Ages 10 to 12
Puberty and Adolescence

Ages 10 to 12
Puberty and Adolescence

Case Study 3

Puberty vs. Critical Reasoning

During early adolescence, puberty inevitably threatens to interfere with schoolwork, attention, and cognitive development more generally. It is crucial for parents not to make their children feel ashamed about these changes or blameworthy for them. Instead, parents should be sure to reinforce the fact that these changes and the challenges they produce are universal and positive. 

At the same time, they should help their child prevent the challenges of puberty from interfering with developmental goals. In the anecdote below, two different approaches to addressing a problem puberty presents to cognitive development are offered.

Sarah and Paul are in sixth grade. This morning, they are seated next to each other in science class. The teacher is lecturing on the diversity of living beings and their classifications.

Sarah and Paul share a passion for animals and would normally both be interested in the teacher’s lecture. Yet, since the beginning of term, they have fostered a romantic interest in each other, passing notes of affection written in their diaries, not following anything taught in the class, and certainly not taking any notes on the coursework.

The teacher eventually picks up on their behavior, confiscates the notes, and contacts the two children’s parents.

Sarah’s father, who is very angry after speaking with the teacher, summons Sarah for “a discussion.”

He forbids her from sitting next to Paul in class. “You’re too young for this,” he tells her, alluding to the love notes exchanged between the two kids. Furthermore, he declares, from now on, every night he will check to see if Sarah has taken notes in all of her classes that day. “And if this keeps up, I’ll contact Paul’s parents and find out exactly what is going on,” he concludes.

Sarah goes to her room, sobbing and feeling ashamed.

Paul’s father waits until bedtime. As he goes to wish his son goodnight, he tells him that he received a phone call from the science teacher. “He’s worried about your studies, you know. He doesn’t want you to give up on science.” 

Paul’s father then talks to him about Sarah. “Being in love is a beautiful thing, and I’m happy for you. It’s the best thing that can happen to you. But you need to be careful. It’s such a strong emotion that it can sweep away everything in its path! If you and Sarah neglect your school work, you will have to catch up on your classes from your friends, and it’s not easy to understand someone else’s notes, because everyone has their own way of doing it. 

“Plus, if you don’t listen in class, a great deal of information slips by you; and then you’ll be in trouble for your exams. The risk is that you or Sarah, or both of you, will get bad grades. That’s not what you want, is it? Neither for you nor for Sarah? Promise me that you’ll talk to her. You will have other moments to talk to each other. She can come here one afternoon, if her parents are okay with that, or she can come to the movies or the swimming pool with us some time.”

In this situation, we can figure out two distinct reactions from the parents:

  1. Sarah’s father tries to overcome the problem by imposing a ban on his daughter. He is denying the beginning of puberty and the impulses that arise from it, construing her behavior as inappropriate. In doing so, he is not ridding her of these impulses, but rather simply inciting her to hide them and even to be ashamed of them.

  2. Paul’s father explains to his son that he understands the situation and that he accepts it. He even says that, in certain respects, it is a very positive situation. He recognizes and acknowledges the beginnings of puberty and the impulses it arouses in his son. For all that, he doesn’t deny the difficulties it produces and tries to make his son understand the risks for both children, how the situation could work against them and eventually cause them a lot of harm. To this end, he proposes several options, including inviting Sarah around outside of school hours. He wagers that his son’s capacities for reason will allow him to overcome the situation, and he assures Paul of his support.