There was an article in July that I wrote about in the post “Blossoming” . The article basically stated that mothers were actually MOST depressed during the “tween” years when children were ages 11-12. I summarized the article in part, saying:
“… mothers of tweens (ages 11-12) are the most depressed group of parents as their children go through physical and emotional changes, trying to separate by pushing boundaries, and how marital satisfaction is at its lowest for women (and how often these changes for children come in the midst of when we are changing the most in adult development as well). The linked article also mentions the exhaustion from driving and the children’s activities. “
There was another article recently going around Facebook on this topic, which brought it up again for me, but I can’t find the link to the article anymore. At any rate, it made me think about this topic again as I have both a 15 year old and a 12 year old, and it is easier to see the differences in these ages when you have both in your home!
I think this stage can be beautiful, although many mothers have written to me and spoken with me and have found that having a child ages 11-12 or so is very difficult. They find themselves with a child who is constantly pushing boundaries, who is distant, who wants to be with friends, who rolls their eyes at “baby-ish” things, who doesn’t seem respectful. In my experience, most of the mothers who are having a hard time are having it with girls. I rarely hear from mothers of boys of this age with these kinds of challenges ( but I hear from them when their boys are 13-14 years old!)
My thoughts are to consider that an 11-12 year old, whilst most certainly changing, is not at all the same developmentally as a teenager who is 15 or 16 or older. Every child develops at a different rate, but it seems to me that most developmental changes accelerates around the 15 and a half/16 year change onward, and there are baby steps at 12 and 14 in this developmental process. This is written about rather extensively in the literature of Waldorf Education.
So, if this is the case, it may be that whilst the body is changing rapidly, the neurobiology of the brain is not changing that rapidly yet. Soley based in neuroscience, the brain changes the most between the ages of 13 and 17. Neuronal sprouting and pruning of neurons does begin around age 11 in girls and age 12 in boys, but the majority of changes are still ahead. The second to last paragraph in this interview even talks about the differences between 13 and 15 year old brains, and there is a dramatic difference.
So I feel some of the difficulties do not lie in biology, but in culture, and in how we often treat “tweens” like teens and how some tweens want to do things that used to be associated with the teenaged years. Everything is more accelerated. So, eleven to twelve year old girls now are often thinking about peers, boyfriends, makeup, navigating schedules of study and extra activities that would often put an adult to shame, and either are fighting against boundaries or the opposite – living in a household where there are very few boundaries at all. (FYI, teachers write to complain to me more about the latter). This is at a time when I feel personally, that children should still be in the height of playing outside, riding bikes, being immersed in the life of the family.
Of course every child is different. Sometimes what often happens here besides the acceleration of culture, is how the individual personality and interests of the child meshes with the culture of the family. Some children are just more intense than others or react to different stages of development different than other children. It happens, and it is okay. Honoring our children is important!
When I am struggling with one of my own children in this age range, I ask myself these questions, and I often ask these questions of parents who email me or call me as well:
- What is your rhythm? Children this age still need a strong rhythm with rest and sleep and downtime. Sleep is critical to the brain and development.
- Does the child have a schedule that is overloaded outside of the home? If things are not going well within the family, they may actually need more time within the family rather than less.
- What are your boundaries? Are they consistent? Listening is super important, as is guiding, but boundaries are also important, especially around the issues of peers and media. Children of this age really do need to know the rules of the family, and this helps guide them. Some children need help not accelerating into more teenaged type things, because they really don’t have the maturity to handle it at only 11 or 12 years old. Sometimes on this topic, I ask myself, “What does my child need to hear from me?” (and sometimes what they need to hear is different than what I really want to say! LOL)
- The age of eleven to twelve should still be the heart of play, even though it is not appearing popular that 11 and 12 years should still be playing with dolls or wooden figures or whatever. I would encourage parents to keep toys accessible if a child of this age says to “get rid” of whatever toys have been their favorite but are now considered somewhat “babyish”. They may want these toys at a later date, so keeping them up but still reachable can help. Encourage time to just be.
- Physical activity is extremely important. Park dates, kayaking dates, hiking dates, climbing dates, chances for skiing and skating and more are so important. Some 11 to 12 year olds really need a push.
- What responsibility does your 11-12 year old have in the home? This needs to be a priority. The home priorities need to be fulfilled before the outside the home priorities.
- What is going on with media? I feel many 11-12 year olds have WAY too much technology access with too little boundaries. Technology does affect the brain, and it can be addictive. Some children seem more prone to this than others. Why approach this with no boundaries? I still personally feel 14 is a better age to introduce technology, and to introduce it within the context of work for classes rather than a diversion to play on.
- Encourage and open areas of interest within maturity level and interest. Many 11 to 12 year olds seem to be interested in things outside their home; although some are not. If there is interest in multiple things as some children have, you may have to limit activities in order to not overschedule. It is okay to have only one activity a semester, especially for a child this age. They are not in high school yet!
- Encourage time with the family. Peer time can and should be limited for this age. Children of this age may want to be with their peers a lot, but the true concern for friends outside of the family and some separation from the family is more appropriate around the ages of 16-18, which is a natural progression toward impending adulthood. An 11 or 12 year old is not yet 16, nor are they 18. I think this is an area where boundaries, again, are appropriate. Also, if your child is using technology to contact friends that may also need to be monitored carefully.
- This is really important: what do you do outside of your children? Where is your community and support? How many things do you do without your children, if this is important to you? As your children get older, it is important to develop interests and friends independent of your child. This is imperative for many mothers in order to stave off depression.
- I always ask myself, is this really about me? Part of this encourages me to see things more neutrally, as in not everything a child does is specifically or personally against me, but encourages me to look and see – is it our personalities clashing over an issue? Is it really just me ? What can mitigate this conflict?
- What can I do to increase that connectedness between us? It may be they need one on one time with me, they may need me to put my foot down on a boundary and be secretely relieved when I do, they may need space to just be. Every child and family is different!
- Lastly, if you are married, work on your marriage. Have a date night. Enjoy each other and re-discover why you were attracted to your spouse in the beginning. No home is perfect, no marriage is perfect, but working on a relationship with your significant other if you have one, brings stability to a child going through changes who needs you to hold the line for a few more years until separation and a true adolescence begins.
Keeping in mind that your 11 and 12 year old are actually more little than big can be a help in relieving parental stress during these years, with the knowing expectation that changes are coming at the 16 year old change.
I would love to hear your experiences. Please comment below, and also feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Blessings and love,