Have you found yourself standing in front of a 12 or 13 year old wondering “Who on earth are you?” Whether we are the parent, the teacher, the coach…..whoever…….we are often left to scratch our head and consider where we went wrong.

Almost overnight it seems this gorgeous 12 or 13 year old has transformed into a grumpy, sullen, monosyllabic adolescent with ‘attitude’. What we are encountering is far less likely to be the result of parenting, teaching or coaching, but more likely to do with the developmental changes associated with this ‘middle years’ group of young people aged 10-15 years.

We all acknowledge that little ones 0-5 years come a very long way from their first breath in the ‘real world’ to their first day at ‘big school’. Don’t be fooled – 10 to 15 year olds undergo equally massive change on all levels – physical, social, academic, emotional and psychological. Research suggests this period of brain development is critical in shaping how these young people turn out as adults. What’s happening in their brains affects not only their attitude, behaviour, levels of motivation, relationships with peers and adults….but also how they learn.

As adults, we need to understand the mechanisms and critical triggers that make these young people ‘tick’ if we have any hope of making real connections with them. We need to accept that they are not children, but not yet adults – their needs are unique, and we must be willing to alter some of our parenting, teaching and advisory practices to have any hope of real, meaningful and positive connections.

Statements such as “Because I said so…”, “Because I’m the mum” and “My house, my rules” will not wash with young teens. We need to be assertive and authoritative – not authoritarian, dictatorial and uncompromising.

We don’t need to roll over and give in to every whim and demand, nor should we throw our hands in the air with the defeatist line, “I guess you’ll learn the hard way.” What we are trying to establish (if we haven’t already!) is teamwork – not easy at times (and sometimes we fail), but definitely achievable long-term. The old adage “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it” rings very true with adolescents. Effective communication strategies are crucial!

There are several critical principles which underpin effective relationship- building with young teens, and Dr David Smith summed them up beautifully in his 2008 review of Middle Years literature for the NSW Department of Education and Communities.

He claims that young people in this age group are more prone to disengage from school, family and other significant adults in their lives. Developing high levels of resilience; encouraging a strong sense of responsibility; promoting effective relationships; providing rigorous, challenging yet achievable tasks; and creating relevant connections between what we expect them to achieve academically or personally and their view of the world as they see it are all key principles in helping our young people become self-motivated, capable adults with a strong sense of purpose and a life-long love of learning. Don’t we all want THAT for our kids?!

– Angie Wilcock, High Hopes Educational Services – www.highhopes.com.au 

Learn valuable communication strategies and tips from Angie in Melbourne, Brisbane and the Gold Coast. She will also discuss how to unlock potential in the early teen years in the Melbourne and Sydney Leadership Programs.