Parenting Perspective: Normal behavior for 14-year-olds

Thursday, April 01, 2010

In today's blog, I finish out my series on normal behavior for children ages 4 to 14.

Today we talk about your 14-year-old and the challenges and joys of another teenage year. There is some overlap from being 13-years-old, where your child is pulling away and forging a sense of self and finding identity with groups. Children's expert Chip Wood, author of YARDSTICKS: CHILDREN IN THE CLASSROOM AGES 4-14, sums it up by saying adolescents are more worried about how they appear to others than what they feel inside. The teen subculture becomes apparent in their choices of clothes, hairstyle, music, bedroom décor, and choice of friends. The bottom line is your teen both wants to push away to establish themselves and deeply wants to stay connected to you and your family.

But there are some key differences when your child turns 14-years-old. If you ask a 14-year-old who they would turn to for advice, they typically say their parents AND their friends. The good news is they still look for guidelines, customs and rites of passage to develop and celebrate their moral fiber and newfound independence. It can come from family events, school, camps, heritage or religion. Try to find ways to celebrate their individual accomplishments with a special dinner inviting over some of their friends, or by attending awards dinners and banquets.

Another key element at this age is really listening to your 14-year-old. That doesn't mean giving in to them. But sitting down and looking them in the eye while they express opinions - it confirms their experience, acknowledges their presence and shows that you accept and enjoy them. Set aside a regular time to discuss things in these "Family Meetings." Don't' be intimidated by the threats and tears of your teen, even though they appear to just want to talk on the phone, text or chat on the computer, go to the mall or hang out with their friends. You should also make time for other "informal" walk-in chats in their room. But try not to do these sit-downs when you're angry. Be calm and reasonable - that alone sets a good example.

Now for the more challenging part: 14-year-olds are easily embarrassed by adults - especially their parents. They roll their eyes, toss their hair, make disapproving faces and criticize their parents for wearing uncool clothes, driving an old car or saying the wrong thing. Challenging your authority is now an automatic reaction. Should they NOT be seen out to eat with their parents or are they overdressed for an activity? Almost every moment is an opportunity to show their freedom - should they get a part-time job, play a sport, join a band? Try to let them present a well-thought-out plan for themselves, then give them enough latitude to accomplish some of those goals their way.

Your child's school can help. They may get reinforcement from counselors, community service, or peer tutoring. Teachers may agree to work with you on lightening the homework burden, or by restructuring the work to make it incrementally heavier as your child accomplishes the concepts. That way homework becomes a building ground instead of a battleground. 14-year-olds like to evaluate and improve their own work. These teens show increased interest in math and science, and longer projects. They often volunteer for service work, student government, class dances and sporting events. But they can be loud and may give in to peer pressure for fear that not doing so is "nerdy." Good opportunities for this age group include using graphs, learning number systems, solving equations, exploring algebra, doing mock trials and debates, using literary themes as a creative starting point, learning about world conflicts and natural resources, and studying physical and human geography. But don't forget, your 14-year-old still needs plenty of rest periods and free time outside.

Good luck with your developing 14-year-old. They are energetic and vary between being talkative and uncommunicative. There is a positive long-term outcome if you can survive this tricky phase. It helps prepare your teens to become devoted, disciplined, loving partners and citizens as adults. You both will get through this stage and your kind, motivated young person will reemerge.

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