Magazine article Work & Family Life

What's Special (and Great!) about Kids in Their Preteen Years?

Magazine article Work & Family Life

What's Special (and Great!) about Kids in Their Preteen Years?

Article excerpt

Surprise! Our kids are growing up. An increasing number of Moms and Dads at the workplace have children who are "young teens"-also known as "preteens," "middle schoolers" or young adolescents. The years from 9 to 12 are the "in-between" years and they often seem to fall in between the cracks-as demonstrated by the fact that there's so much less written about children this age than about younger kids or older adolescents.

Describe a preteen

One characteristic that defines preteens is the enormous variation in their rate of growth and development. Some are tall, others short; some are physically mature, others not. Many girls begin to look like women while many boys continue to look like little kids.

Still it's hard to make generalizations-- even about preteens' differences-because from year to year so many changes take place. For example, some 9 year olds seem to be maturing quickly, but it's at the age of 10 when kids typically experience some important developmental turning points associated with adolescence. At this point, for example, many children take a huge leap in their intellectual abilities. They begin to think more logically. They apply reason in a more sophisticated way and are able to organize their thoughts so they can solve problems independently. At the same time, they start to understand the consequences of their own actions and begin to think deeply about moral and ethical issues.

Then, at 12, edging up closer to adolescence, there are other changes. "Michael was always so conscientious about everything. He used to know exactly how long it would take to do his homework-but now he underestimates the time he needs," says Donna. "He knows that academics are his first priority but he's totally caught up in school sports practice."

It pays to know more about preteens

Knowing what kids are like at this age can be helpful to parents and other adults. "If I had understood how uncertain and self-- critical young adolescents felt about their bodies," says Jane, "my daughter and I wouldn't have had a fight every time we went shopping for clothes together."

Here are some other characteristics of preteens and some ideas of how to interact positively with kids this age.

Preteens are preoccupied with their appearance. They spend hours in front of the mirror (inspecting their bodies, trying on clothes and changing hairdos) and they wonder what kind of person they are. As Harvard psychologist Douglas Powell says, "[T]hey inventory their talents and traits. To what extent are they athletic, attractive, smart, sociable or amusing?"

Preteens rely on their friends. Belonging to a group gives kids this age a sense of security-and it often seems as if friends replace family as the center of a child's life. Interestingly, as Powell notes, "the groups minimize and discourage differences. They play down dissimilarities in maturation, intelligence, athletic skill and family income." So parents often wonder what a particular group of kids has in common.

Preteens test limits and challenge rules.

They have strong opinions and don't hesitate to state their case. In some ways they're like toddlers, wanting to be independent and, at the same time, wanting you to take care of them, wake them up or remind them about lunch money. As one parent said, "He wants us around, but at a comfortable distance-not hovering."

Preteens want privacy. They don't want to be overheard talking on the phone. They close the door when they get dressed and mostly choose their own clothes (which parents often find inappropriate). …

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