Once the twelve year change is finally done, many teens hit a more inward phase. This can be around thirteen and half, or for some just over fourteen years of age. Sometimes we see this in the way a teen withdraws into their own room, or into their own art or whatever their interest is. Some draw close to a beloved parent or other adult whom they trust and enjoy spending time with, but some teens are almost hyper-critical of their parents, especially their mother, and are mainly just a shadow disappearing into their rooms. It may seem that on the surface that not much makes them happy, so they sort of come across as the Eeyore of the family.
While the media often portrays this type of developmental stage as a teen wearing black sitting in (or wanting!) a black room in a dark mood, I think it is a little more positive than that. By withdrawing, the teen begins to figure out who they are in relation to their family, their friends, their community. He or she protects him or herself from other’s criticisms, almost like the coccoon of a caterpillar so that the teen can emerge as the butterfly later down the road. In homeschooling, I think this idea of the coccoon can extend to actually wanting to attend school because there may be more “privacy” there – an independent life without parents looking over one’s shoulder, or siblings looking over one’s shoulder.
Does this look different for a child raised with a lot of family attachment? I think it does. The really attached children I have seen, no matter what their type of schooling, often seem to withdraw from peers but crave being in the family more, particularly those coveted one on one dates with a parent. They may spend time in their rooms, but also enjoy “dates” with their parents without siblings around, may roll their eyes at some traditions or the idea of family vacations, but still have a terrific time. In fact, I think this age can be one of the times where we feel as if our insistence upon the family unit may really pay off! However, if you have done this, and you don’t feel like this age is working out that way for you and your teen and you feel like you failed, don’t panic. Every teen has a different personality, a different temperament, a different love language, a different level of extroversiona and introversion. As long as there is nothing involving self-harm, being bullied or bullying other people, etc and you feel you have done all you can, then you can hold your steady with your ho-hum.
Here are a few of my top tips in dealing with thirteen/fourteen year olds going through a more inward phase:
- Keep a steady rhythm, especially limits on technology if that is involved, and bedtimes. Meals and eating patterns seem to get more erratic around this age, so I think not just relying on the teen to fix themselves something but to have family meals continue just the same. Your protection is important right now for health and developing healthy habits – this child is not 17 or 18 or even 16; there is a difference!
- Do not push for constant involvement with siblings or cousins or even friends, but do have some expectation as to what their part in a healthy family life would look like – game nights? Dates out with a parent? A sibling day between your 13/14 year old and a sibling? Family vacations- with or without a friend? Do they have to help take care of a younger sibling? I find for many homeschooling families with these patterns in place, things may not shift a whole lot, but for some families it does depending upon the personality of the teen – so again, make your expectations known and be ho-hum about the emotional response.
- Many thirteen/fourteen year olds feel deeply at this age, but their responses can often be one word; they may shy away from physical touch by a parent. Only you really can observe the child in front of you and decide how to approach that, when to push or not push for that further emotional intimacy. Sometimes it is okay for things to lie fallow for awhile; it is okay to be ho hum about things; please do not criticize so harshly – thirteen and fourteen year olds really take it to heart.
- Do plan time alone with your thirteen/fourteen year olds, especially if you have younger siblings in the house. Many teens desperately need time away from younger siblings.
- Teens of this age usually have interests, and if they do not have interests, I think that for the sake of balance, see what interests you can help your teen discover. Encourage and spend time on those, within balance. Many younger teens try to do all the things, and find themselves cranky and exhausted. Protection is important for this age, but so is interest in the real world, in different cultures, in different ideas – otherwise the teen remains the center of his or her own universe into adulthood.
- Teens this age usually grow in the idea of responsibility and that not everything is someone else’s fault. If you don’t see this coming along, that may be something to nurture.
- The most pivotal time for adolescence is the fifteen/sixteen year change, so if you are dealing with things that seem out of the norm problematic, I highly suggest counseling and getting outside help in order to set up a better foundation for that change. Boundaries and consequences, close family times, may be something that is argued about, but also leads to the adolescent feeling most secure.
- Sometimes adolescents need help in calming their emotional life and learning how to be less impulsive and dramatic, and some need help in raising empathy, sharing emotions, forming relationships. Only you can decide what your teen needs.
- Adolescence is not a stable time, and many missteps can happen between the ages of 14-18. Some adolescents really develop critical problems in their thinking about themselves and the world, or develop habits that aren’t healthy. You really need to be around, present, and while maintinging a ho-hum attitude, be ready to provide protection, or balance for your teen when they can’t do it themselves, consequences and boundaries for when they try out the wrong things, and help sooner rather than later if things are problematic. Rudolf Steiner, the foundation of Waldorf Education, often said the times of hearing the inner voice most strongly may occur around ages 19, 38, and 56, so we try to give our teens the best foundation we can in the times of 14-18.
There is much more to say about the healthy development of adolescents, but I would love to hear your experiences. What were you like as an adolescent? Does that influence how you are parenting your teen?