Betwixt and Between: From Childhood to Adolescence
Recently the Year 7 Guardian evening enjoyed a talk by our Chaplain Lisa Devine which put some of the challenges of the 13 year old into a larger biographical context.
Recently the Year 7 Guardian evening enjoyed a talk by our Chaplain Lisa Devine which put some of the challenges of the 13 year old into a larger biographical context. Each age and stage has its challenges and struggles to work with, and in the working though, there is always a harvest of emotional growth that remains as a store of qualities for the rest of life. The 13 year old challenge has its special motif, and Lisa’s talk was a beautiful exploration of this motif and how parents can support, and learn from it. Our Middle School Coordinator Dani Finch took notes and here is Dani’s summary.
The 13 year old is on the threshold of adolescence – stepping into adolescence and out of the world of childhood. Parents can still at this stage ‘imprint’ strongly on the child before their physiology changes so much that direct influence is not possible.
Children at this age are forming an inner space that previously did not exist. They are trying on various ‘personalities’ and they wonder ‘What do you think of this part of me?’ ‘What does the world think?’ eventually they come to consider, ‘What does it feel like to be this person?’ In Steiner education we want them to do this and have this range – making use of all parts of themselves. We aim to have no part shut down, thus encouraging a wide range of feelings, responses and thinking. We want them to keep themselves open and ‘free’. In this ‘game’ parents get to be the ‘other’ in the drama! Try not to take this personally as they ‘try on’ different parts of themselves.
- Parents are encouraged to have and maintain special moments with the adolescent child. Remember to treasure the times when they allow you into their inner world. Listen, and don’t use it as a ‘teachable moment’. As parents / adults we need to be for them an immovable sun-baked rock – contentment is the antidote to their anger.
- At this stage the adolescent’s inner space is completely determined by external forces so they need to feel from us that everything will be OK, that life has meaning and that the world is a place where they can ‘unfold’ themselves. If they are experiencing anxiety on a bodily level it can be reflective of the adults around them. Spending time alone at this age is not healthy. They need to be surrounded by people most of the time otherwise this newly formed inner space can ‘echo’. Adolescents must contribute in a significant way to the running of the household. From this they can experience that they matter and are needed on a real physical level. Without these feelings of usefulness, an attitude of entitlement and autocracy can develop.
- Special family time and routine are vital as is time ‘switched off’ from social media. Create / maintain family rituals – these create feelings of safety and certainty.
- On the moral / ethical level, when they were younger, we wanted them to act out of a communal feeling of goodness – knowing what was right for the group. Now they need to be able to experience moral ambivalence – asking themselves the questions ‘Who do I want to be?’, ‘What is right for me?’ We can assist this by helping them to reflect and help them come to their own position about what is right. In this process they will test you – they need to see that you are the master of your emotions (as they are not yet able to be). Develop some ‘tricks’ to change their physical state – taking walks or a run together.
We are seeing many underweight children – they need to be eating a lot and burning off through a great deal of physical activity. For girls, iron levels should be checked as low mood / energy can have a physical cause.
- Ensure that the adolescent moves a lot and moves in nature – allowing them time to stop. Modern children seem to need this antidote even more than previous generations.
- One suggestion is to have one night each week ‘switched off’ or “unplugged” from screens and media – maybe a games night. Learning how to switch off the media and walk away is important.
- Listen but try not to become engaged in the dramas of their lives. Have little family sayings eg “Without the valleys, there wouldn’t be mountains” or “Tomorrow is a new day” …
- Use common sense Psychology – try not to have them become overly reflective about their emotions and inner state until they are 15 – 16 years old at which time they have a much greater facility to see ‘shades of grey’.
- At this stage the adolescent is literally turning from the light – they may seem unhappy most of the time and can become expressed with darkness and death. This obsession is about the realisation that life is meaningful because it can be lost – they have to know that bad stuff happens, you can feel the darkness of life and yet stand up and still want to be here. This is their biographical task to turn away from the light, find darkness and then see that there is light in it.
We want them to argue and grapple with concepts that do not have immediate answers.
- Have family discussions and arguments where you challenge their ideas and thoughts.
- We should stretch their minds without giving answers “set in stone” that fix definitions. We should try to always ask questions that require responses characterised by mobility and flexibility in thinking. In other words we should try to teach things that cannot be answered simply – or just be ‘Googled’!
Middle School Coordinator