Headshot2011Welcome to our weekly online series on parenting advice with Annapolis, Maryland, expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

Changing Climate at Home

Dear Dr. Debbie,

My husband and I have enjoyed our children, but now that they’re in the “double digits” some tensions seem to be brewing. Our son, at age 12, is already taller than I am which makes the body language of discipline more challenging. He looks me in the eye and debates as if we’re equals. And our daughter, at age ten, seems to be metamorphosing into a grumbly teenager. Both of them are hard to wake up and get going in the morning. They resent my help but I’m pressed to get everyone out on time unless I bark orders and tell them where their things are. We also get into arguments when they’re planning to get together with friends. I know most of their friends and have at least met all the friends’ parents, but when my children mention a new name, usually in the context of getting together, they act as if I’m the Grand Inquisitor when I attempt to get some details. What gives?

Still the Mom

Dear Mom,

Unfortunately, adolescence seems to be starting earlier these days. Some of it is truly physiological. It may be that the hormones in the meat we eat speed up the growth process. Hormone changes explain the cranky mornings and general surliness. Then there’s the unfiltered influence of the media which encourages sassiness and sexiness. Even if your children aren’t overexposed at home, their peer culture has probably been infected to some degree.

As a culture, we’re rushing childhood. Elementary school now ends in fifth grade. Even in the older elementary grades, schools may have a homeroom and different teachers (and sometimes classrooms and classmates) for different subjects. Middle school means an even bigger crowd of schoolmates and more teachers, and fewer opportunities for parents to interact with the children and with each other. Children may have more adults in their life, but less closeness. At school, they are expected to manage their assignments more on their own with minimal adult supervision. Higher expectations can make anyone more irritable, especially at home where it’s safer to lose your temper. The attitude shift you describe might be their way of trying to say, “I don’t want to have to need you anymore.” But they do.

Find some peers of your own to share the challenges of parenting tweens and soon-to-be teens. Start with the parents of your children’s current friends and keep making yourself known to parents of new friends. Other parents can help you be more certain of your discipline decisions, and can remind you that their households, too, have new tensions as independence/dependence conflicts get played out. You’ll also be alert to “red flags” as your children widen their social circles, and be able to either help them be a good friend for children whose families are lacking in some way, or to steer your children away from bad choices of company. Yes, the kinds of conflicts and discussions you will have will change, but your role as a parent – knowing your children and caring deeply about their well-being – remains constant. As they enter the murky waters of adolescence, they still benefit from the protection and wisdom that parents can offer.

Dr. Debbie

Don’t miss last week’s advice about what do you if you think your baby is a genius.

Dr. Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at [email protected].