Nurturing Parenting: The 12-14 Year Old

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.




6 thoughts on “Nurturing Parenting: The 12-14 Year Old

  1. Ah Carrie. What a great and timely post! My guy just turned 13 and I am struggling to navigate this time. Yesterday went much better as I added back structure and time together doing fun activities. Thank you so much for the reminder that my instincts are correct.

  2. Thank you for this reminder. I casually said yesterday that my 13 yo son was back to the toddler stage. Maybe I was on to something!

  3. Thank you for this post. My 11 year old daughter, soon to be 12, is really pushing us in every area of life. Thank you for the reminder that this is an uncertain and fragile time for the kids at this age.Do you have some thoughts/experience with crushes at this time as well? This has taken me a bit by surprise, only because up until the end of summer the thought of a crush on a boy made my daughter cringe. Now, she has a crush on a boy in her co-op and I was wondering how to talk to her about it, and to have her not worry too much about what he thinks of her, and to somehow keep in mind that he is a friend, just like her other friends. I guess I could just say that!! Also trying to find some good fiction of kids having crushes,and then just being friends , or having some good resolution to the experience that does not involve the kids becoming boyfriend/girlfriend, like older kids might do. ( I also recently reread, a couple times, your post about Parenting the 11-12 yr. old, that has been very helpful )

    I am very interested in your introduction about the dolls – what would I look for to find how to make them during this 6th grade year, are they the regular sort of Waldorf dolls or something different?
    thanks again for your wisdom – it is always appreciated! Maureen

    • Hi M! There are quite a few dollmaking books out there if you look at Waldorf booksellers such as Rudolf Steiner College Bookstore. They do look just like regular dolls, but I think the difference is the deliberate way it is approached – a sort of organic outgrowth of embryology.
      There are pictures of the dollmaking on THe Parenting Passageway Facebook page as I go along.
      There were also some recent pictures I put up of Main Lesson book pages regarding reproductive physiology in Seventh Grade. Those may help you, simply because one way I approached it was relationship based and how one goes from friendship into other intimate relationships. It is normal to have crushes at that age, but I think (and it depends of course on your family!) is what I have always stressed with mine, is that until you can drive (at least in our area) and you have some income, it isn’t really “dating” and I really don’t expect to see true dating until 16 or so. So, I think what you thought about saying is right on! I think saying this can be normal, but also too pointing out that most boys mature a little later and it may or may not even be on his radar. LOL. And what does a crush really mean? Sometimes I think that can be a helpful conversation – where does that go? Holding hands at co-op? Getting together outside of co-op? In a group? Together? Does nothing happen but she just gets a funny feeling when he is around? I think just those sort of open-ended questions can be helpful.
      I don’t know how many conversations you have had about relationships, etc and this might be a higher level than you want to go, but perhaps this would be helpful? I also recommend Rick Tan’s Biology and Biography, sold over at the Syrendell Etsy shop once she is a little bit older.

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