How will my child change between the ages of 10 and 14?
Throughout our lives we grow and change, but during early adolescence the rate of change is especially evident. We consider 10-year-olds to be children; we think of 14-year-olds as "almost adults." We welcome the changes, but we also find them a little disturbing. When children are younger, it is easier to predict when a change might take place and how rapidly. But by early adolescence, the relationship between a child's real age and her* developmental milestones grows weaker. Just how young teens develop can be influenced by many things: for example, genes, families, friends, neighborhoods and values and other forces in society.
Adolescents do not all begin puberty at the same age. For girls, it may take place anywhere from the age of 8 to 13; in boys, on average, it happens about two years later. This is the time period when students' physical characteristics vary the most within their classes and among their friends--some may grow so much that, by the end of the school year, they may be too large for the desks they were assigned in September. Others may change more slowly.
Early adolescence often brings with it new concerns about body image and appearance. Both girls and boys who never before gave much thought to their looks may suddenly spend hours primping, worrying and complaining--about being too short, too tall, too fat, too skinny or too pimply. Body parts may grow at different times and rates. Hands and feet, for example, may grow faster than arms and legs. Because movement of their bodies requires coordination of body parts-- and because these parts are of changing proportions-young adolescents may be clumsy and awkward in their physical activities.
The rate at which physical growth and development takes place also can influence other parts of a young teen's life. An 11-year-old girl who has already reached puberty will have different interests than will a girl who does not do so until she's 14. Young teens who bloom very early or very late may have special concerns. Late bloomers (especially boys) may feel they can't compete in sports with more physically developed classmates. Early bloomers (especially girls) may be pressured into adult situations before they are emotionally or mentally able to handle them. The combined effect of the age on the beginning for physical changes in puberty and the ways in which friends, classmates, family and the world around them respond to those changes can have long-lasting effects on an adolescent. Some young teens, however, like the idea that they are developing differently from their friends. For example, they may enjoy some advantages, especially in sports, over classmates who mature later.
Whatever the rate of growth, many young teens have an unrealistic view of themselves and need to be reassured that differences in growth rates are normal.
Many young teens are very self-conscious. And, because they are experiencing dramatic physical and emotional changes, they are often overly sensitive about themselves. They may worry about personal qualities or "defects" that are major to them, but are hardly noticeable to others. (Belief: "I can't go to the party tonight because everyone will laugh at this baseball-sized zit on my forehead." Facts: The pimple is tiny and hidden by hair.) A young teen also can be caught up in himself. He may believe that he is the only person who feels the way he feels or has the same experiences, that he is so special that no one else, particularly his family, can understand him. This belief can contribute to feelings of loneliness and isolation. In addition, a young teen's focus on herself has implications for how she mixes with family and friends. ("I can't be seen going to a movie with my mother!")
Teens' emotions often seem exaggerated. Their actions seem inconsistent. It is normal for young teens to swing regularly from being happy to being sad and from feeling smart to feeling dumb. In fact, some think of adolescence as a second toddlerhood. As Carol Bleifield, a middle school counselor in Wisconsin, explains, "One minute, they want to be treated and taken care of like a small child. Five minutes later they are pushing adults away, saying, 'Let me do it.' It may help if you can help them understand that they are in the midst of some major changes, changes that don't always move steadily ahead."
In addition to changes in the emotions that they feel, most young teens explore different ways to express their emotions. For example, a child who greeted friends and visitors with enthusiastic hugs may turn into a teen who gives these same people only a small wave or nod of the head. Similarly, hugs and kisses for a parent may be replaced with a pulling away and an, "Oh, Mom!" It's important to remember, though, that these are usually changes in ways of expressing feelings and not the actual feelings about friends, parents and family.
Be on the lookout for excessive emotional swings or long-lasting sadness in your child. These can suggest severe emotional problems.
Young teens may be able to think more like adults, but they still do not have the experience that is needed to act like adults. As a result, their behavior may be out of step with their ideas. For example, your child may participate eagerly in a walk to raise money to save the environment--but litter the route she walks with soda cans. Or she may spend an evening on the phone or exchanging e-mails with a friend talking about how they dislike a classmate because she gossips. It takes time for young teens and their parents to adjust to all these changes. But the changes are also exciting. They allow a young teen to see what she can be like in the future and to develop plans for becoming that person.