Coming of Age in the Digital Era

Known as the “Month of the Young Adolescent,” the month of October acknowledges the special characteristics of children between the ages of 11-14, our very own middle level learners. This period of development is the “home stretch,” if you will, between childhood and becoming a teenager. It is a time of rapid development.

We can all see the physical changes taking place that sometimes make us adults think of these preadolescents as grown-ups. What we cannot so readily see are the other changes taking place, including the social, emotional, and cognitive advances. Each individual child is on his or her own journey, and we must respect their differing rates of maturation and growth. Each child has his or her own wiring and DNA as well as the shaping forces of their home lives, background, gender, motivation levels, and sense of self.

Few of us would wish to return to this age where change is the operative word. Hormones kick in that cause growth spurts and mood swings. Unexpected emotional responses punctuate various situations. Forging an identity means making friends and attaching to groups. Peer pressure is code for looking and acting like everybody else. Preadolescents are curious and more private. They question beliefs and practices, and watch to see if adults practice what they preach.

While the transformational process itself is no different today than it was when we were younger – somewhat rebellious and experimental – the context in which it takes place is vastly different. Welcome to the age of emails, texts, blogs, video games, social networking sites, YouTube, and a thousand cable channels. Ready or not, the Digital Age affords quick retrieval of information and interaction with the world literally on the other side of the screen.

In this Month of the Young Adolescent, let us remember how hard it is to be one. Let us take a deep breath, or a step back, to understand that kids who look more like adults who should know better are really still kids. Let us not take it personally when they make believe that they don’t know us when we walk into school and when they don’t want us to chaperone the dance. Let us be patient when we think they ought to be more organized and focused when they continue to be a work in progress. Let us understand that their judgment can be impaired because their developing brains are not yet ready to process the positives and negatives or the imminent dangers.

The challenge for us as parents is that we may well have to reinvent ourselves to better understand and communicate with these Digital Natives. It is so important for us to remain connected, and for us to continue to be vigilant about their supervision, friends, after school activities, and their use of technology. More than ever, they need the love and guidance of their parents who will continue to provide appropriate limits and structures and be “in the moment” with middle level learners as they negotiate the many changes, challenges, and expectations that come with burgeoning adulthood.

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