From Tween to Teen: Understanding their Social, Emotional, and Cognitive Growth

Parenting young teens can be very challenging. The developmental changes your preteen is undergoing at this age, combined with the stress of increased schoolwork and extracurricular activities, can make you feel like you don’t know what to expect from one day to the next. Understanding the social, emotional, and cognitive changes your preteen is experiencing can help bridge the disconnect you may feel and help you through this parenting challenge.

Afraid of Being Different 

Young teens often feel afraid of being different and worry that somehow there is something abnormal about the changes they are undergoing. Your child likely seeks peer support and companionship and wants to act, dress, and look like one of the group. She may worry there is something wrong with her, and she may be hesitant to discuss her fears with you. As a parent, be ready to lend support and reassurance when she needs it, but be aware of your teen’s growing need for privacy, and give her space as well.

Focused on Self 

Young teens are egocentric and often say and do things without regard for the feelings or desires of others. They frequently focus on their own experiences, appearance, and behavior. They feel surrounded by the ever-present “imaginary audience” and believe that those around them are passing judgment on how they look and everything they do. You can help by setting positive ground rules with your child about being kind, respectful, and compassionate, both with herself and others. Model empathy by being a good listener and trying to understand what your child is going through.

Consequences Don’t Apply 

Young teens are beginning to understand abstractions, but they are unable to reflect on the impact of their own behavior. Your child may think, “No one else has ever felt like this.”  This feeling of uniqueness may be expressed by risk-taking behavior, believing ordinary consequences don’t apply. Young teens are also driven to become autonomous and make their own decisions at this stage; it’s how the brain prepares them for adulthood. Help your preteen gain a sense of personal autonomy by allowing him to make his own decisions on things such as hairstyles, extracurricular activities, and learning new skills.

Learning to Adjust 

Young teens develop at an uneven pace, including periods of rapid growth. Moreover, there is no synchronization among growth areas. For example, a girl may be physically developed but have little growth emotionally. Young teens undergoing bodily changes are sometimes embarrassed by them, and this can lead to feelings of low self-esteem.  In addition, hormonal development means that your preteen may experience mood swings, including bursts of boundless energy and periods of dreamy lethargy. Show compassion and empathy for the changes your child experiences, and remind your young teen that everybody develops at their own pace.

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