Preparing for Adolescence

How Do Children Really Think?    Volume 5, no. 4

Something special happens to our children in their early teens, something almost magical.  They really begin to think!

When our children are in elementary school, they sometimes think they think.  Even parents sometimes think their kids think.  But the truth is that elementary school thinking should not be confused with adult thinking—it is truly immature and different than the thinking of most adults.

The great Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget studied the development of thinking in children.  Paradoxically, his findings are often mentioned, and even more often ignored, by educational experts.  Piaget said all children go through maturational shifts in their ability to think, and that these shifts cannot be hurried or slowed by the efforts of parents or the educational system.  They just automatically occur as a result of growing up.

So much for those of us who want to hurry our children’s development by giving them special educational programs.  They may be able to learn more, but they won’t think more maturely.  Piaget called mature thinking “formal operations.”  He called elementary school and early junior high thinking “concrete operations.”  The difference in these two types of thinking lies at the heart of many parent/child misunderstandings.

Let’s examine some very important issues.  When our children attain “formal operations” sometime in late junior high or high school, the way they relate to parents may suddenly change:

  • No longer do children bore parents with endless recitations of minute details about movies, such as, “Then he goes…then she goes…then he goes…etc.”
  • For the time, our children understand analogies and parables.  They understand sayings such as “People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” or “Still waters run deep.”
  • Children understand the meaning of political cartoons on a much deeper level than just the humor of a big nose or the caricature of a public figure.
  • They quit asking stupid questions to which the answer is obvious to any thinking question.  Along with this, they quit complaining, “I don’t get it,” to what appears to adults to be a simple concept.
  • They can wonder, deeply, whether the means justifies the end.
  • They no longer automatically buy into their parents’ value system just because they love their parents.
  • They are able to analyze their parents’ behavior and comment on it from a more objective perspective.

These changes can affect family relationships.  When children are young, parents can yell at the kids about their mistakes, becoming overwrought and overbearing.  The children react by believing what the parents say, and their self-image is lowered.

For instance, in early junior high school or even earlier, little Jason leaves a screwdriver on the lawn.  His dad comes apart saying, “When will you ever learn to pick up after yourself?  You act like you have no brains at all!  How many times do I have to tell you to put stuff away?  Why don’t you grow up!  Don’t you do anything right?”  Jason, a seventh grader, knows simply that he’s a bad kid, slow to learn, and irresponsible.  He shuffles away feeling very bad about himself.

In ninth grade, Jason might reply, “You know what, Dad.  You yell over all the little stuff and blow it yourself on the important issues.  Don’t have a cow (adolescentese for ‘cool it’)!”  Now his dad might yell back, “Where’d you learn to talk like that?”  Jason himself doesn’t know.  It’s not the result of tacky peer relationships; it’s God’s gift as the child moves into “formal operations.”

As kids move into formal operations and analyze their parents’ behavior they often suddenly show their newly-formed abilities in angry outbursts and sharp retorts.  Parents, often taken aback, feel the child is being disrespectful.  But the fact is, the child is just being honest.   Maybe for the first time, children are saying things to the parent that everyone at the work place really wants to say, but doesn’t.  More importantly, perhaps, children are first able to judge truly whether they can handle a difficult situation.  In fact, for the first time, the child’s judgment on issues that affect his own life may truly be better than his parents.

What a change!  And all this happens slowly and quietly over a period of about six months.  No bells, no whistles.  No warning.  When parents have raised basically responsible kids, this change in thinking heralds a time to back off, to let our children unfold their new-found cerebral wings and take flight.  They are well-equipped to leave the nest!  

Helping Kids Bond to School -- or The Importance of the BPE Assembly!

After reading a synopsis of a longitudinal study of adolescents and "risky" behaviors, I just knew you would want to know how to help keep your kids healthy and successful as they grow.  From a journal summary of Pediatric Medical Association, vol 156, May 02 -- "A theory-based social development program that promotes academic success, social competence, and bonding to school during the elementary grades can prevent risky (read between the lines) practices and adverse health consequences in early adulthood. "

The model hypothesizes that families and schools that provide youths with opportunities for active, contributing involvement; that ensure that youths develop competency or skills for participation; and that consistently reinforce effort and skillful participation in school and family, produce strong bonds between young people and these social units."  

Ok, bottom line? ASSEMBLY. The value of the assembly each day for our BPE community and our children is completely underestimated. Our children learn social skills by the structure of the assembly each morning.  They learn to feel pride as individuals and as groups for good performance on tasks, but, perhaps more importantly, for choices of how to treat others humanely. We experience humor together, we grieve together when something sad happens and we celebrate our lives together recognizing the importance of all who walk through these doors.  This is healthy bonding time for this BPE family.  The research is clear that this bonding to the elementary school experience is critical and predictive of future behavior. 

Our bell rings for us to gather at 7:50.  Please, please have your child here by this time so that he/she can participate fully in our assembly.  The sense of disconnect and confusion is real for the kids who miss assembly or who come in late and miss parts.  Please join us and experience for yourself the wholesomeness of this bonding time.  I tell new folks:  "we are certainly physically big but we live small"!  

Prepare for Teen Years by Teaching Your Values Now

You are careful about the movies and videos that your child sees.  But now your fifth grader is going to a friend’s house.  You know that this friend is allowed to watch anything she wants.

Sooner or later, your child is going to meet up with families whose rules are different.  How can you teach your values while still allowing your child to be with others?  Here are some tips:

Make sure your child knows your rules.  Now is the time to build habits that you will want your child to follow when she becomes a teen.  She shouldn’t feel that she has to call you before she eats a second piece of pizza.  But if the kids are going bowling and no adult will be present, she should give you a call.

Take the rap.  If your child is going to a friend’s for a sleepover, call the parent.  As you’re asking about when you should pick up your child, ask some other questions.  “Will the kids be watching any R-rated videos while they’re at your house?”

You could then ask that the parent choose something else.  Or your child might even offer to bring a favorite video to share.

Loosen up a bit if you can.  A month from now, it won’t matter if your child ate an extra piece of birthday cake or stayed up past midnight.  Save your worry – and your effort – for the things that matter most.  Your child spends more time with you than anyone else.  In the end, it’s your values that will carry the day.

Parents make the difference

   Ease the Transition, Prepare Your Child for Adolescence


The transition from being a teenager can be a rough one.  Both you and your child will struggle with his need to become more independent.  You can’t avoid having some stress and conflict.  But there are things you can do now to make the transition smoother.  Make sure you:

Provide a foundation – a safe and loving home environment.

Teach respect by giving your child respect.

Allow your child appropriate independence and assertiveness.  Don’t insist everything be your way.

Teach your child to trust you.  Be honest and follow through on your promises.

Set limits and explain why they’re important.

Show your child how to be responsible for his belongings and yours.

Expect your child to do household chores.

Develop your relationship by spending lots of time together.  Read.  Play games.  Celebrate.  Go on outings.

Spend time talking about difficult or upsetting things.

Parents make the difference!

Source:  “Parenting:  Preparing for Adolescence,” Facts for Families

Study Shows Affluent Teens More Likely to Drink, Use Drugs.  In a study published in the October 2002 issue of Child Development suburban neighborhood kids were compared with poorer urban peers on risk-taking behaviors of alcohol and drug use and found higher use in the more affluent kids.  "Privileged but Pressured? A Study of Affluent Youth" authored by Suniya Luthar, a psychology professor at Columbia University, studied over 300 teens' behaviors and found high levels of use among youth who were under pressure from their parents and peers to achieve success in academics and extracurricular activities.  Researchers also found that boys who drank had a higher social status than those who did not. Significantly more anxiety and somewhat more depression were also found in the affluent youth.

Footnote from Karen:  This study is consistent with my experiences with WHS kids and families.  Many of the kids from our area don't go into extreme crisis during their high school years but in college a year or two later.