Editor’s note: Please enjoy this Dr. Michael Rosmann column from 2014.
The early teen years, from about 10 to 14 are often the most difficult for parents, and even more so for teenagers. Agricultural families, rural teenagers and their parents experience the same challenges as other families, and additional circumstances unique to farmers, ranchers and farm workers.
For most emerging adolescents their early teen years involve practicing their separation from parents or other persons serving in this capacity and trying out their own social relationships. Their transitions through the era can be fraught with hurt, bullying, anger, mistakes and uncertainty about whom to turn to for support.
As young teenagers give increasing priority to their own relationships, parents often feel less needed, and even rejected. While increasing self-determination is usually a positive advancement, sometimes parents have to deal with the wrong choices their sons and daughters make in the process of experimenting.
Lessons for parents. Good parenting entails telling young teenagers they can make their own choices and take responsibility for their decisions, while the parents will be there to back them up, or pick them up if they make poor decisions.
Adults who take too much control undermine the confidence of teenagers in becoming self-reliant and responsible. Taking too much control sets up children to be dependent on parents and other adults.
Most boys mature slower than girls, both physically and emotionally. Boys usually experiment later in making their own choices.
Girls sometimes encounter more bullying and subtle social maneuvering than boys to achieve acceptance and respect from their peers. Girls may feel awkward as their physical growth peaks between 11 and 14.
For most boys their physical growth spurts generally occur a year or two later. Usually – but not always – their awkward phase occurs when their voice deepens and their facial hair and sexual characteristics develop.
Embarrassment and blows to self-esteem can occur to both genders. Parents, teachers and other adults can help teenagers by being alert for signs of the youngsters bearing harsh treatment from peers, and sometimes from adults.
Hurt and scared young adolescents may seek to avoid activities or peers where they could encounter treatment they perceive as unfair by asking to be excused from such activities as sports, social events like school dances and proms, or whenever they perceive themselves as vulnerable. Protectors need to be sensitive to their struggles for acceptance.
Lengths to which young teenagers go to preserve their dignity can be funny to parents but usually not to the kids. A neighbor’s 14-year-old daughter demanded her father drop her off before and pick her up after the school dance, a block away from where she was to have her first date, even though the winter temperature was 15 degrees below zero.
Another friend said her 13-year-old daughter demanded her mother not ask any questions, talk or even look at her 8th grade associates as she transported them to a school dance. “Kathy” was accustomed to such requests from her independent-minded daughter.
Kathy taped a plastic sheet above the front seat of the family car to separate the kids from her. When they arrived at the school and the youngsters scrambled out of the car, Kathy asked for five dollars. Her daughter protested, but Kathy exclaimed laughingly, “If you want me to be a cab driver, you can pay me, OR you can call me whenever you need me.”
Of course, Kathy’s adolescent daughter did not have to pay the cab fee and now, years later, asks her mother regularly to care for her own three preschool children. The “difficult” young teenager is a lawyer working as a Legal Advocate.
Young farm teenagers have special issues. They often feel torn between family expectations and such prerogatives as their own strong urges to take over the family agricultural operation someday versus wanting to escape these perceived loyalties. It is a manifestation of their “agrarian imperative” that young people feel driven to farm someday.
Usually farm and ranch children can’t make fully independent choices until they have had a period of separation for several years, such as college, graduate school or years of employment elsewhere. When they feel unobligated and ready to pursue their own callings, they may return home, ready to take over the farm or ranch. They can now bargain with their parents as capable adults, able to “hold their own.”
Rural sociologists, Drs. Rand Conger and Glen Elder, studied northern Iowa farm families in a multi-year project which they wrote about in their books: Families in Troubled Times and Children of the Land. Children who adjusted best to family adversities, including the 1980s’ Farm Crisis, needed strong support systems.
The most resilient teenagers were those who had understanding teachers, helpful grandparents and other nurturers, adult mentors, including coaches, 4-H and religious education leaders. Their parents also had expectations for them to help with farm work while achieving academically.
It’s not easy being a teenager, or the parent. Stay open-minded.
Readers can contact Dr. Rosmann at www.agbehavioralhealth.com.
Dr. Rosmann lives on a family farm near Harlan, Iowa. He is a psychologist who has directed behavioral health programs in response to disasters of all types, Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.