(this webpage is available as a downloadable guide here)
“What bothers me a bit is the negative vibe around preteens and teenagers. The media has presented a rather bleak picture. But the teenage years are good even though there are hardships too. Teenagers are lovely people, and we should focus on that aspect and not the negative.”
—Katie Malbon, M.D.
The Body of Tweens
· Girls: Physical changes begin around the age of ten or eleven when they may experience clear discharges (it’s good to buy little panty liners). Girls usually develop uneven breasts that even out later on. This is followed by a growth spurt of 2-8 inches that is usually comprised of a big head (swollen look) and elongated limbs. Between the ages of 12-14, girls will begin to develop pubic hair as well as body odor. The changes last in the range of five years stopping around 16 years of age.
· Boys: Physical changes start later for boys—around the age of 12 or 13. The physical changes last around five to six year stopping when they’re around 18-20 years old. Between the ages of eleven and thirteen, they will begin to have changes in their penis and testicles. Erections begin to happen at the most inopportune moments. Boys may also begin having wet dreams. There is a lot of testosterone being pumped into their system. (It’s a good age to get them into sports to deal with the excess testosterone.) The voice begins to change and crack; this lasts a few months.
· Eating disorders are not only for girls. Boys also have issues. There are not too many cases at this younger age. But here are some warning signs:
The Mind of Tweens
· It’s mortifying for kids to have the opposite-sex parent make comments about their physical development. The body changes can bring on a lot of embarrassment, so parents must be sensitive to their child’s unwillingness to discuss it. Pediatricians come in very handy.
· Just as preteens are developing a sense of becoming their own person (around the age of 8 or 9), they also find themselves getting irritable with the sudden physical changes. Parents will wonder, “What’s happening?” but that is part of the process.
· The process of developing a sense of coming into their own can be particularly difficult for adopted children. Not only do they need to deal with their own process, they also deal with the abandonment issue while hoping not to hurt the feelings of the adopted parents. It’s best to see child psychologists who specialize in adoption issues.
· The preteen’s need for separation—the fused unit of being parent and child—requires privacy, respect, autonomy, and the need to be left alone. Parents need a large part of tolerance for their child as well as respect for themselves as this separation happens.
· This is a big transitional time when peers matter—they matter a lot—so parents need to be mindful of respecting the value of their child’s social interactions.
· Tweens don’t want to dispel the illusion that everything is perfect and kids don't want to break that illusion.
· Fears are a common occurrence for tweens. Before the age of seven, it’s about ghosts, vampires, monsters and other things that don't exist. We need to validate genuine fears—things that could really happen such as fires, robberies, terrorist attacks and such—without going overboard.
The Academic World
· Besides academics, the big issues tweens confront daily in school are socialization, self-esteem and organizational challenges.
· Some experts say there has never been a harder time to be a kid with information coming at them very fast.
· Most kids think that at least one teacher hates them—true or not. And most beautiful girls feel that at least one person in school hates them.
· In order to thrive, children need to feel a sense of belonging and significance in school.
· Sandra Clifton: “As I teach in all of my work, the limbic system can shut down when students don't feel safe, and it creates havoc in the effort of learning, because the mind suddenly shifts from a potential to thrive to just survive.” Tweens need safe spaces in order to thrive.
Tweens and Sleep
· It’s typical for tweens to struggle with sleep due to fears—The Black Cat Phenomenon.
· Tweens need to maintain good sleep hygiene. Reduce stimulation gradually before bed time—no TV, or the mobile phone by the bed. Introduce mindfulness or bedtime meditations. Play a CD with nice background sounds.
· They need a good amount of hours of sleep to feel energized and ready to engage.
Tweens and Therapy
· We need to normalize the idea of seeing a therapist. In fact, everyone should see a therapist at one point in their lives. If we change the oil for the car, a therapist can do the same thing for our internal world.
· Yes, there is some shame around going to therapy. A child might wonder, “Is there something wrong with me?”
· It’s important to do the research to ensure the therapist fits your child’s gender, age, sensitivity, temperament. Ensure the therapeutic approach is appropriate for your child.
· The parent can say, “I'll be right there with you. If it's something you want to continue doing, you can or you can stop.”
· Approach the idea of doing therapy by offering, “We’re not getting along. We’re in conflict. Together, let's take it to someone else since we need help to resolve some of our issues. I see you’re going through a lot, and I’m not an expert to give you the help you need. We can see someone with the skills to help both you and me. And someone who can be fair so that you’re heard.”
Tips for Communicating
· When children felt listened to and understood, then they’ll begin to listen.
· Be aware of your non-verbal ways of communicating. Children see everything even though they’re not good at drawing conclusions. Also, remember that listening is also a big part of communication. And don’t talk at your children—talk with your children.
· Things you must avoid: Sarcasm, guilt-tripping, trivializing (particularly the school experience and social interactions) and power struggles. Preteens are willing to “play dirty,” and parents don’t want to go there because parents will not want to play dirty.
· Family games are a great way of connecting at this age. During the course of playing, you can engage in deep and meaningful conversations. (Boy-expert Dr. William Pollock calls it moments of “action-love.”)
· Connect with your child by playing a game of sharing your day—good and bad.
· During your weekly family meeting or other regular time of connection, you could ask your child, “What was the coolest thing you did in school this week?” or “What do you feel you’re good at?”
Parenting Strategies and Other Ideas
· It’s normal for parents to feel hesitant talking about sex and other tough topics.
· Parents should take the opportunities presented in books, TV shows, or movies. Ask your child, “What do you know about sex?”
· It’s also normal for parents to worry about the physical changes—happening soon or not soon enough.
· Your kid wakes up at nine years of age to find they have a miserable roommate—us! “Check yourself before you wreck yourself.”
· When coming up with setting limits, make your preteen part of the conversation to ensure you’re not setting yourself up for power struggles.
· In order for your child to feel okay as he or she grows through this awkward stage, find something that anchors him or her—a family ritual, a special hobby or something like it.
· If your child is too “grown up” for the old family rituals (such as reading together), try finding new ones. For example, at bedtime when the lights are out, you could sit at the edge of bed and simply ask, “Hi. I’m just checking in with you. Is there anything you want to tell me?”
· Build your child’s sense of appreciation and personal pride by asking, “What are five things you are proud of and five things that are highlights for the month?”
· Always let your child know that you’re available. Even if they don’t take advantage of the opportunity, they will be grateful you’re there.
· Create a support system for raising your child. Members can include your partner, other family members, your child’s teacher(s), the pediatrician, a trusted adult who may be the parent of your child’s best friend, etc.
· When it comes to engagement, it’s best to lower your expectations for having the deep bonding conversations such as ones that might have occurred in the past.
· Acknowledge the great things your child does and say them again and again, “Thanks for being on time.” “I appreciate you took out the trash.” “I’m glad to see how much effort you’re putting into your homework.”
· When it comes to technology, it’s okay to remind your child that you’re the adult at home and responsible for paying bills and such. Therefore, you can put rules on their use of technology.
· “Teach your children to be kind.”
· “Be kind to yourselves.”
· “My father loved me enough to let me hate him.”
· “Let the message of love come through.”
Books and Other Resources
The Whole Brain Child by Daniel Siegel
Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain by Daniel Siegel
Positive Discipline by Jane Nelsen
Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown
The Myth of the Perfect Girl by Ana Homayoun
That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week by Ana Homayoun
What's Happening to My Body? Book for Girls by Lynda Madaras
What's Happening to My Body? Book for Boys by Lynda Madaras
Friend or Parent? article by Jane Nelsen
The Defiant Child: A Parent's Guide to Oppositional Defiant Disorder by Douglas Riley
The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty website page
Raising Social Media Savvy Kids by Dr. Katie Malbon from Tribeca Pediatrics
Sandra E. Clifton, M.Ed., PCC
Founder, Clifton Corner
After teaching upper school English, drama, and speech, Sandra established a private practice in Park Slope as an educational therapist and school consultant. For the past seven years, Sandra has worked with clients to inspire the joy of learning for the whole child, and she specifically supports the journey of The Highly Sensitive & Twice-Exceptional Student. Certified as a Master Trainer of Emotional Literacy with Yale University, Sandra creates "Happiness Circles" for schools and community organizations through the tools of mindfulness and positive psychology.
TJ Gold, M.D.
Senior Pediatrician, Tribeca Pediatrics
TJ Gold is a nutrition and behavioral specialist with a focus on toddlers, tweens and adolescents. She spent several years as a network television news and medical reporter before following her dream to become a pediatrician. After attending the University of California at Berkeley, she completed her pediatric internship and residency training at the State University of New York (SUNY) Downstate Children’s Hospital.
Before joining Tribeca Pediatrics (where she is also the senior provider for their Park Slope location), Dr. TJ worked in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of the Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center where she had formerly been an Attending. She is currently a medical media consultant and contributor for the New York Times, The Huffington Post, OTCsafety.org, Graco, MyFirstBaby.com, Argington, and various medical websites. Dr. TJ lives with her husband and child in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
Kari Groff, M.D.
Child and Adult Psychiatrist
T: (646) 469-9209
Kari Groff is a child and adult psychiatrist practicing in Park Slope, Brooklyn. She completed her fellowship in Child and Adolescent psychiatry at the NYU Child Study Center. Prior to moving to New York, she trained at the esteemed Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania. Kari has a strong interest in conflict resolution and helping families stay together happily, mindfulness in everyday living, and developing comprehensive treatments that include non-medicinal therapies for the treatment of anxiety and depression. Kari is an avid fiddler, violinist as well as children’s songwriter. You can find her playing the fiddle at the Grand Army Plaza farmer's market on the weekends or listen to her music at www.thebrightersiders.com.
Katie Malbon, M.D.
Pediatrician (Adolescent Specialist), Tribeca Pediatrics
T: (347) 276-3067
A UK-trained pediatrician, Dr. Katie Malbon completed her medical school training at Manchester University, England in 1997. Prior to moving to New York in 2007, she worked as a general pediatrician with a special interest in child protection. Dr. Katie completed a Fellowship in Adolescent Medicine at Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center (MSAHC), where she continued to work as an Attending until the summer of 2013 when she began work at Tribeca Pediatrics seeing children of all ages but focusing on teen services.
During her time at MSAHC she developed “Text in the City,” an innovative text-messaging program for teen patients, which enabled teen patients to access instant health education and to have a better connection with their “health home.” In 2010, she earned a scholarship with the NY Sexual Assault Alliance and has since worked in emergency departments as a sexual assault forensic examiner. Dr. Katie is an active member of the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine; she is currently President of the NY State Chapter.
Kristian Orozco, CPC, ELI-MP, C-SEI
Certified Parenting and Family Coach
Director and Founder, The Boyhood Project
M: (917) 553-9138
Kristian is a certified parenting and family coach specializing in social and emotional literacy. In addition to offering parent and family coaching services as well as facilitating parenting classes and workshops, Kristian works with preschools and elementary schools in providing a social-emotional literacy program for students, Positive Discipline in the Classroom workshops for educators, and seminars for the school’s parent community.
A graduate of the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC) and the Institute of Social and Emotional Intelligence (ISEI), Kristian is chair of the Park Slope Parents Tweens Group Advisory Board, and a member of Friends of Park Slope Library (FOPSL). He has been a featured guest on various Blog Talk Radio, Web Talk Radio, and cable television shows, has guest blogged on sites like The Good Men Project, and is host of the monthly teleclass Raising Boys Today. Kristian lives with his wife and two sons in Brooklyn, NY.