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Ten-year-olds: Early Adolescence?

QUESTION: Our ten-year-old son is acting like a moody teenager. He switches back and forth from the sweet kid we know to someone who gets embarrassed by his "un-cool" parents fifteen minutes after we were the greatest. Is this normal? I was not ready for this!

ANSWER: Your ten-year-old may be maturing more quickly than you expected, but rest assured that his behavior is well within normal range. Your son is no doubt practicing some form of separating from his parents.

Though it is natural for you to initially feel rejected by him, take solace in the fact that his rebellion now may indeed pave the way for a tamer adolescence.

Although I cannot promise you that this early practicing will result in an easier teenager, I have observed that children who are allowed to practice in this way often strengthen their sense of individuality which stands them in good stead for their teenage years. The stronger your son's sense of identity by adolescence, the greater his ability to resist unhealthy aspects of peer pressure at that time. His ability to think and act independently will be an asset when dealing with a less protected environment than he now enjoys.

Intense teenage rebellion is often fueled by suppression of individuality in the family. Parents may repress a young child's self-assertion and early efforts at individuality without realizing it. Efforts to control are successful, so parents miss the opportunity to encourage appropriate independence at earlier stages. When small efforts have been squelched, the pressure to rebel in order to feel separate intensifies with the emerging hormones of puberty.

Pat yourselves on the back for providing an atmosphere that enables him to practice independence in small and gradual amounts as he grows. Support him in making appropriate decisions for himself, so he will feel in charge. This will prepare him for making decisions in his own best interests when you are not always there to protect him.

Your son's moodiness is likely an expression of his ambivalence about becoming more independent. Remember the push and pull of the two-year-old stage? Despite his changes from baby to little boy, you were able to navigate your way through this period and stay connected to your son. Parenthood is sometimes like a roller coaster. You just get used to one stage, and the next curve is up ahead. Hang on, here we go again!


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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