But the thrills and chills don’t end there. What I have described is the nature of the pubescent child’s external challenges. There is a whole other dimension that correlates. This is the internal world of the pre-teen. In here nothing keeps still, everything is being rocked about by the definitive arrival of the relevant hormones.
Girls are getting powerful doses of estrogen and boys, testosterone. These hormones are known to have significant effects on moods and emotions. This means that not only is their outer landscape fraught with unknown challenges but their interior landscape is fast becoming unrecognizable. In a certain very real sense the pre-teen is in mourning for a world of enchantment now left behind. They are waving goodbye to a time when their smallness, their obvious childlike vulnerability, encouraged adult protection and indulgence.
With the aid of rampaging hormones they have turned from cute and cuddly little kidlets into gawky sullen individuals who are fast developing a new physicality that they don’t know what to do with. While all this happening, and while the unsuspecting victims are already down and out, their friends begin changing too and the rules of ‘cool’ are harder to follow and the stakes are higher.
Mourning is now coupled with fear of the all powerful and primal threat of exclusion and rejection. At this crucial time when body image is literally transforming, self-consciousness reaches new heights and the adolescent is consumed with the almost primitive desire to be one with the herd.
Despite evidence to the contrary, now is when parents are most needed. This is a crucial time. If the child is given no guidance and understanding at this stage he or she may never emerge from mourning and their dislocation may cause them to take refuge in alcohol, drugs or other self-destructive behavior. All of these threats are linked to low self esteem and self esteem is never more under threat than at this time of great hormonal upheaval. Your child has left the land of childhood but you have not got permission to discard your parenting role. The nature of it has changed. You may be asked to understand and exercise less instinct and more straight maturity and self control.
Now, more than at any time previously, you are called upon to model healthy attitudes towards change and offer your growing child ways of coping that support a sense of self that will stay with them through all the challenges that come with the transition from childhood into adulthood. You are still very much the custodian of your child’s mental, psychological and spiritual health. The strongest and most powerful way to be present to your child at this time is to keep offering positive feedback about who they are. In the midst of their struggle it is very hard for them to maintain their fragile sense of self. This is what you are there for. Nothing else is more important than this.
Keep communication lines wide open. Develop a way of coping with shocking information that doesn’t show. Nod, smile and reinforce their good points. They are having an identity crisis to beat all identity crises and you can patiently keep pointing them back to who they are. Embrace the changes that are happening to them, especially the physical ones. Yes, your little baby is not that anymore, but it is time to put your nostalgia aside. Focus on what they are turning into and not what they used to be.
Never ever put up with disrespect but practice an awareness that knows that what they have on their plate cannot be easy. Protect your child at this fragile and impressionable stage from overmuch exposure to printed media and television. The endless deluge of mindless material on perfection and the required, made to order physical shapes and sizes, can gain a vicious hold on the pre-teen mind and interfere with healthy eating patterns.
Keep checking in on their body image and how they feel about themselves. Remember that you are a powerful example. If you constantly negate and berate yourself you will teach them to do the same. It is time to break these chains. Who will these young people be without the crippling family heritage of low self worth? Now is your chance to make a difference.