Understanding Your Terrible Thirteen-Year-Old
Every once in awhile my daughter and her husband find that they both have business trips out of the country during the same period of time and ask me to drive to Cambridge to stay with their three children for a week or so.
When they were younger is was a pleasure to have a grandchild bring me a book and say, “Read to me, Nana.” Now the eldest is in college, the middle child is in boarding school, and I am alone with the arrogant youngest, who resents having me there and seems depressed.
She is surly, rude, and uses unbelievably foul language.
I’ve mentioned her bizarre behavior to my daughter, who laughs it off, saying, “That’s the way 13-year-olds behave.” I find that hard to believe.
–Nana, Springfield, MA
As you no doubt remember, most 13-year-old girls have reached the end of puberty. Hormones have changed your granddaughter's brain during the last two years.
Her body is more mature than her brain and she's trying to figure out how to be a teen.
- According to many studies, girl teens express depression more openly and more easily than boy teens, so her rude behavior, as deplorable as it may be, is understandable. She acts out with you.
Children nowadays experience a more prolonged adolescence. What used to be a two-to-four year period biologically is now a 15-year period culturally. Puberty starts before the teen years, but the social skills and cultural aspects of adolescence don't triumph until much later.
Girls have a longer period of time to figure out who they are, what skills to develop, and they have to be in school longer to reach their objective.
- Your 13-year-old granddaughter is struggling to become a teenager.
- Kids don't necessarily want to feel happy. Feeling sad helps them develop intense feelings - extremes of happiness and sadness.
- Puberty makes many kids seek conflict and behavioralists believe that this kind of experimentation can be a good thing when it isn't violent or self-destructive.
Most pubescent kids like feeling the intensity of their own feelings. Intense sadness can be novel and exciting for a thirteen-year-old.
Studies show that eventually most of us prefer being happy and having positive emotions than to being negative and feeling sadness. We don't all want to be happy all of the time.
Perhaps your granddaughter feels close enough to you to know that she can express her deepest emotions around you. Over the years, you have made it safe for your granddaughter to express her emotions. Don't take her rudeness personally.