Troublesome Ten

My husband and I have a ten and a half-year-old girl who seems to be changing. She has become a little snooty, not saying hello to people she knows. She snubs them. She is not interested in spending any time with us — biking, rollerblading, golfing. We do press her to spend time as a family – she argues, balks at the idea but usually enjoys herself once we’re underway. But we’d like to her say, “Yes, great idea. Let’s go”. She just wants to be with her friends. She constantly argues with us and is often very rude. When we ask her to do something she argues. My husband just the other night asked her to help him clean the kitchen after dinner and she replied, “Get Mom to do it”. What’s going on and how should we handle it?

Congratulations on having a normal daughter who is moving predictably into adolescence. Preferring her own friends to family and family friends, arguing, and wanting greater independence, are all signs that she is entering this new developmental stage. Her task in the next few years is to gain competence in the world outside the family, so that she will be ready for adulthood when it arrives. Your task is to support her new ventures outside the family, and accept that her role in the family will change.

I suspect that the people she snubs are of more interest to you than to her. Although you might ask her to be polite if you are having guests, I suggest you otherwise ignore this. The same goes for expecting her to want to spend time with the family. I remember sulking on family holidays because of having to spend all that time with a couple of “old people” and a few “brats” (my younger siblings). Your daughter is concentrating on the developmental task of relating to her peers in the outside world. I suggest you set up a few family gatherings and activities, and give her lots of notice about these, but don’t expect her to want to participate in family activities the way she used to. You probably aren’t going to hear “Yes, great idea! Let’s go!” until your daughter has children of her own!

Arguing about chores is also normal for this age. Step out of the arguments and power struggles whenever possible. Don’t interrupt your daughter’s activities to ask her to do things which are not clearly her regular responsibilities. Instead, negotiate with her what chores will be her responsibility each week, and when they should be done, and then leave it alone; don’t nag her. Let her go out or watch TV when her chores are completed.

Adolescents need their parents in a different way from younger children. They need their home to be a safe place to retreat to from the scary world in which they’re trying their wings. They need their parents to be safe people who give them backup and support as they take on these new adventures. They need us to understand what they are going through, give them space, and be there for them when they need us. Your daughter is heading into uncharted territory, and she needs your understanding and support as she apparently turns her back on the family she grew up in and moves out into the world.

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