Lucky Thirteen

Moving forward from my previous newsletter article which focussed on the power of play and how children are ‘wired to play’ I now delve into the mysteries of adolescence and the challenging and also rewarding age of thirteen. It is not always when they are thirteen, although as parents we will all face this with our children to varying degrees between Year 6 and 8, in particular. My own family is deeply entrenched in the ‘lucky thirteen’ space at the moment!

Michael Grose the founder of Parenting Ideas and author of over 10 books on parenting, identifies the age of thirteen as crucial for heightened awareness by parents as they navigate this pivotal time. Grose describes thirteen as a time of rebirth from child to teen and stipulates that they will need a great deal of support and confident, firm parenting. What does firm parenting actually look like at this delicate stage? Your newly emerging teenager will need a mixture of understanding, guidance, boundaries and nurturing by their parent/s as they make their way through this rather tumultuous time. Just like when they were infants, the young teen will need the reassurance that you will be there for them and that most importantly, that they can depend on your support when it is needed. 

Grose identifies ten strategies that parents should consider at this important developmental stage.

Watch for the Swings

At a time of enormous change physically, socially and emotionally, controlling emotions and behaviour consistently is very difficult. At one moment there will be enormous periods of dependence upon their parents followed by surprising capability and independence. For a parent, these swings can be confusing and unpredictable as your child moves from telling you that they don’t need to be reminded about packing their PE uniform to the next moment where the child is criticising you for not showing enough interest in their friends or what they do. Try to stay out of arguments and be there to support them.

The Two Faces They Wear

At the age of thirteen, many children still fluctuate between still being a child and being a teenager. Behaviour such as still playing with some of their childhood toys are then starkly contrasted with experimental behaviour with cigarettes, truancy and socialising with older children.

Many Live in the Now

At this age with rapid changes occurring, many adolescents have the childlike tendency to live and think in the now. Consequently, short-term challenges and difficulties seem overwhelmingly permanent and only the worst possible consequences are thought of. Look to break down what seems to be an insurmountable task into smaller more manageable pieces.

Girls can Regress More than Boys

Grose describes the growth of the thirteen-year-old brain as rebuilding itself and being rewired. This in some way explains why new teens become baby-like, moody and disorganised. At one moment they want to be closer to you than they have for some time; and then at another time they seem argumentative and more difficult than in the past. Enjoy the opportunity to be close to your child as this may not last. 

Boys Challenge Their Mothers

At this age there is a change in the relationship between many boys and their mothers. The need to stand alone and not simply comply in the manner they have, is all part of the process. Some mothers will experience a challenge to their authority, but Grose advises us to take a firm stance and accept no nonsense, whilst being kind and nurturing at the same time.

Be Prepared to be the Bad Guy

Whilst thirteen can be the beginning age where risk-taking behaviour increases, there is a need for firm boundaries to be set to ensure their safety. At times you will be criticised for not allowing the same sorts of liberties that their friends’ parents allow. It is perfectly acceptable to be the bad guy, when it means that your child is safe. Yes, it is a Sherlock Holmes approach, but it will be worth it!

They’re Very Sensitive to Criticism

Providing advice and feedback to a thirteen-year-old can be very difficult. As the child attempts to come to terms with their heightened emotions, any advice or feedback can be deemed as criticism and a personal attack. In order to help a teen, determine whether criticism is real or perceived, it can be helpful to remind them to think with a little more objectivity.

Make Sure You Spend Time Together

One-on-one time, and family time are important buffers against the anxiety and uncertainty that faces our emerging teens. This can also be a time where independence from certain rituals may be acceptable but the largest non-negotiable according to Grose, is the sharing of family meals. 

He points out that “there is a high correlation between good teenage mental health and those who share at least six mealtimes with their family each week.”

Encourage Their Maturity

Positive reinforcement is an excellent motivator and as humans we all crave it. By rewarding positive behaviour with positive reinforcement and encouragement, it provides a guideline towards the direction you want them to head in.

Getting the Parenting Mix Right

Grose stipulates here that “You need to know when and where to be the good cop and the firm cop.” In doing so you should also expect to experience some backlash and endure some temper tantrums that are synonymous with early adolescence.

Like every age level, your children only turn thirteen once. Many parents cringe at the thought of the drama and the uncertainty that surrounds the transition from child to teenager. We should all embrace this fascinating, dramatic and important year. 

They will only be thirteen once! 

Simon Edgar
Head of Junior School 

Reference: Michael Grose’s parenting blog on parenting ideas