Wednesday, September 15, 2010
The Power of the Peer
This sometimes fragile and transitional time for the older child begins a critical phase in development of relationships with peers. In his book Get Out of My Life, but first could you drive me and Cheryl to the mall?, Anthony Wolf, Ph.D. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux Publishing, 2002) tells us that two relationships are most critical to the development of the child; the parent and the peer. But beginning around the age of 10, peers take on a greater role in the tween’s and teen’s development of their self-image. Their true happiness, he tells us, begins and ends with friends.
What becomes hard for many parents and other caregivers of tweens is the disconnect they start to feel and observe. The tween begins to take the parent for granted, sees adults in general as flawed and annoying, becomes easily embarrassed by the parents, and if they do seem to look up to any adults, it is never their own parents. As a result, adults oftentimes feel hurt and angry, feeling the pain of “losing their baby” to the alien that seems to have suddenly inhabited their sweet child’s body. The parents become defensive and then accuse their child of being ungrateful for all that the parents have done for them up to this point. But as experts like Wolf tell us, this disconnect must occur and it must be successful for the evolving child-adult to blossom. The secret is that tweens and teens begin to see themselves as flawed and far from perfect. They then begin to look for the flaws in the adults around them and if they are able to see them in their parents and other adults, they will believe that they too can fit in to their new world. The result will be a successful transition to eventual adulthood. But it the child sees all of the adults as perfect and unblemished, they own self image will be flawed and they will not adapt in a healthy manner.
What You Can Do To Help Your Tween Adapt and Grow
As I revealed in my own example with Olivia above, we take the measures to provide her with a safe environment within our own home where she can invite her friends to come and “hang out.” Immediately following their episode of roadside antics on this one particular day, the three of them retreated to the backyard deck with an FM radio, sodas, and a fresh pizza. We were sure to close the glass patio doors to provide them with the feeling of privacy, yet we made frequent walks past the glass doors to check on them. This is the important job of any good parent of tweens and teens, creating the environment that is conducive to social development with peers and yet far enough away from the parents to give them their own space. We set up clear boundaries and check in often.
Creating Safety for Tweens
The Tween of today feels more empowered than any generation before them. Without the right frame of mind for the caregiver adult, this empowerment can appear to be mouthy, ungrateful and obnoxious. To be successful with this modern day tween, be open to new ideas and relax. Know that the behavior you see is their way of growing into the strong adolescent you want them to be. It all requires you to give them room, create respectful boundaries, and remain close by to keep them safe. For more help, see my book on Amazon; Love, Limits, & Lesssons: A Parent's Guide to Raising Cooperative Kids or visit http://www.cooperativekids.com/