You know what’s coming: the teen years, and all the ups and downs they’re famous for. If you feel relieved that there aren’t 13 candles on your daughter’s cake just yet -- one more year to go -- you might want to think again. Some of those changes may already be happening.
If it hasn’t started already, puberty is just around the corner. As it begins, your daughter will start a growth spurt. She’ll get taller, her hips may widen and her waist narrow. Her breasts will begin to develop, and she’ll start to grow hair in places she’s never had much before – in her pubic area, under her arms and on her legs. Thanks to hormones, things are beginning to change.
Your daughter’s emotions may catch you by surprise. One moment she feels like she can do anything. The next she feels like a failure. She’s happy, then sad, then happy again. She wants to cuddle, then rejects all forms of affection from you. Be positive and supportive. Like all children, she’ll need to know you’re there for her.
Her brain is physically as large as it’s going to get, but won’t stop maturing until she’s in her 20s. The prefrontal cortex, which helps with impulse control and organizational skills (planning, reasoning, and problem-solving), still has years left before it’s fully developed. But she’s able to express her feelings and think in abstract terms now -- concepts like justice, equality, politics and civics. She’s better at problem-solving and logic as well. Though she’s thinking independently, she likes working on group projects.
Getting More Social
That’s because her social awareness is kicking into high gear. It’s a time of transitions and contradictions. She’s the center of her own universe, but she chooses to spend time with friends. She’s developing her identity but is desperate to fit in.
Use this to your advantage to help her learn how to make good decisions. Highlight a good decision she made at school or in a social activity like sports. Ask questions about her thought process and how she thought it went. This gives her some much-needed self-esteem for when tougher decisions come up. And, as a bonus, it sets you up as a solid sounding board.
Increased social activity also means heavy-duty exposure to peer pressure. She’s making decisions about tobacco, alcohol, drugs, and sex. You may have talked to her about these topics in the past, but it’s time to circle back because she’s seeing them through new eyes. Ask her what she’s seeing and how she feels about it. Role-play some situations where she might have to make a hard decision. Remind her where you stand with boundaries and consequences.
She may be sensitive and sulky, but that’s normal. Depression looks different. If she’s lost interest in activities she normally enjoys, seems agitated or restless or neglects her appearance, it may be time for a talk to a doctor or mental health professional.
The Internet and Social Media
What she’s exposed to online matters just as much as what she’s experiencing in real life (or IRL, as they say). Preteens are crafty and know plenty of ways to work around parental controls, so it’s important to keep the online safety conversation going. Talk to her about the way she presents herself online and the effect it can have on college applications, future employment, and more. Educate yourself on the forms of social media she uses -- check her accounts and talk to her about what she’s sharing and why.