Kids 7-14 Years: The Peer Group and Establishing Fluency
The second seven-year period from ages 7 to 14 years is where the child develops a sense of group norms and expectations, i.e., normalization and socialization with the world. This is where they learn how to interact and socialize with their peers and the world. The important reference is their peers, the group of kids that they interact with. Kids at this age will live up or down to the expectations and norms of the peer group. Parents, be attentive to and guide your child in respect to their peers. What environment and activities they are involved in?
Parents this is the stage of playing and paying! So, the question is; for what, when are you going to pay (now or later) and what are the cost? Is it going to be academic life, sport life, gamer life, thug life, etc.? Are you going to let them run the streets and later to be in between the sheets? In Parenting Part 1, I mentioned the secret opportunities. Which, notes kids don’t know any better. Thus it’s your opportunity to expose them to the things that you feel are worthwhile. Actually, it is a journey for both of you. A combination of your joys and them discovering their joy. Hopefully, you discover the an activity that you can share together. Because if you both love the same thing, it’s an opportunity to leverage time and adventure together. In that it’s an adventure of opportunity to share tips, tricks and valuable insights of life’s lessons.
If you let your kid run the streets and hang out in the alleys without supervision or guidance, the child will learn the way of the streets and “thug life.” The child will want to fit in with the ruffians and will be required to perform some illegal or immoral act to fit in and to be accepted as a member of this group. These behaviors and social interactions that are required by the ruffian peer group and will become part of the child’s sense of self, their world and future. And at sometime later you might pay for therapy, juvenile court cost and perhaps drug and alcohol treatment, etc. Parents this is your opportunity to attentively guide and ensure that your child takes part in “good” activities and has “good” peers. This is where you actively seek and expect your kids to be involved in some worthwhile activity such as organized sports, church youth groups, 4-H, or perhaps scouting etc. Again, your child will want to fit in and will live up to the expectations of the “good” peer group. However, you will need to make the upfront sacrifice and investment in terms of time, money and participation. The clear expectation that you will need to present, is that they will take part in these activities. The trick is to find something that your child enjoys and then both you and your child will have to make the commitment. You will need to be attentive to opportunities of how your youth can also invest in their passion and then encouraging them to figure out how to make it happen.
Examples from raising three kids: I expected they were to be involved in some respectable activities. The two boys started out in Cub Scouts and my daughter the youngest, started out as a Brownie Scouts. All at one point wanted to quit scouting, which was fine. However, the question to them was “what other activity are you going to commit to?” They all ended up choosing to remain in scouting. The eldest attained his Eagle Scout, the middle son could not care less about badges and ranks but loved camping, hiking and outdoor activities. The youngest liked the camp stuff of crafts, hiking, sailing and kayaking, co-lead a troop and even in her 20’s volunteered for activities. We also expected that all three of them would be involved in some kind of physical activity. The eldest was in to soccer and later hockey. The middle guy was about strength conditioning and later mixed martial arts. And the youngest loved to snowboard, then ski and eventually got into DH biking and dirt bikes.
Truth be told, I had a much better understanding and handle on working with the youngest. For example, when she was in 4th grade, from day one on the snow, she loved the snowy life. Beginning in fourth and fifth grade, we sacrificed to ensure that she had the opportunities to snowboard. Then, during fifth grade, we clarified she understood she would need to help invest in her snowboard activities. The agreement she would buy her own season’s pass, starting in sixth grade. She earned enough money by pet sitting, doing yard work and household chores for neighbors, friends and family. My commitment was to match each dollar she earned so that she could buy new/used snowboard gear. But she was the one to manage that money, i.e., she did the research of the gear, decide of what gear she wanted and responsible for purchase and getting it. The result was I could side-step arguments about money and gear. And she would learn about the responsibilities, ownership and logistics of her passion for snowboarding. I would ensure that she and a carload of her friends got to the mountain most every weekend during the ski season.
Back to socialization and peers, this stage often involves cliques, pecking order, social competition, bullying, social drama and later the beginning interest in the opposite sex. So how does a parent help their youth during this phase? Especially when their major focus is with their friends (peers).
Remember you are encouraging them to be in an activity they like (love) and they need your help. And you want to be attentive to their peer group. To do this, you make the self-sacrifice to be involved. This might entail being an assistant coach, carpooling, helping with coordinating their activities. By being actively involved, you get to know the other kids and you will gain some insight into the social environment. Your kid’s peers will get used to you being around and thus you will have some influence over this peer group. A primary way is food; kids at this age love to snack and eat; voraciously. Make your home a place to stop in and eat. Invite their friends to hang out, to stay for dinner and sleepovers. This way your kid’s peers will get to know you and your expectations, and you will get to know them (this will come in handy in the next developmental phase). Another opportunity is that kids need rides. There is an opportunity to drive the peer group to activities. When kids piled in the car, after a few moments, they forget you are there and you get to hear all kinds of social drama.
Now that you have access to the peer group, remember that the developmental task is group norming and socialization. When you notice your kid is happy, angry, sad, distraught or there is some social drama; merely ask some questions. Questions, such as, “geez you look mad/sad/frustrated… what happened?” The approach is to listen and ask just a few questions. Often, at this stage, it’s the result of some social drama. Kids are still willing to talk and share with parents. Merely listen with an empathic ear… but do not interrogate, advise or lecture.
After listening, ask mostly rhetorical questions to get them to think about why their peer might behave the way they did; about what pressures they might have; what they did, etc. And ask them how they might do something different or navigate the social interaction or drama differently.
The standard questions are: Why do you think (peer) did that? How did that make you feel? What do you think or feel the other kid was feeling? How would you handle the situation differently? What do you want to do? What might you try to do? The goal is to get your kid to assess the social situation, gaining some insight into the agendas and pressures of why their peers might behave a certain way. Get them to think about what an appropriate social response to their peer situation might be. Realize that underlying social interactions are usually driven by emotions and understanding the emotional basis is important in social skills development. The emotions of wanting to belong, fear, frustration, anger of being included or excluded. Thus, as a parent, it is important to listen empathically to support your kid’s learning about how to manage and navigate their social world. A lot of the peer and social interactions are about inclusion or exclusion of cliques amongst peers, competition, cooperation, collaboration or collusion, pecking order and influence among the peers are of an emotional base.
The parental task is to help your kid to understand the social dynamics and emotional aspects to navigate within their peer group and later in the larger society and community.
A few things to keep in mind, remember structure. Structure gives them a sense of the rules of the game. Which enables them to predict or learn what is expected. Kids like clear expectations, obvious consequences and the bottom line. Again, structure gives the kid the parameters or rules to work with. Sometimes you get a sense that your kid feels pressured to do something that they might not want to do. Such as going to a sleepover, a party or a school dance. Perhaps your kid has matured or have developed the skills to say no to their peers. Basically they have not learned how to set the parameters or boundaries to say “no” to their peers. By proxy, as their parent, you can say no for them. Thus, they can save face in their peer group. This will give them the time to develop their social identity, skills and strength to do it later on. It is an opportunity to help them develop the emotional and social skills. By saying “no” for them, you are providing a supportive structure that on their own they have not yet developed. But in reality it is an opportunity for you because they are still willing to share and listen to you. So listen well and ask good questions? And at some point they will ask you what you think and feel…and that is the opportunity for you to share.
At this stage, discipline is about providing support to promote the learning to observe both their internal feelings and thoughts of the underlying social emotional relationship aspects with peers. And thus you teaching them the social and emotional IQ aspects of themselves and of their peers. Thus an awareness, skills and ability to navigate their social environment. This is the beginning of social responsibility and activity. Discipline is not about taking something away, but about earning, owning and the responsibility of the privilege in the social-emotional context. It is about the beginning awareness of choice, how to make choices, the responsibility for choices made and the awareness of the consequences of the choice. You are setting the stage for them to learn to navigate their social environment. The parental leverage (for short term just to get their attention) during this stage is the old school physical grounding, electronic grounding (cell phone, internet privileges) and the age-old leverage of being an embarrassing parent. But the focus is guiding them to learn about your expectations for them and their responsibility to attain their goals. For example, often a younger kid wants to be told what to do. This is because they don’t know what to do. But you are providing opportunities for them to learn, to become comfortable and confident in making their own decisions. You are helping them to figure out the logistics and become responsible for themselves. And their peers will be in awe. So when they are 12-14 years old they want to go to a movie with their friends; great! The questions are chores and homework done? And who, what, when, where and how are they going to make it happen? And are they willing to spend their own money or maybe figure out an alternative? Here’s the rub. This might frustrate your kid. Or they might jump at the task, only to find out there is more to the logistics that they thought. The trick is to be patient and let them discover they need some of your excellent guidance. Which is often just helping them to break down the steps into smaller bits and to re-arrange the order of the steps. Parents, it’s not doing it for them, it’s about helping them to figure it out. Remember, it’s about leveraging their love/passions/curiosity for them to figure out how it works, encouraging and allowing them to claim (own) their agency. And thus the valuable parental statement to have ready in your back pocket. “I know you’re a smart kid and would figure it out…Great Job!”
Your home can be the welcoming (and structured) kid hang out. And you can be the cool mom/dad that is attentive at a distance (not the helicopter parent). An example might be that you help the kids and show them how to fix their bikes, wax snowboards and mount skies and have your kitchen be at the mercy of the cookie/brownie/pizza making. Or being the parent helping with boating, camping, biking and endless other opportunities. The trick with these activities; is that when things are winding down, just ask in a godly parental voice “hey kids help me clean up and then specifically direct them to grab the broom, vacuum, put the dishes in the dishwasher, etc. You only need to do this a few times. And the kids will learn the structure of your household. In short, it is the “structure” of normal behavior. They will learn it’s ok to make a mess, but it also expected them of being responsible to clean up the mess. Want to herd cats… have tasty cat treats and make it an interesting puzzle to figure out!
At this socialization stage; the self, world and the future are in a relationship with their peers. Their group is their world. The future and time are in relation to the group’s activity; which can from moment to moment. And the trick is not to react to all the changing activities. But the strategy is they need to make the commitment, take ownership for the activity (passion) and you will encourage and teach them with the skills to put in to action what they want to do, i.e., agency.
Opportunity for Fluency
This stage also presents the opportunity to establish fluency. It could be academic, artistic, performance, athletic, an other language or many skillful endeavors. It might encourage a kid that has or shows some strong interest in something with opportunities to take part in their area of interest or passion. A tutor, coach, mentor or a music/sports camp can help establish a level of fluency in short order. Fluency in this age is in part because of physical and neurological development. Kids are growing and continuing to set neurological pathways. It is easier to develop these pathways during a phase of growth and development than to establish or change them later. The usual example is of a particular sport or foreign language. A kid learning a foreign language during this time verses later after puberty is much easier and kids often develop a natural fluency that, if done later is difficult to achieve. The same concept applies to all kinds of skills development. Whether its language, math, art, writing, music or sports. It also applies to the more nebulous concepts such as empathy, generosity, altruism or compassion. If this opportunity is missed, it becomes more difficult to achieve a level of fluency later after puberty. During this stage, peers, the community and their environment have a significant influence. It is important to be attentive to what your kid is exposed to in their environment. And retrospectively, it is often seen that they established lifelong paths during this time.
Referring back to James Hillman’s Acorn Theory, if a kid showing some potential or propensity for something; perhaps it is their calling, imperative or hints at their inherent meaning and purpose of their life. It is important to pay attention to this potential. If possible, support, encourage and exposing them to opportunities to discover and grow their passion. You have a special kid (plant), that if grown in a well-suited garden environment and climate, they will thrive, flourish and produce wonderful harvests.
3/2/2016: Updated 3/12/2023