Separation from Childhood
Early adolescence begins the separation from childhood. The child, through words and actions, begins to differentiate himself from the child he used to be. This differentiation is commonly expressed in four ways.
“I am different from how I was as a child,” your son or daughter seems to say, and now rejects much of what used to be valued, while trying on new images, interests, activities, and associations.
“I want to be treated differently than I was as a child,” your son or daughter seems to say, and now demands less traditional restraints and more independent freedom.
“I am becoming different from how you are,” your son or daughter seems to say, and now develops new cultural tastes and identifications that are counter to those you have traditionally held, that fit less well into the family.
“I am going to act differently than you want me to behave,” your son or daughter seems to say, and now your rules are questioned, response to your requests is delayed, and your authority is more contested by complaint and argument.
Each type of “different” statement, each time it is made, is a statement of separation. And when you have reached your tolerance limits for this differentiation and draw the line (“I will not allow that kind of poster on your bedroom walls!”), your child will, at the least, show resentment and will most likely raise conflict over it.
From now on, you will be parenting against more resistance as your early adolescent pushes to create more room to grow. Your son or daughter will feel he or she fits less well into the family than in his or her childhood. To some degree, both parents and early adolescent will become more uncomfortable with each other as differentiation occurs.
You are both redrawing the boundaries of definition, which will result in some degree of compromise between you. Your early adolescent will not get freedom to act as completely different as he or she would like, and you will come to tolerate more different behavior in your son or daughter than you ever thought you would.
More Corrective Discipline
In this process of separation, particularly if your son or daughter was mostly on good behavior in childhood, it can feel that the boy or girl is now letting his or her “bad side” out. “Bad” doesn't mean evil, immoral, or unlawful. It means becoming more resistant, oppositional, and abrasive to live with.
In response, parents usually become more corrective in order to keep the early adolescent in line. By becoming more corrective, parents are now seen as not as “nice” to live with and seem “meaner.” This is a necessary change in the relationship.
For a child to justify early adolescent changes that go with letting the bad side out, it helps if they see parents as letting their bad (corrective) side out, too. “If you can be harder to live with,” the early adolescent seems to say, “then so can I.”
Teenagers are naturally offensive. A healthy teenager pushes for maximum freedom to grow as soon as he or she can get it. Healthy parents restrain that push out of concerns for safety and responsibility. This is the healthy conflict of opposing interests that unfolds over the course of adolescence.
A Sign It's Working
There is, however, one critical distinction you want your son or daughter at this age to be able to make. You'll know your child has made this distinction when your adult friends compliment you on how well behaved your early adolescent is in their presence. “You can't be describing our child!” you protest, knowing how difficult your relationship with him or her at home can sometimes be. But the eyes of the world don't lie. Your early adolescent has enough common social sense to understand not to treat outside adults the way he or she sometimes treats you.
Your child is doing what you want him to: showing his good side out in the world and letting his bad side out only with you at home, reserving it for the adults whom he trusts to keep loving him no matter how resistant his behavior. Since every adolescent needs room to express both good side and bad, you'd rather the bad was confined to home while the good was shown to the outside world.