Budding adolescents, ’tweens as they’re often called, are asking for more independence at younger ages these days – from wanting to hang with friends at the mall or stay home alone to wanting to be in co-ed situations without parental supervision. Parents often feel a tug of war between their own need to know that their kids are safe and involved in age-appropriate activities, and their children’s need for increased independence.
"font-family: Verdana;">Again, child-development experts say it comes down to the individual child’s readiness and, of course, teaching the child about the safety issues involved.
"font-family: Verdana;">“I always go back to the fundamentals of child development,” says David Elkind, Ph.D., a renowned child-development expert and author of the landmark book The Hurried Child.. “Brain research confirms that young adolescents, ages 12 to 14, are not good at decision-making. They respond more emotionally. Understanding that, you want to be a little more thoughtful about what to allow them to do.”
"font-family: Verdana;">Kenneth Ginsburg, M.D., a specialist in adolescent medicine at The Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, also points out the differences in emotional maturity between boys and girls at this age. “Generally, girls mature about two years faster than boys, on average. Girls really are more pre-teenagers when a lot of boys at this age are still very much little boys.”
"font-family: Verdana;">Ginsburg, the co-author of “But I’m Almost 13!”An Action Plan for Raising a Responsible Adolescent , believes in giving a ’tween increased independence while also providing a safety net that allows the child to save face while getting out of an uncomfortable or risky situation.
"font-family: Verdana;">When your ’tween asks for specific independence, Ginsburg says, “Ask yourself, ‘What is right for my child? Is he or she prepared? Have I put into place a safety net so that I really know he or she is capable of acting responsibly with the limits I have set?”
"font-family: Verdana;">If you aren’t entirely comfortable with a situation, Ginsburg recommends telling your child this and coming up with rules that will make you both feel more comfortable.
If, for example, your seventh-grader wants to go to the mall with friends, let her know that you want her to stay with her group of friends and not strike off on her own, that you want her to check in with you by phone at regular times.
Then, if something goes wrong, give the child an escape – a way that she can alert you to get her out of an uncomfortable situation while still saving face with her friends.
“Adolescence is all about saving face,” Ginsburg says. “You have this fantasy that your kid is going to say something like, ‘I’m sorry, I’m not going to do this because my mother says it’s wrong.’ That’s not going to happen. But what they can say is ‘My mother is such a pain in the butt. She wants me to come home now. I gotta go.’”
Ginsburg recommends that, starting at age 10, all families can have a code phrase: A ’tween can call home, tell his mother or father something like, “I’m going to be an hour later probably. Can you walk the dog?” The parent would then know that the child is in trouble or uncomfortable and can respond like a strict, unwavering caregiver. “No. Where are you?! I’m going to pick you up right now!”
“That’s what kids want,” Ginsburg says. “They want to do the right thing, but sometimes find themselves in situations they can’t negotiate. This is just the ‘blame me’ method. It provides them with an instant out, where they know they can call you anytime.”