As someone who watched her test drive her first tricycle, you may find it rough relating to the new adolescent wonder in your household. Now she's traded skinned knees for skin-tight jeans and suede ankle boots, and it doesn't take a behavioral analyst to tell you that the times they are a-changin' for a 12-year-old. Parents, take heart. There is life after junior high school, both for you and your child (I know, I proved it to my parents). With some solid reinforcement and a couple of disappearing acts up your sleeve, you too can weather the storms of pre-teenhood with aplomb. Keeping in mind that your offspring is as unsure of this growing up stuff as you are better equips you to handle the daily challenges of living with a developing personality.
One of the biggest hurdles may be coping with your adolescent's preoccupation with appearance. The Junior High Schoolers' Unwritten Code prohibits personal attire that in any way deviates from the current fad. This decidedly includes clothes that are acceptable at church and other adult functions. Young kids are looking for identities to ``try on,'' which they are as willing to swap as the clothes on their backs. For the guys, rock stars and film heroes hold a special fascination; for girls, models and other girls.
Particularly frustrating is trying to persuade your daughter that it's OK for her to be herself. How do you say to a 12-year-old who has four different curling irons and three kinds of mascara, ``But honey, do you really need to wear eye shadow to play tennis?'' She will most likely turn to you in horrified disbelief: ``Mom, all the girls wear it.'' On this and other topics you may be tuned out so effectively it will seem you're talking to the wall.
Getting tuned in is your first priority. Encourage your kids to talk about their friends and classes, not by asking nosy questions but by taking an interest in what they are thinking. Watch television with them. Go with them anywhere they will let you. Be fair in expecting them to come along on traditional family outings (although my parents, to my infinite mortification, always dragged me on state park nature walks, I have since learned to be grateful) and appear flexible about bedtime hours. Take them seriously whenever possible. Enlighten them on your views of male-female relationships (to counter rumors and misinformation from their peers), and above all, let them know that they can be themselves in their own house, without the false bravado or cake makeup.
Having laid the groundwork for solid reinforcement of their persons, it's time for the disappearing act. ``This is absurd,'' you mutter, as you drop them off at the mall for the thousandth time.
Now comes the hard part -- trusting. It takes a tremendous amount of courage and faith simply to set the bowl of popcorn in the middle of the table and vanish. Or to help set up the drum set and endure the noise. Keep reminding yourself that this is the point at which children start ``living their own lives,'' so to speak, as they venture beyond the limits of parental supervision. Remember, too, that there is tremendous potential for parents to do as much learning as their itinerant offspring.