By Mary Jo Rapini
Twelve-year-old girls are the smartest people I know. If you don’t believe me, just ask them. They value what a fifteen- or sixteen-year-old person says, but let’s face it, if you are twenty, you are old and out of it. A thirty-year-old is a dinosaur, and if you’re forty or fifty, forget it. Twelve-year-olds know how to dress, how to wear their makeup and how to style their hair. Many of them help mom dress and appear in public. Woe to the days she comes to pick them up without consulting first on what she should wear. Due to their knowledge at this age, one would think raising them would be easy, but this isn’t the case. In fact, this knowingness they exude is quite shallow, and thirteen is when they usually realize that what they knew or felt at twelve was not only childish, but was wrong. For mom that means thirteen may be a lot worse than twelve.
Raising daughters is tough, and raising sons may seem a lot easier due to their more easygoing emotional status, but appearance is not everything, and boys struggle, too. Parents need support from other parents and they need guidance from pediatricians and teachers, but mostly they need one another to help add balance and discipline to their child’s home life. Kids have manipulated mom against dad and dad against mom for generations, but when you are a single parent your own guilt about not being able to do it all can be a source of manipulation your child will use with the skill of a professional con artist. The key is to be honest about who you are and what you are, and forgive and deal with that appropriately. Sometimes in an effort to feel close to their kids, parents tell them too much of what has happened in their liveswith previous relationships and/or the other parents. This can be a mistake of the worst kind. Kids will and do manipulate any guilt they sense in their parents.
As a child ages, and especially in the teen years, they continue to go through stages of development. One of those stages involves separating from their parents. They do this by looking for differences between themselves and their parents. They focus on morals, relationships, and lifestyles. They point out to parents when they are being hypocritical, as well as when they are parenting incorrectly. They do this by comparing their parents to their friends’ parents, homes, and lifestyles. This is normal, as long as it’s done infrequently and within reason. We aren’t perfect, but we do deserve our teens’ respect. However, when your child continually makes you out as the flawed parent or person, this is not respectful, and you will do your kids a disservice if you don’t step in and set appropriate boundaries. Being a target for your twelve- or thirteen-year-old for disrespect, rudeness, or pushing boundaries is not okay. At this age your kids need really strong boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not.
If you are a parent of tweens or teens and you feel out of control with your child’s attitude and disrespect, I have suggestions to help you get things back on track NOW. Do not wait or procrastinate, believing they will grow out of it. Disrespect and attitude problems are ageless.
1. Puberty changes not only a child’s body, but also the way a child thinks. If your family has a history of mental illness, talk to your child’s pediatrician so he or she can be alerted to possible changes that are not part of a normal adolescent’s thinking.
2. The younger you begin teaching manners, the better. Trying to teach a twelve-year-old “please” and “thank you” is difficult. Positive reinforcement when your child is two years old for saying a simple “thank you,” “please” and “May I” will build the foundation for manners when your child is twelve. Kids learn best when parents and others around them say these polite things as well.
3. It is important you know your child’s friends, both real and virtual. Social media has kept us more connected to our kids, but unfortunately, it has also left us more in the dark in regards to whom our children hang out with and converse with. Parents who don’t monitor their kids’ virtual lives run a great risk of not knowing who is most influential in their kids’ lives.
4. Engage with your kids. This means listen to them, talk to them, do things with them and hold them accountable. The teen years are the years where you need to negotiate with your child in a way to help them learn to be accountable, but never negotiate the structure or boundaries of your family. If you have no boundaries or rules that you enforce with consequences, your teen actually becomes more anxious and disrespectful.
5. If your teen ever is involved with the law or arrested, do not jump in to rescue him or her from this situation. Go to your child’s side as a respectful loving parent and be supportive, but do not blame the police or the law. If your child does something wrong against society, it is important he understands that this is unacceptable, and no matter how much money you have or what color you are, the law is the law. Parents need to respect the law, teachers, and any other authority their child is going to encounter during teen years. Respect is learned in the home.
As I said in the beginning of this article, parenting twelve-year-olds is tough. They are emotional, dramatic, egocentric and strong in their beliefs. But they are also watching, listening, and wanting a parent to parent them. We cannot blame our kids for being disrespectful if we allow it in our home.
– Mary Jo Rapini
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