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Ya Just Have to Love Those Temperamental, Terrific 12-Year-Olds

After being the oldest in elementary school then adjusting to being the youngest in a brand new middle school, finding your way around a bigger place, having many teachers, meeting lots of new kids, finding your body changing, more expectations by parents and teachers -- phew -- who can blame your 12-year-old for feeling vulnerable?
08/28/2015 10:15am ET | Updated August 28, 2016
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After being the oldest in elementary school then adjusting to being the youngest in a brand new middle school, finding your way around a bigger place, having many teachers, meeting lots of new kids, finding your body changing, more expectations by parents and teachers -- phew -- who can blame your 12-year-old for feeling vulnerable?

Parental Intelligence teaches us to think about our child's mind, so what's cooking in the mind of a 12-year-old?

Changes in the 12-Year-Old Brain

The voice of reason is in our prefrontal cortex that is the executive or CEO of the brain. The limbic system is the emotional center keyed into dangers and rewards. When the limbic system can't make sense about what it sees, it calls on the prefrontal cortex to help out.

The problem is that at 12, the CEO prefrontal cortex isn't fully developed and can't keep up with the emotional limbic center. There in lies the problem with shifting moods, questionable decisions, and general irritability and vulnerability.

Belonging

Twelves just don't know where they belong. They don't have the status of being teenagers, but get thrilled when they are around them. They want to be like them, but don't quite get who they are and how they got there. Usually they have entered a bigger school, so they meet not only more kids their age in their classes, but they stumble into groups of older kids, too.

They check out how to dress, how to talk, how to meet people, and sometimes lose track of who they are as individuals in this grand attempt to belong and feel accepted.

The Parents Role

Now that you know what your 12-year-old might be thinking about, where do you come in? Be on the look out for your own reactions to your changing son or daughter.

Do you find their mood shifts unsettling? Do you feel the tendency to pry and overreact to comments and actions that are unexpected. Here's your chance to use Parental Intelligence and step back before doing or saying anything.

Stepping Back is part of using Parental Intelligence. It means slowing down and watching, observing patterns over time, listening closely, replaying what you've seen and heard without drawing any fast conclusions.

Self-Reflecting is also part of Parental Intelligence. Monitor your own reactions as you're doing all this observing and think about what it felt like to be twelve if you remember. After all that introspection, you surely have a greater feel for what your child might be going through.

Using Five Steps of Parental Intelligence to Understand 12-Year-Olds

Now that you've had a chance to (1) Step Back and (2) Self-Reflect and (3) Understand
Your Child's Mind and (4) Understand Your Child's Development, you've covered the first four steps of Parental Intelligence. If there are any problems on the horizon, you're ready to talk non-judgmentally with your child and help him or her understand the meanings behind any unusual behaviors, worries, excitements, confusions, and build your relationship. This is all involved in Step (5) Problem Solving.

Help Your Twelves Know Who They Are

Given the relationship and knowledge you've developed, it's important to help your twelve-year-old find their own center of values. Have discussions about what's important to them. Reserve your opinions at first and listen fully and openly. Join the conversation without seeking any conclusions or solutions..

It's a time to be thinking, considering, wondering, asking, learning. That's 12.

Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. is a psychoanalyst with a new book coming out October 13, 2015: Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child's Behavior. Pre-order at a discount on amazon. Follow Laurie on twitter @lauriehollmanph.
This post was originally viewed on Moms Magazine.