5. Adolescent Social Life
Children’s social lives tend to undergo dramatic changes around this age, presenting new challenges. These can put a strain on children’s emotions. Parents can help by encouraging new intellectual pursuits and helping children identify interests that will engage them.
In addition to changes in personality and behavior, puberty tends to set in motion changes to the child’s social life. It generates a massive boost of individuation in children, and thus their parents’ “fall from grace.” Children begin distancing themselves from their parents, both on a psychological level and at the level of occupations and interests.
Pre-adolescents start to define themselves by their circle of friends at school or elsewhere. New social influences gradually contribute to the decoupling of children from their parents.
In these new social encounters, as well as in intellectual challenges, children often experience error and failure. These can be tough experiences at this age in terms of identity and emotion. On a neurophysiological level, sexual hormones increase emotional instability. On a psychological level, the conflict between the desire for emancipation, on the one hand, and inexperience and gaps in knowledge, on the other, brings failure, notably in human relationships.
Children seek to break out of the family cocoon through their ideas, tastes, actions, and activities. But their lack of experience often makes them awkward. Parents must help them to deal with their errors in practical terms and without histrionics. Parents must also encourage them to persevere without bringing their whole existence into question at the slightest mistake.
At 10 to 12 years of age, emotional management becomes challenging. Emotional management takes place in nerve centers that are still immature at this stage. And puberty, of course, intensifies emotions and can lead children to act out.
By spending enjoyable downtime with their children (going fishing or playing chess, for example) parents can help them rein in the chaotic side of their emotions and restore a sense of calm. With their emotions in check, children can access their critical faculties more serenely, drawing upon their cognitive faculties without being overwhelmed by emotions that are too strong to manage.
At this age, critical faculties can respond to rigorous intellectual demands. The prefrontal lobe has developed considerably, allowing executive functions to analyze situations, break down problems, and plan the stages and actions required to resolve them. This executive understanding combines with a growing mastery of language—both in comprehension and production—to develop critical reasoning and enable children to deal with complex situations or ideas.
But we must consider the growing individuality of pre-adolescents and help them find and develop their own interests so that they can invest in them and hone their critical faculties on them. Cultivating their interests and assisting them in their reasoning not only helps critical faculties mature into ingrained character traits, but also helps critical thinking mature into critical reasoning. By finding happiness in applying their reasoned point of view to areas that interest them, children will learn to practice such critical reasoning more generally.
At this age, other people’s perspectives play an increasingly important role for children. Though they may seem to be becoming more independent, often children are just coming under new influences. Friends, YouTubers, and other figures gradually replace parents.
Parents should alternate between playing the role of educators and protectors and that of supportive “friends” who help their children become individuals.
It is essential to reinforce positive sentiments toward children and to spend quality time that is not “educational” with them. This maintains a healthy bond and parents’ influence despite normal and necessary individuation. Quality time such as this will contribute greatly to maintaining high levels of self-esteem. Children also won’t feel as if they are simply education receptacles. By participating in, rather than resisting, individuation parents can better protect their children from harmful influences of undesirable friends or the internet.
For children aged 10 to 12, the development of self-esteem requires striking a balance between educational time and time for fun, where the hierarchy of teaching is put on hold. In such moments, children feel that they’re being treated as people and can more easily accept the advice and authority of parents and educators in the face of other influences, which may turn out to be harmful or dangerous.
Parents should alternate between playing the role of educators and protectors and that of supportive “friends” who help their children become individuals. If this balance is struck successfully, children’s self-esteem becomes firmly rooted. Their critical faculties can, furthermore, be used to reject harmful influences.
But from this point onward, an opposing force to critical thinking is a part of many children’s lives: the digital universe.