The age of twelve is remarkable. As childhood comes to its end, the twelve-year-old can feel accomplishment and mastery of many skills in jump rope, running, reading, arithmetic, high jumping, memorization, writing, logic, and reasoning. Just as the sense of mastery peaks, the child’s body begins to change. Though the first changes are invisible, the child feels them with a growing sense of alarm at what the changes might be.
For the following three to five years, the developing youth experiences the same rapid growth experienced by infants. Never again will the developing human being have to manage so much growth in a concentrated time. The child begins to experience expansion and hair growth in unusual places, changes in the voice and, most importantly, changes in thinking and reactions.
There is a dawning of the capacity of judgment in the child at age twelve. Suddenly the child can evaluate, contrast ideas and experiences, and think about things in a new and discerning ways. This new capacity needs exercise and children can be brilliant arguers at this age, It is difficult to win an argument with a twelve year old. Relentless energy and indefatigable focus are possible at this age as at no other.
The child has much to manage with all this growth. It is frightening to see the changes and wrangle with them. After experiencing the mastery of a few months before, the growing preteen often feels betrayed by the adults on which he or she has depended. They cannot believe that they are changing and so they think that their grown-ups must have changed and this can make them angry or mistrustful.
After all, a boy’s voice box grows up to seven times its original size and a girl’s three times its original size. This constitutes only one major change in a child’s development at age twelve. With this growth comes the power of procreation, the capacity to create new life. Though emotionally the proper use of this is not possible, the very presence of this ultimate potency to invent life brings to the young human being for the first time, and inevitably, dark thoughts of death.
One driving concern of the child at this age is to experiment to discover who they are and who they are separate from their parents and teachers. Good children will be naughty on purpose to discover what it is like. Honest youngsters might try lying, shoplifting, or other deceptions to see if anyone will notice. It is a terrible thing to judge these experiments too harshly or to proclaim the child a “bad person” because of these attempts at independence is unwise. Consequences to make amends are best to deliver and carry out with a bright attitude of relief and moving forward afterward are very helpful.
The best idea to hold for young people of this age is, “Contracts toward increasing responsibility.” To require good steady work and participation is to affirm the youngsters capabilities. To keep an eye on the requirements and to ignore all protests, grumbling or reactions until the work is complete can work magic. Engaging a child’s will forces causes often a complete change in attitude.
So if a child comes home crying that the teacher is mean and plays favorites and “hates me,” it is less helpful to call other parents to compare notes and complain in the child’s defense. Better is to sympathize with a bad day and ask, “Did you finish cleaning your room?” (Or mowing the lawn, or emptying the dishwasher, or doing homework.) “Why don’t you do that and then we can talk?” More often than not, when the work is done, the young person no longer feels sad or hard used, but rather, accomplished and capable.
In such practices the pre-teen learns that work can alleviate the pain of life; that participating positively in the work of life makes things better; and that they can manage their own feelings best by remaining active. The inevitable pain of dawning adolescence cannot be eliminated for any growing youth, much though we might wish to do that for those we love. The need to escape the adults who love them most; to discover who the personality might be with the possibility of both light thoughts and dark ones as well; the need to bond with peers in adventures (good and bad) that help in this definition, are all symptoms of a healthy child. Distance must be granted for the youngster to feel trusted and supported.
A long time ago a wise parent wrote an article about youngsters in this pre-teen period and named the article, “How to get your pre-teenager to fire you as a manager and hire you back as a consultant.” It is a perfect title for explaining the new healthy distance that must be adopted to give the growing youth a safe chance at self-management and adult uprightness. Our children know we love them, that we cloth and feed them, that we are their biggest advocates. Learning to trust this without constant reinforcement is freeing for all: child; parent; and teacher.
Waldorf Publications, 20 June 2016