I write as a nineteen year old student. After two years of studying psychology — particularly child and developmental psychology — I have a newfound appreciation of the stresses and strains of my 13 year old self.
I am not a parent and therefore I don’t feel in any way qualified to advise or comment on parenting techniques. I can, however, advise my former self. I hope to offer an insightful look into the trials and tribulations of entry into adolescence and, although this is in no way an exhaustive list, it may offer a brief insight into the mysterious mind workings of a 13 year old child.
I am a big believer in the idea that in order to connect, help or communicate with others, we must first attempt to understand them. What’s happening in their world? What does it feel like to wake up as them? Hopefully my hindsight will help to forge a new appreciation and understanding of your own child.
1. Work hard at school but know when to stop.
In the finite hours of the day, approximately 7-8 of these are spent at school. This can be an extremely precious and pressuring time. When psychologists learn about child development, is it usually taught in segments and artificially divided up into skills. For example, motor development is taught separately to development of gender identity. Cognitive development is separate to social identity. However, the reality is that all of these changes are happening in the real world simultaneously. The 13 year old mind and body is a constant hotbed of changes — both emotional, physical, hormonal, social. At school, when staff and parents are so separate from the internal transformations that are happening in a 13 year old, there can be a real inconsistency in expectations. I suppose the real message here is be kind to yourself. Learning about who you are and where you fit into a social structure (such as school) is exhausting, and may in many cases surpass the attention you allocate to learning about science and English at school. Awareness of this and cultivating communication with parents which allows for learning on several planes can be hugely beneficial. Know your limitations and know your strengths, be aware of how much is going on both inside your body and inside your mind.
2. Truth is — nobody knows what they’re doing.
There can be a real emphasis on understanding yourself and knowing where you fit into the new emerging dynamics of school. Groups start to form, enemies make themselves known and people will start to use big words to describe you. There is nothing worse than having to answer the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” when you are in no way ready for that to happen. It’s the equivalent of being taken car shopping when you haven’t even received your provisional license yet. Scary, overwhelming and unnecessary. The main lesson I wish someone had told me is that there is no rush. Despite the excitement of entry into adolescence and the sudden use of scary words like “teenager” and “grown-up”, you still have all the characteristics of a child. Finding the right balance between preparing for older years and letting go of the real dependence of early childhood is so difficult to achieve. However, awareness of this can really help and foster an environment which celebrates the current stage in life, in all its messy and emotional 13-year old glory.
3. Sex is not as scary as it sounds.
13 years old seems to the age where the real meaty “talks” start to happen. Teachers may suddenly turn up to a lesson with a plastic penis and condom and nervously talk you through safe sex (before retreating to the staff room, all clammy and embarrassed). They may make it sound scary and use ugly words like “sexually-transmitted disease” and “chlamydia”, but you will learn that it is so much more than this. You will learn that sex is an adventure in itself and there is no rule book. Despite constant fears of teenage pregnancy and STIs, the one thing they don’t teach you at school is that sex is supposed to be good. You will learn about yourself and learn about your body in your own times (and there won’t be a teacher blushing about it then). The more that teachers, parents and other children talk about sex may, in some cases, attempt to scare you. Learn how to discuss your body with your parents and you will be so much better for it.