About the time some of my friends’ daughters were turning 10, their moms began venting to me about tweenage angst. “Hormones,” they’d sigh. I hope I seemed sympathetic, but inwardly I was skeptical. No way, I thought. They’re only 10.
That stuff is still years away. Or is it? When my tween began doing his own expert imitation of a moody teenager, I began to wonder.
I’ve seen the news reports that puberty is coming earlier for our kids than it did for us. But I was surprised to learn that it’s considered normal for the hormonal changes of puberty to kick in as young as eight for girls, and nine for boys — sometimes well ahead of the more obvious signs like breast development or underarm hair.
Just because your child’s moodiness may be hormonal, however, doesn’t mean you should label it, says tween expert Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads, and the New York Times bestseller Queen Bees & Wannabes, which was part of the information for the hit Hollywood movie Mean Girls. “You saying to your kids ‘You’re being so hormonal’ is exactly the same as someone saying to you ‘You’re moody because you have PMS,’” says Wiseman. “Think about how that feels.”
She says it’s critical for tweens to know you acknowledge and value their feelings, wherever they happen to come from. That rules out teasing and sarcasm from your response, but it doesn’t mean their rude behaviour goes ignored. “Just because you’re moody does not give you an excuse to have bad manners,” says Wiseman. The goal is to hold that line, while making sure your child feels heard.
“We so often say things like ‘Listen to your kids,’ but what does that mean?” she asks. “It means not barraging them with a million questions to try and get all the answers because then they shut down. And it means really being able to see where they are, and not where you were at their age. You are not your child.”
Easier said than done. Few of us come to our child’s puberty without some heavy baggage from our own. But Wiseman says we have to try to keep our anxieties in check or risk closing off communication.
“You need to practise having conversations with your tween in which you can recognize their growing independence, without acting like it’s a personal rejection of you even if it feels that way, and convey information to them while respecting their need to make their own decisions,” she says.
There’s no question this is hard stuff, concedes Wiseman, but it’s really important. These conversations, she says, set the stage for the relationship we’ll have with our children as teenagers and, later, as adults. “Through that process, your relationship is strengthened, so that your child will come back to you as she gets older and as the conversations and problems become even more complex.” – Kyran Pittman