This age typically marks the onset of puberty. An explosion of hormones and a sudden switch to an adolescent sleeping schedule leads to changes in mood and personality. As your child’s body grows, often disproportionately at first, feeling clumsy and awkward exacerbates new levels of self-consciousness. Combine this with stereotypical teenage self-absorption and it’s easy to understand two of the main challenges of becoming an adolescent: – Imaginary Audience: feeling that everybody is paying great attention to you at all times. – Personal Fable: believing that everything you experience is unique to you.
Self-consciousness can cause children to withdraw, become anxious, or stop expressing themselves. Help your child overcome feelings of embarrassment by emphasizing that people don’t notice as much as one might think. Look for scenarios in public, and model self-accepting behavior in your own “embarrassing” moments. Finally, always promote your child’s self-esteem via praise and unconditional support.
Peers become even more influential, and social interaction will likely become one of your child’s top priorities. Increased social skills such as empathy drive your child to interact with diverse groups. This age is also known for an increase in independence and self-expression. Children begin experimenting with different images and personas in order to discover their true identity, but a strong desire to belong makes them fear standing out too much to avoid exclusion or bullying. This latter fear is not irrational, as social aggression and cruelty can unfortunately also spike during these ages. In some ways, intellectual functioning begins to slow as fewer new skills are learned. However, cognition continues to strengthen. Logic, reasoning, and problem-solving develop, resulting in increased memory capacity and an extended attention span. Children can now think abstractly, meaning they can grasp and personalize abstract concepts such as time and morality. Metacognition, or thinking about thinking, is another new skill that allows your child come up with strategies such as time management, writing persuasively, and studying effectively. An important factor is the way the brain grows during this time period. Changes in the frontal lobe (the part of the brain known for managing executive functions ranging from memory to controlling impulses) allow for new cognitive abilities. However, changes in the reward center of the brain also allow for more risky, impulsive behaviors. Such behaviors, combined with an adolescent’s sense of invincibility, can be a dangerous combination.
Help your child combat impulsivity by discussing possible risky behavior. Talk about why they may be drawn to such behaviors and possible consequences. Identify, research, and practice skills to avoid participating in risky behavior, such as mindfulness.