How to deal with a nervous pre-teen

Nono asks: How can I deal with a pre-adolescent boy, twelve years old? I’m a single mother, and he has no brothers or sisters. He recently became very nervous. My blood pressure always rises when we have any conversation together, because his arguments have no end and his voice is becoming louder (though afterwards he apologizes). This happens at least ten times a day, and I’m afraid that one day I’ll get fed up talking to him! We’re still friends, but I’m afraid to lose that. Please guide me as to how to deal with him.

Hi Nono –


I’m of two minds on this (which is very hard for a dog – you know our brains are a lot smaller than yours!).  First, it’s very normal for a boy of around twelve to become ruder, more aggressive, and louder.  But second, I wonder about your saying “he recently became very nervous,” like: is there something other than the beginnings of adolescence going on?


With the first instance, the best news I can give you is that this should end completely – in about six or seven years!  Oh he’ll quiet down way before that, but then you’ll go through months or years of him being sullen and distant, when you’ll miss this obnoxious barking!  Adolescence is a very difficult time for everyone, and the best you can hope for is that he gets through his changes as quickly and harmlessly as possible.  There’s no way to avoid them.


In the meantime, though, you do need to be the parent (which isn’t the same as being a friend), and help him learn to control his behavior.  You can do this in very positive ways, such as rewarding him for having a conversation with you that doesn’t involve raised voices or anger.  You could try to teach him ways of conversing that you use, when someone drives you up the wall and you don’t want to erupt.  You also might have to set up a punishment system, where if he gets (unreasonably) loud and angry, he loses some sort of privilege.


Remember that the job of a teenager is to test every limit that’s set on them; your job as parent is to encourage him to grow and keep growing, while enforcing the limits that are still important.  Bearably polite behavior to adults is one of those limits!


Okay, now, onto that second possibility.  It could be that your son is truly very upset about something.  It could be something you’re aware of (like that he wants to stay out later with friends than you’re allowing) or that you’re not (like that some of his friends are joining gangs and pressuring him to join in too).  It could even be something worse, like that he’s getting into something that’s affecting him.


Just in case this is true, or even if it’s not, this is a great time to change your relationship.  Once you’ve started that stuff I listed in Situation One above, take him out to dinner.  Have a great talk with him, and tell him about what your teenage years were like.  And if you have a terrific male friend or relative who you both trust, maybe suggest that your son can call him any time, to talk about some stuff if he needs to.  But also, ask him if there’s anything going on that he hasn’t been telling you about.  Anything that should concern you.  It’s like the friendship you’ve had in the past, but now you’ll be talking adult-to-teenager.  And that’s a change that needs to happen.


Okay, Nono, those are my suggestions.  And remember to try to stay positive, as much as you can, while staying honest and enforcing those boundaries.  While you and I might know that this is your name, maybe your son can think your name is YesNoMaybe!




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