The Negative Attitude
The opening signal of early adolescence is the negative attitude, the birth of the “bad attitude,” as parents often call it. What happened to the child who was full of positive energy all the time and a pleasure to live with? Now a turn for the worse seems to have taken place. It’s like someone has pulled the plug on the young person and all her positive energy to do anything has been drained away.
Your young adolescent may start speaking in ways you don’t like during this time. You have the right to say what is okay to say and what is not. You remain the authority over the household rules, and respectful speech is one of those rules.
She has entered a phase of what one parent poetically described as “developmental lumphood.” All the early adolescent seems to want to do is lie around and complain about having nothing to do. But when parents suggest some recreation or work around the place that needs doing, the adolescent just gets angry: “Oh, leave me alone, you don’t understand, I’m too tired!” Tired of what? Of doing nothing, of being bored, of being frustrated, of not knowing what to do with herself. She knows what she doesn’t want to do, but she has no clear vision of what she does want to do. When it comes to motivation and direction, she’s running on empty, and she doesn’t like it.
Then, as positive energy drains away, negative energy begins to build. All of a sudden, it’s like having a critic in the family. She’s critical of positive suggestions, of family activities, of other members of the family, and of what parents often don’t see—critical of herself: “I hate being just a child!”
Self-Rejection Is Required for Growth
She seems to be in a mood to reject everything and everyone. Why? Because she is rejecting the child she was, rejecting herself, and angry at that rejection, she turns anger at self-rejection into criticism of those around her. What particularly attracts her anger are parental demands and limits, rules and restraints, which now stand in the way of the increased freedom she wants. So a sense of grievance, a chip on the shoulder, develops: “What gives you the right to tell me what I can and cannot do? You’re not the boss of the world!” But parents are the boss of her world, and now she doesn’t like it. As a child, she didn’t mind their authority that much, but as an early adolescent wanting more freedom to grow and room to become different, but not yet knowing how to achieve that, she resents their direction and opposition.
The birth of the bad attitude begins in early adolescence because people do not change unless they are dissatisfied with who and how they are. And the early adolescent is developmentally dissatisfied. She doesn’t want to be defined and treated as a child anymore. This attitude change that provides the motivation for adolescence to begin can coincide with puberty, but it doesn’t have to. When it does, the release of growth hormones only makes the process more emotionally intense and the child more willful.