One interesting thing that Waldorf Schools typically do in sixth grade (at least in the United States) is to have the students make dolls. These are not put together the way a professional dollmaker would put a doll together, but more from an organic process that almost follows the development of the embryo itself and forshadows the physical development of the human being as it comes to life. From loving nothingness to a small tightly wrapped ball (the head), expanding into the universe as a defined trunk then with limbs taking shape (arms with a thumb and legs with feet) and finally a little being with twinkling eyes, beautiful hair and clothes.
This fulllness of the human being is then echoed in seventh grade physiology, in eighth grade studies of reproduction, and in tenth grade in the studies of embryology. This beautiful expanse of the human being is coming at a time of intense fragility of the 12-14 year old.
It is easy to think that once one is through the nine/ten-year-change, that the floodgates open wide. I have discussed some of these issues before in a series on portals. And yet, there is still a twelve-year-old change to follow, and a fifteen/sixteen year change, which to me may be the most dramatic of them all.
Much like the toddler stage of life, young people of this age need protection at this time. This is the time of the middle school grades in the United States, and often noted to be a very difficult time due to differences in physiological development, peer cliques, and I believe that the use of social media has compounded these issues. Being rather stuck between wanting to be more adult-like but also have the freedoms of childhood is difficult for the child, but also for the parent!
There is a certain fragility and uncertainty in these years that are like no other. Balancing the freedoms often provided to these group and the structure is a navigational process. I believe this age group needs protection from their limitless energy and wanting to do too much. The limits of this age group in doing activities has essentially been eliminated. In the past, one might start playing sports in middle school (and you didn’t get much play until 8th grade) or doing more than one activity in high school. Now children in middle school have been playing sports for years and doing many activities. They need help setting guidelines for sleeping, healthy eating, and more, and helping in meeting those guidelines even when they would rather stay up extraordinarily late or eat only sugary snack food.
So, in parenting this age group, please consider limits. Children of 12-14 should not be treated like an older teenager with all the fun and none of the responsibilities. While there is a campaign to“Wait Until 8th” for a smartphone , many twelve to fourteen year olds are navigating social media sites and media usage. Media should not be limit-free for this age group! Sending nude pictures, sexting, and using social media and texts in order to bully a peer is sadly not uncommon in this age group because again, many of the children this age have no limits in terms of hours on their devices, and parents are not checking phones and computers. One way to think about setting limits on media is to use a device like a Disney Circle; you can see a review from 2015 here; I believe now certain sites can be more easily blocked than what this review has stated. Some parents have no idea what their child is doing on line or that they have multiple used profiles on Instagram or are on Snapchat or other sites. Devices such as these can trail usage across multiple devices.
Children of this age may need help being active in a free and easy way. Many children this age like to “hang out” but the days of 12 and 13 year olds zooming bikes around a neighborhood or playing pick up games may not happen as much in the past. How can this child be active without or in addition to an organized sport? This typically requires free time that has no agenda. Having time to just be protects children and gives them space in this fragile state where they are emerging and trying to hear their own voice and may even give them time to connect with you, the parent. You are still more important than peers at this age. In fact, I think the ages leading up to the fifteen/sixteen year changes may be one of the times you have the greatest influence. So don’t give up!
Lastly, help your child not to be a terrible human being with peers. No, we can’t police everything, and yes, perhaps we were not policed in our peer relationships at this age in the past, and yes, friendships come and go in the middle school years as middle schoolers try to find their own voice and where they belong. However, I think because so much of the free group play of the early years and early grades has been lost and replaced by adult-led, structured activities, children this age are coming into the more socially difficult middle school years with even less social abilities than in previous generations. Help your child to learn what a loyal friendship looks like; is that friend really a friend or not; what bullying and toxic behavior looks like, talk to them about peer pressure in the areas of drugs and alcohol and sexuality.
Provide areas where children MUST show responsbility, whether that is nurturing the home, helping to care for a younger sibling, help with elders in the family, run a tiny business from the home. Too many of the children this age have many toys and a run of what they want to do with no limits, but yet have no responsibility outside of themselves in terms of contributing to the family.
Most of all, just love them. These years bring many changes in development in all areas being human. Remember that this age is not 17 or 18 though, and as opposed to guiding an older teenagers with check-ins, they may need more parenting and limits than an older age group. Being involved in this fragile, almost back to toddlerhood stage of needing protection is how it should be. It is a fine line between hovering and meddlesome and being helpful; boundaries are key to navigating this. If you need help, I highly suggest you make friends with parents who have older children that you admire. It can be helpful to hear what worked really well at this age, especially in those older teenagers that might have a similar personality to your younger child.