My name is Sally, and I’m a terrible parent. But it’s alright. I’ve realised that everyone parenting a pre-teen is a pretty terrible parent.
Here’s the thing. You spend ten years perfecting your parenting technique on this little person, safe in the knowledge that any mistakes can be fixed. Probably.
Then suddenly they’re almost 12, and in senior school. You’re still winging it, but now the stakes are higher. Not all mistakes can be fixed.
Get it wrong, and your child might end up experimenting with drugs or alcohol to help themselves feel better. Expose them to the wrong messages about their appearance, and they might develop disordered eating. There’s shoplifting, and sexual experimentation, and depression and self-harming.
Even if your pre-teen doesn’t experience those issues (and I hope to goodness they won’t) they’ll probably have friends who do.
This is the situation we’re wrestling with right now. In a secondary school environment, Flea 100% knows girls with disordered eating habits. She knows girls who argue with their family. Who self-harm. Who experiment with various unhealthy behaviours.
They’re girls like her. From families like ours. I don’t judge anyone in this position, because it could be any of us. Trust me, “My kids wouldn’t ever do that,” goes out of the window really fast with pre-teens.
Still, I Worry
I worry because my pre-teen has a history of struggling with stress over things like exams. While I might try and teach her healthy ways of managing her feelings, I’m not necessarily the biggest influence in her life these days.
Obviously, kids can’t “catch” depression or an eating disorder. But contagion is a thing. Teens who see certain sorts of behaviour among their peers are more likely to try those things themselves.
I make no apology for being protective. Aren’t we all?
But I can’t ban Flea from being friends with people. It wouldn’t work, even if I did.
At this stage of parenting, then, I’m working on a three-part strategy.
First, we talk. I talk to Flea about how to be supportive of kids who might be struggling, and some of the dangers they might face because of the things they’re doing.
I talk about how it’s important not to get sucked into someone else’s drama. And that there’s nothing so bad, or secret, or scary, that she can’t call me. She knows I will drop everything to come and help if she, or someone she cares about, needs me. No judgement, no questions (until later).
Second, I work on developing Flea’s social circle so that she has balance. There are kids who are easy and fun to be with, and I manipulate schedules and activities, just a little bit, to encourage Flea to spend more time with those kids and at those activities.
And third, well, third is the hardest bit.
Third, I have to trust that all the borderline inept parenting I did for the first 10 years actually pays off.
I have to trust that Flea knows the difference between being supportive to a friend, and being influenced by them. I have to trust that she is resilient and confident enough to make the right choices for her own wellbeing and happiness. But wow, it’s hard.
What do you think? Am I being over-cautious? How do you react when children are friends with children who you think might not be good for them?