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Specializing in Gottman MethodTM Couples and Marriage Counseling

Posts Tagged ‘12 year olds’

Fostering Independence in Your Adolescent

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

My husband and I are approaching our son’s budding adolescence in very different ways.

He really misses the days when our only child wanted to be with us, curled up with us on the couch watching TV.  He is melancholy about not being numero uno in his life and being ousted from that spot by a best friend.  Our child’s moods and changing interests have caught my husband off guard.  He wasn’t prepared for his own emotional roller coaster during this tumultuous time.

I, on the other hand, am not getting caught up in nostalgia.

While I loved all of those  things, I am loving the independence and growth our 12 year old is experiencing.  Maybe it’s because I clearly remember the exhilaration of being 12 and exploring the world, well, at least my little piece of the world.

Back in the dark ages we had much more freedom than kids today.  I remember the thrill of riding the bus into town by myself and being able to go into the department store all alone.  Riding my bike meant travelling all over and  doing crazy stunts and sometimes not coming home until after dark.   I could cook an entire meal without scalding myself or burning the house down and it made me feel very grown up.  My best friend was my constant companion and the crush I had on a boy named Jimmy was all-consuming.  Yep, 12 was pretty darn exciting.

What I don’t remember about being 12 was feeling incompetent or being criticized by my parents for my 12 year old-ness.  I’m quite certain I wasn’t as savvy as my memory recalls.  Truth is, I probably was quite nervous when I first rode the bus, ran home in the dark or cooked a meal for the first time.

I am forever grateful that my parents appreciated my independence rather than trying to keep me more child-like.  This wasn’t necessarily a well thought out  parenting strategy on their part.  They both worked and it was just assumed that the kids would step up to the plate.  It’s now different than in the dark ages, but I still want to impart a feeling of competence and acceptance in my child’s development.

Children always let us know one way or another that they are ready to take a leap in development, either with their words or behaviors.

It shows they are learning to reason and think independently. It is important for parents to realize that forbidding freedoms they are requesting makes them all the more appealing.  Keeping an open line of communication is my preference for handling these issues.  Because I don’t want to learn of behaviors ex post facto, I have worked hard at making it safe for my son to tell me what is going on in his world.  Reactivity and always saying no to their requests is a sure ticket to acting out, rebellious behavior committed on the sly.

My strategy is simple and involves only two words, “Yes, but . . . . “.

A few months ago he came home from school and asked me if he could have a girlfriend.  Ok, I have to admit my first reaction was a vision of some scantily clad tramp being very  inappropriate with my sweet boy, but I quickly snapped back to reality.  His nervousness in telling me was priceless.  He was reaching out for a little guidance and if I said anything remotely negative I would be closing the door on advice giving, forever.  If I said “no, you are too young” he would probably just seek advice from his friends and hide his girlfriend from me.  So I said “yes, but” and defined the limits of what a girlfriend means at this age.

We have had a million “yes, but” moments in the last few months.  Mom, can you leave my room now?    Can I go to Wendy’s for a Frosty?   Can I stay out a little longer?  These are terrific opportunities to allow for growth yet set appropriate boundaries.

Don’t get me wrong, we still say no too.  Safety is never a time to compromise, but don’t confuse normal, age appropriate risk with unsafe situations.  Our job as parents is to raise independent kids.  Of course they will make some mistakes, but if they are small, don’t worry.  On the other hand, what seems like a great idea to an adventurous 12 year old may make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.  The key is to not belittle them in the process of setting a firm limit.

I understand my husband’s feelings.  This is the age where we start to let go a bit and we move into unfamiliar territory.  It is bittersweet.  If we have done a good job of instilling values and have worked on keeping communication safe and open, letting go really means keeping them close by. The relationship between parent and child can blossom into one of mutual respect.

 


Couples Counseling and Psychotherapy Associates provides service to Kingwood, Humble, Atascocita, Porter, Fall Creek, Summerwood, North Houston and surrounding areas.

Couples Counseling & Psychotherapy Associates

2330 Timber Shadows Drive
Suite 106
Kingwood, Texas 77339
Ph: 281-812-7529

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