I recently read an interesting article by Jennifer Powell-Lunder over at Psychology Today about tweens (kids aged about ten to twelve) and motivation. Her big point is that sometimes we have more influence over the views and decision-making of tweens than we may realize.
Tweens are at the funny age of push and pull. They often shirk at your simple suggestions yet seek out your input and advice when you leave them to make their own decisions. One minute they don’t need or want your help, the next they are hunting you down to show them the way.
She goes on to say that tweens can seem irritable or angry when a parent tries to offer guidance to a problem. She encourages parents by pointing out that these kids are still internalizing a lot of our advice and viewpoints. Sometimes they will make the choice we recommended without realizing they are acting on our advice, because they aren’t conscious of this internalization:
It is not uncommon to hear a tween own an answer that clearly came previously from their parent. Quite often the response is information that the tween seemed to reject or ignore when their parent initially offered the proposal.
If confronted a tween will often deny that their thought or action came from a previous conversation with a parent. It is not because they are lying, trying to take credit for something that came from their parent. More often instead, they really don’t recognize that they have internalized their parent’s recommendation. This is in fact quite common.
I do wonder, though, why a child would be upset or angry at the mere thought of finding meaning in a parent’s words of wisdom and then following that advice. I guess it is good news that they internalize our voice even when they feel hostile toward us but why would they feel hostile?
Powell-Lunder seems to suggest that this rejection of parental input is somewhat natural as they turn “to their peers for direction and approval.” I disagree with this position wholeheartedly. No child — no matter their age — should be turning to their peers for direction and approval to such a degree that they would reject or resent a parent’s input. I think this may be the NORM in our culture, but it is not healthy or optimal. Until quite recently in history, children primarily found meaning, direction, and inspiration from their parents and older family members While they had friends, the friends were peripheral to the child’s life and sense of purpose. This is the thesis of Gordon Neufeld’s book “Hold on to Your Kids”. From the press release for the book:
Children today [look] to their peers for direction—their values, identity, and codes of behavior. This “peer orientation” undermines family cohesion, interferes with healthy development, and fosters a hostile and sexualized youth culture. Children end up becoming overly conformist, desensitized, and alienated, and being “cool” matters more to them than anything else.
I highly recommend Neufeld’s book; it’s powerful and persuasive.
I am not naïve. I have an 11 year-old daughter (Claire) who teaches me every day to be humble, to examine again everything I thought I knew about older kids and teens. I see that kids this age can be grumpy as they navigate through the strange and turbulent waters of early adolescence. Claire sometimes huffs off to her room and slams the door; she becomes angry with her younger siblings when they make mistakes that are normal for their development. I have to dig down deep to understand my own feelings about her in these moments. More likely than not, before I can figure out a solution to Claire’s problem, the cloud over her passes as quickly as it formed and I find her singing through the house or painting with her little sister by her side.
Despite this, Claire is very different from the kind of tween described in the article. Claire has friends and she enjoys them, but she continues to come to us for advice and direction. I think she still finds her sense of safety and well-being in her relationship with Philip and me. She does not seem to possess the deep resentment toward her parents that some people think is normal and I hope I can maintain my rapport with her so that never happens. I am working with her on managing her frustration and communicating her feelings respectfully, but she cares about my opinions and seems to seek my guidance quite naturally.
Is it possible that Claire will become nasty, rude, rejecting? Of course. She has her own will and we live in a fallen world. I am glad I don’t have to have all the answers. I don’t have to understand Claire completely. I know God not only loves Claire, but he is actively working in her life and her heart, working through the people in her life, through her gifts and talents.
However, I do choose to reject the cultural view that teens will by nature look to their peers for answers about the world and about their own value; I expect more from my relationship with my children. While I cannot predict Claire’s choices and attitudes with precision, I can cooperate with God in his action in her life by respecting Claire and by taking the time to nourish a warm and open mom-daughter relationship with her. Ultimately I want Claire’s motivations and decision making to be rooted in her right relationship to God. Ultimately I want her to internalize the Christian virtues and God’s love for her, because I know this is the true path to joy.
For great advice and guidance about raising tweens and teens, I recommend:
Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers by Gordon Neufeld
Positive Discipline for Teenagers by Jane Nelson
Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain by Daniel Siegel
Mothering and Daughtering: Keeping Your Bond Strong through the Teen Years by Eliza and Sil Reynolds