The developmental stages are shifting.
Traditionally there were four stages a parent had to negotiate before your progeny entered adulthood– infancy, early childhood, childhood and adolescence.
There were some sub-stages within these but essentially that was about it.
Each subsequent stage was about twice as long as the previous one.
That is, infancy went for around twelve months. Early childhood (toddlerhood) lasted a 2 or 3 years. At around the age of four or five childhood (also known as latency) began which lasted about 6 years and finished at around eleven or twelve.
Adolescence then took over and lasted arguably until about 21 when supposedly the responsibility gene kicked in.
Well, hang on to your hats because the last stage, adolescence is starting earlier and going on way past it’s traditional date of twenty-one.
Many child development specialists talk about adolescence beginning as early as eight years of age and lasting well past the age of twenty-two. From my experience, many young males don’t seem to get their adult acts together until at least 25. That means adolescence lasts an achingly long fifteen or so years!
I’ve been saying for years that we’d all better get good at raising teenagers as it is the longest stage by far.
It starts earlier than ever in a physical (5% of girls begin menstruating before the age of 10) and in a social sense (many kids wear adult clothes well before they are emotionally ready) and lasts so much longer.
So what does this long stage mean as a parent?
Here’s some ideas to kick-start your thinking and talking:
1. Make the most of the opportunity years (age four through to 8 or 9) as these are the times to build relationships with your kids, and develop the values that they will return to after adolescence.
2. Get rid of the 21st birthday as a big event. It is now a meaningless excuse for a big drink. Replace it with some type of 25th birthday bash to mark an age closer to true adulthood. (The 18th birthday now provides young people with everything they want including the right to drive, which provides true independence and to legally drink.)
3. Learn to communicate with your kids using the language of cooperation rather than the language of coercion as teenagers by their very nature like to think they are calling the shots. Parents that use language that threatens their need for control either rule by fear or else they get heaps of resistance from kids.
4. Learn about resilience-building and the development of mental health habits as teenagers’ mental health can take a real battering due to a whole range of stuff including mixing with peers; fear of failure and the future; self-doubt; and how real-life measures up as opposed to how it looks from the safety of the classroom.
5. Most teens are chronically sleep-deprived so learn about good sleep hygiene as good sleep processes developed in childhood usually stay with teenagers. Help your person develop good sleep habits. Start with a cave-like bedroom.
6. Get ready to shift parenting gears and for the emotional impact of having a teen. You give birth twice as a parent. Once with a baby and a second time when the puberty fairy leaves a bundle under your pillow and it’s not pretty! Anger and sadness are common emotions for parents of early teens who must come to terms with loss (of that lovely, easy child) and learn to handle challenges to your authority and your self-esteem.
7. Twentysomethings represent the new parenting challenge. Your parenting in childhood will return to either haunt or thrill you when you have a 20something.
8. Love the NOW so you don’t parent from fear but keep an eye on the future so you can move your child down the independence road.
9. Link up with other parents so you can keep your perspective and gain strength from numbers. Isolation is the enemy of healthy parenting. “Everyone in my class is going to the party” has greater cache when a parent is isolated. Hook up with your peers as it will give your greater clout & knowledge when negotiating with a teenager.
10. Be your prepared to play bad cop for your child. Sometimes kids in the early stages of adolescence need a parent who can be their brain and be the NO person. It helps them to save face as they can blame you for not allowing them greater freedom than they are ready for. It’s a lot easier than saying “I don’t want to do that because I feel unsure!” (Not that they would use those words).
There are some thoughts and ideas for starters. There’s plenty more to think about as we learn to handle the longest stage of all.
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