(Life got busy, so this week’s Developmental Friday is today!)

“Every now and then, in fact more or less at yearly intervals during the teenage years, Nature puts on the brakes and effects a sudden and sharp turn in the young person’s behavior. So it is for many at thirteen.

All of a sudden, as we have observed earlier at three and a half and again at seven, there is a marked turn toward inwardizing, withdrawal, uncommunicativeness,uncertainty about self and other people and the world in general, almost a slowing down of metabolism.” – from “Your Ten-to Fourteen-Year-Old” by Louise Bates Ames, Frances Ilg, Sidney Baker

Thirteen year olds typically withdraw physically and emotionally, tending to be critical, unfriendly, and suspicious, according to the Gesell Institute books. However, before we despair as parents upon reading this, the Gesell Institute sees these developments as “extremely positive and constructive” and a sign that the adolescent is protecting his or her half –formed, budding personality.    Waldorf Education also tends to take a positive view of the thirteen year old in the throes of these changes, as the book “The Human Life” by George and Gisela O’Neill  points out that the teenaged years are the time when the intellectual forces come to the forefront, but also  that emotional and personal elements also take a role now

Major Features Of The Thirteen-Year-Old

There is worry about physical appearance, and the emotional self is clearly connected with the physical self

Very critical of Mother but also complains that [most] people do not understand him

Although he or she is  not really satisfied with anything ,  friends are often a happy spot (even though a teen of this age may seem to have fewer friends than at other ages)

“Dating” may come into play at this age and smoking, drinking and drug use do come to play at this age – please talk to your children about these subjects!

Thirteen year olds tend to be polite but not very revealing to adults in general. Standoffishness is often a characteristic of this age.

They can be very active in their thoughts and the things they want to do and may need help with balance.

They are often able to sit quietly with little movement, speech is often slower, not many tensional outlets such as biting nails or scratching themselves, and there may also be changes in vision (the reduction of farsightedness is a physiological process in thirteen year olds)

Thirteen year olds are often are nicer outside of the home than in it, sadness may be more intense, anger is better controlled,  and this is not an especially fearful age but they do worry a lot about varying things

Thirteen year olds’  feelings can be easily hurt, and they are increasingly aware of their own feelings and self but are not critical of themselves too badly and often can list their positive traits,

In friendship,  girls will  often cluster in groups of two or three and can be quite critical of one another whereas many boys will hang out with four or five other boys and do things together

There is an overall an improved sense of responsibility regarding school work (more about that below)

A thirteen year old has a more complex ethical sense than a twelve year old and his conscience is now a “part of himself”;  starting to be able to admit his or her own shortcomings

Comments from the Gesell Institute:

“Thirteen is focusing perceptions into sharp, even piercing insights.”

“Boy or girl of this age is becoming aware of a new focal point, the brain, that seems more than anything else to be the place which is the seat of self.”

Comments from Betty Staley’s “Between Form and Freedom”:

“Many thirteen-year-olds dig into their homework with a strong sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.  During the early teen years, a wide range of interests emerges to meet this new enjoyment of intellectual challenge.

The newly formed intellect, however, lacks discrimination.  The youngster uncritically accepts as truth statements made by respected adults and media, and builds a worldview out of the biases and opinions of those around him.  The worldview becomes the foundation of his or her judgment…..Consequently, thirteen and fourteen year olds often rely on half-truths and undigested facts when they try to make sense of the world.”

Other Developmental Features:  “Most girls have menstruated before their fourteenth birthday, and the average thirteen-year old has achieved ninety-five percent of her mature height.”  Age thirteen also brings rapid changes for boys –rapid growth of the genitalia, and about two-thirds of boys appear with pubic and axillary hair, the voice may deepen in some boys, some may have a sudden spurt in height although few boys will have reached their adult height.  

Eating/Sleep: Table manners are good at this age, most eat well, number of total refusals of food may be lower as well, candy is not craved as much.  Bedtime is normally nine-thirty or ten.  They usually sleep soundly.  Awakening in the morning is also usually not problematic.    There is new precision in cleanliness, bathing, keeping and how they dress (although there may be a contingent of boys who will dress only in jeans and t-shirts).  Keeping a room picked up is very difficult for thirteen year olds, but many times they will do chores.  Boys especially enjoy handyman kinds of jobs

Your Role As A Parent: Generally, a parent should respect the thirteen’s need for privacy and isolation (but communicate if you think this privacy and isolation is not so much developmentally normal but  due to depression, or  alcohol or drugs!). It is important to be careful with the fragility of the thirteen- year- old in how you communicate with your child.  Most of all, time for connection and keeping the lines of communication clear still is very important.  Talk to your teen about  expectations regarding dating and alcohol, tobacco and drug use.  Provide suitable outlets for your teen to expend his or her intensity and feelings of “everyday life is boring” to help him or her  enjoy life in a safe way if you see that they are longing to escape from the everyday routine.  In this age of self-absorption, provide the balance your child needs between busyness and a steady, calming routine.   Be tactful, be reasonable, talk to your child as you would want someone to talk to you. 

I recommend the book “Between Form and Freedom” by Betty Staley, as mentioned above as a good read for these teenaged years.

Many blessings,

1 thought on “Developmental Fridays: The Thirteen Year Old

  1. Pingback: Joyful July! | The Parenting Passageway

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