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My Kid Turned 10, and Now Everything's Changed

Photograph by iStockphoto

It's tough being 10. At 10, a kid’s hormones start kicking into high gear. Biology may be pushing him to grow up, introducing new, strange feelings (and smells), while his parents may be encouraging more “adult-like” responsibilities and attitudes. But at 10, he’s also still a little kid, apt to cry, or want to cry, when he falls on the pavement or strikes out at a baseball game. He may be starting to become aware of the opposite sex, yet still believe in Santa Claus. It’s confusing.

This time in a child’s life can also be confusing for parents, who may struggle with knowing when to encourage maturity and wanting to help a kid hold on to the fleeting moments of childhood. The “tweenage" years can be a difficult time. Parents want to help guide and influence, and they want to do so in a way that’s not demanding. But it can be awfully hard to see their kids latch onto interests, habits or aesthetics that they don’t share themselves, especially if they also view them as somehow off-putting.

MORE: Taming Tween Tantrums

One area where this comes up often among pre-teens and teens is with clothing and style. Conversations can be monopolized by a 10-year-old son’s struggle with personal appearance. The boy may not be struggling with his personal appearance, but his parents are. The father may want his boy to dress better at school—nothing too crazy: sweaters, jeans, maybe a button-down shirt once in a while. But the son just wants to dress like his friends, who wear tracksuits and sweatpants to school. Style is important to many boys, and they know that appearance matters in life, if not necessarily when you’re 10.

Mothers, meanwhile, may become acutely aware of their son’s personal hygiene. Active kids indicate to their mom’s nose that they need to shower regularly. The sons, perhaps unsurprisingly, do not share the same view.

That’s the thing about kids this age (and older): Even if they follow parents’ rules, they know enough to question their wisdom. And maybe they should. Although it may seem to parents that they have a lot to offer—that they’re pretty cool!—by putting their own stuff on their kids, whether it’s related to appearance or taste in music or interest in traveling, they’re actually limiting their kids options, and not expanding them. Efforts to get sons to wear father-like outfits only make boys more laser-focused on their own desires to wear tracksuits. In response to parental pressure, some boys act out in school or purposefully rip good clothes during recess. And although mothers may implement a daily shower rule, they can’t force their sons to use soap while in the shower. In fact, sons often will rebel and purposely will not.

Frustrated and exhausted, thoughtful parents often will decide to change their tack and take no tack at all. They let their son wear what he wants, generally speaking. And while they keep the daily shower rule in place, they come to see it makes no sense to nag them about using soap. Many moms realize that their son is 10, and knows how to get clean if he wants to. Parents often realize that the best they can hope to do, at least during this period, is to try to influence by example—looking nice themselves, taking care of their own appearances, showering daily and hoping that the “stinky Joe” aesthetic will get old, and soon. It may pain the mother to think about it, but she realizes there will be a point when, if her son smells, some other kid will let him know, and that might be a far more effective impetus for change.

It’s difficult for parents to realize and accept that their kids don’t think they’re as cool or smart as they think they are and it doesn’t make sense to insist they're right, because with any luck their kids will figure it out on their own and soon enough.

Just about the least effective way to get kids to “buy in” to parental values is to try to force them to do so. Savvy parents, more often than not, come to understand that patience, and a little bit of tongue-biting, wins out.

Growing up: It’s hard for everyone.

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Dr. Peggy Drexler is a research psychologist and contributor to "toughLOVE: Raising Confident, Kind, Resilient Kids," available now on Amazon. Follow Dr. Peggy Drexler on Twitter.