As children approach their teen years there are often changes that can be disconcerting to parents. Children are growing intellectually, and think more than when they were young. A six year old may, for the most part, do what he is told, and while he may not agree with what his parents want him to do, he does not question their right to exercise their parental authority.
By the age of twelve, however, children have learned to reason, and if something does not make sense to them, they will question it. By and large, they think that their interpretation of a situation is the correct one. They honestly do not understand why it makes a difference if they clean the kitchen right after dinner, or three hours later. They may balk at vacuuming a carpet that “looks” clean.
They will debate these issues with parents, who then assume the child is simply being difficult. Really, they are testing out the expression of their own thoughts and opinions. They cannot question classroom or school procedures. They cannot disagree with the decisions of their athletic coaches. They are developing the ability to think for themselves, but there are few venues where they are encouraged to express their dissenting opinions.
They’ve had to tow the line and bite their tongues all day, so it is no wonder they resists backing down at home. If parents get angry and make them feel they are “bad” for “arguing,” they will feel negated, discounted, very angry and resentful. They need to feel that their opinions and perceptions count somewhere, or else they will withdraw into their own little worlds, communicating little, if at all.
We need to be very patient with them at this stage. If we truly listen to what they have to say, and respect their opinions even if we do not agree, then they do not have to scream at us and become belligerent in order to get their point across.
We must show them how to negotiate, and model the process of meeting half way. Certainly some things are non-negotiable, and they will more readily accept this if we are willing to negotiate in other areas. Even if we are angry or frustrated, if we communicate with respect, they will learn to do the same.
If children are belligerent, uncooperative and disrespectful, we must first look to see if anyone in the family is modelling those behaviours. If not, we must show them that they can be heard if they talk in a way that makes it easier for us to hear. We must be willing to really listen though, otherwise they won’t bother.
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