We celebrated a Fringy Family birthday this past week, and so marks the beginning of the last year of Cub’s pre-teen years. Not quite sure how he got to 12, but here he is.
I’ve heard horror stories about 12 year olds, both boys and girls, and my initial reaction when working with an adult client or parent who reports having a 12-year-old at home is to take a deep breath, sigh, and commiserating-ly say, “Phew. 12. That’s an age.” This generally receives a knowing chuckle and we move on. There are a lot of difficult aspects to being a pre-teen and therefore there are a lot of difficult aspects to parenting a pre-teen. Add a little giftedness to the mix and the pre-teen years can be a Tazmanian devil-ish whirlwind of an experience. After all, these kids have been experiencing the emotional roller coasters of pre-teen life since they were 6 months old, now add the actual hormones and developmental changes of the pre-teen years into the mix and watch out! Add a little extra exceptionality to the mix and . . . well . . . I’m cognizantly choosing not to consider what my 2e daughter’s life will look like as a pre-teen because I don’t think I’m emotionally mature enough yet to face it.
So, yes, there are a lot of challenges to these pre-teen years. And I have given, and will continue to give, voice to these. But, for today, I want to highlight that, actually, I really love pre-teens. And with the intensity of giftedness, gifted pre-teens are intensely more awesome. Here’s why:
They can be your own personal IT guy (and I mean that entirely gender-inclusively). At the risk of sounding like my mother, who’s first text to me didn’t actually include any text, or my grandmother, who asked the kids if they got pencils for Christmas to go along with their new tablets, I can’t keep up with technology. I suppose I probably could, but I don’t want to keep up with technology. Thankfully, my pre-teen does. And he’s old enough to really understand it and that I can just trust him to take care of it. Need a youtube video uploaded . . . “Cub!” Have a glitch with an app . . . “Cub!” The internet isn’t working . . . “Cub!” And, if he ever complains about child labor laws, I simply remind him that he’s paid with room and board
The mom guilt for dropping an occasional naughty word significantly decreases in the pre-teen years. I remember being a pre-teen and the language my friends and I would use. I work with pre-teens and early teens in my therapy office where they have full permission to speak in their “native” language. Trust me, they know all the naughty words I might say and even a bunch that I don’t understand and have never heard before. I don’t make a habit of swearing around my kids, no matter how old they are, but sometimes, the cast iron pan drops on your toe and the filter isn’t strong enough to keep the words from flying. No explanations needed if my pre-teen’s in earshot.
Us parents can be more honest. “Ok, Cub,” I’ll say. “I’m gonna be honest. I really have no desire to learn the rules of Magic the Gathering, but I love you, and I do have a desire to understand what’s important to you. So, I’ll give it a shot, but no guarantees.” And, 15 minutes of extremely confusing rules, regulations, and alternate reality lingo later, “OK. That’s all I can handle. This game makes no sense. I’m glad you like it and I’m impressed it makes sense to you. How about I just admire the pretty pictures and we keep it at that?”
We, as parents, become embarrassing. While some of you without pre-teens might find this a saddening thought, bear with me. All those 10-12 years of parenting reach a new joyfully rewarding phase. Just think of it as payback. Remember when your precious child couldn’t pronounce his “r’s” and would constantly ask for his “f@%K” at every family gathering? Or the innocent questions about why other people looked a certain way or talked a certain way or walked a certain way that were always asked about 15 decibels louder than anyone else in the room? Or the time you didn’t want to pay an extra $5 for your toddler to enter the indoor playground just because he turned the magic age of 1 last week, but your preschooler repeatedly reminded you at the cash register that he had his birthday and is 1 now? Payback. Remember these times. Channel them. Share the embarrassment and play it up. Your pre-teen is going to be embarrassed about you no matter what, you might as well give them some good material to be embarrassed about and have fun with it!
They start enjoying actually enjoyable things. Magic notwithstanding, pre-teens start wanting to play fun games. They want to learn more strategy. Candyland and Chutes and Ladders be gone! They enjoy more grown up movies and entertainment. And they don’t need to watch them over and over five hundred and seventy-three thousand times. BUT, they still get excited about the newest animated film. No more having fun with your kid because they are having fun. In the pre-teen years, you can both genuinely have fun playing together. So long as it’s not Magic. No offense.
They are relatively self-sufficient. If your pre-teen needs a shower . . . tell them to go take a shower. If they need lunch . . . have them make it. Have a quick errand you want to run . . . tell them goodbye, leave them at home, and head out the door. Don’t want to take the preschooler with you . . . tell the pre-teen they’re on preschooler-detail. No more wiping bums or brushing someone else’s teeth or helping them get dressed. Smile.
We get to see glimpses of the men and women they will one day be. They start to find their tribes and say no to some activities and dedicate themselves to others. Those pieces of who they are that you thought you saw when they were little kids become more developed. They develop (well, with gifted kids they fine-tune) their own thoughts, opinions, beliefs, questions, meaning, and purposes. And this, is the most joyful aspect of being around a pre-teen.
Some days, I look at the growing physical form of my son, who is now only a few inches shorter than me, and I can actually see what he will look like as a young adult. I watch him explore his world in a more engaged and individualized way, and I have flashes forward of who he will be as an adult. I observe us laughing, joking, philosophically discussing, and playing together and I start to see the life-long friendship that we are forming and deepening and that will keep shifting as he grows into the man he will be. Sure, these times might be sandwiched between eyerolls, but they are there. And they really make the pre-teen years amazingly joy-full.