Article at a Glance
Older parents love to warn us about the teen years. But what they don’t mention is that much of the drama and angst the phase is famous for actually begins at around age nine or ten.
“At first I didn’t know what was going on,” says Laurie of her nine-year-old daughter. “She’s normally a sweet kid, but suddenly I noticed she was having these rages, crying and stomping up to her room a few times a month.” When Laurie brought up these outbursts to her pediatrician, she was surprised when he told her the mood swings might just be the first signs of puberty.
It may take parents by surprise, studies indicate the onset of puberty for boys and girls is anywhere from half a year to two years earlier than even a generation ago. For the parents of tweens, this means shifting roles sooner than expected. Tweens and teens still need us as much as ever, but our strategies for communication and discipline need to adapt to the changes their brains and bodies are experiencing.
If your ragamuffin child suddenly starts caring about clothing and hairstyles, this is likely because she’s becoming more aware that her peers have their own thoughts and opinions about her. This awareness is a developmental milestone quickly followed by changes beginning in her own body—a perfect recipe for body image problems.
If dinners have become quiet and your attempts to pry out details of their day are not working, it’s time to shift gears. At this developmental stage, direct questions might feel less like conversation and more like an interrogation. Instead, take a sideways approach:
Even if your ten-year-old has no immediate interest in sex, they are bound to have an academic interest. Social media, YouTube and even television commercials bombard us with messages about sex, sexualized bodies, gender roles, drinking, and drug use. Combine this with a newfound desire for secrets and a reliance on their peers for advice and it is easy to spot potential trouble.
It’s not “the talk.” It’s a continuous and ongoing conversation. After your first chat on a new topic, go back and revisit a few days later to ask if they have questions. Sometimes kids will bring things up in a sideways, or seemingly random matter instead of asking directly. It’s a sign they’re digesting the information, but may not be ready to talk about their questions yet. Try to be open and relaxed about their questions. If you are, they’ll have more trust if you tell them a particular topic is best shelved until they are a bit older. – Dr. Joseph Hershkop
Every child develops differently and perhaps your nine or ten year old is still the gap-toothed, lego fanatic they were a year ago. But one thing is always certain—change is inevitable. Looking ahead to the teen years now can help you spot some of these changes for what they are and respond accordingly.
And remember, your pediatrician is here to help. Now is a great time to start helping your child learn self-advocacy about their physical and mental health by raising your questions about adolescence on their next visit.
Dr. Hershkop is a former New Yorker who really enjoys working with children from birth to age three, and is passionate about asthma, ADHD care, and dermatology. Languages: English, Hebrew