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This is the time when we can get in early to manage the changing family dynamics before full-on adolescence strikes, rather than trying desperately to hang on to the old order by the fingernails, writes Ian Munro.
It probably starts most obviously with increasingly persistent requests to have a phone. Knowing what we know these days about unsupervised internet access it could be the first pre-adolescent agony that we have.
Although we’ve already started to feel that our management techniques aren’t working quite as well as they have been for the past three or four years as we sense the little snips being taken at the apron strings.
I’ve heard this stage in a youngster’s life variously described as "early-onset adolescence" and the reason why God made boarding schools. It’s that pre-pubescent period when the hormones are starting to kick in.
They’re looking forward to and sometimes dreading becoming teenagers. It’s become an additional period in the struggle between childhood and adulthood; one, as is so often the case these days, that has been skilfully shaped by the world of commerce and technology.
They’re becoming less parent-centred and more peer-centred. Their peer group now begins to take over, providing guidelines as to how to act, respond and dress, and to what’s "in" and what’s out".
While peer approval appears to become more important than that of parents, it fluctuates and underneath there’s still a very strong need for acknowledgement of worth from us. We ignore this at our peril. While the world revolves around the peer group, Mum and Dad still provide certain limits, security and a safe place to come home to lick the inevitable wounds. They’re still very much children in most respects.
This is the time when we can get in early to manage the changing family dynamics before full-on adolescence strikes, rather than trying desperately to hang on to the old order by the fingernails.
We’ll need to start modifying rules a little and to see how that works, to listen more to what they’re really saying and to provide guidance and boundaries that reflect their growing maturity but also their immaturity.
"Because I say so" stops working, so it’s about becoming less the authority figure or benevolent dictator and more of a coach. It still requires us to provide a support system but at the same time to work alongside them helping them pick themselves up and learn from their mistakes. And to have a laugh together.
As with all coaches, there will be times when we’ll be disappointed, even angry, and times when we’ll be immensely proud as we catch glimpses of the person we hope they’ll become.
Getting back to the phone. The answer is probably to provide a not-so-smart phone with the facility for parents to be able remotely lock it to control usage and to track it - as much to know where they lost it as to know where they are.