Filling in the Generation Gap

Helping Your Child Move into a Confidant Adulthood

by Chani Birkner

The ages of 10-12 is the beginning of personal discovery.  As they struggle to figure out how to fit into the Adult World, many tweens are left feeling misunderstood and unimportant to their parents and role models.

“While it is more noticeable by 15 or 16, the damage of misunderstanding and missed opportunities starts as a youth moves from childhood and presses forward into the world of adults,” says Cherie Logan, author of Becoming Crystal Clear Communications and Filling in the Generation Gap: The Guiding Art of Teenage Communication and a member of The Family Life Coaching Group. “If parents knew a few key aspects of the communication transition from child to adult, they would enjoy the teenage years instead of feeling like they’ve lost their children.”

  • Hovering Observations: A child hovers because she wants attention, and parents quickly send her away to play. A Tween hovers, anxious to watch adult interaction and eager to listen to the conversation. When she is sent away, she feels a deep hurt that her basic needs are not being met, after all, she was quiet and just wanted to be present.  “This is when a parent must change long established habits,” explains Cherie Logan, “they should use this time to bring up topics of conversation they WANT their youth to hear. I call it indirect teaching and it brings about indirect learning. It is ok to send a young person away if the topic gets too personal, but only if you allow them to hover the most of the time when there is adult interaction.”
  • Inept Attempts: As a Tween moves from the hovering stage, she now begins to try and interact with adults. Like all learning and growth, we make mistakes at first. Often the first attempts at conversation on an adult level are horrible failures, giant social guffaws that embarrass and can scar our youth. “This is where a parent must be patient,” says Jalyn Bertagnolli, member of The Family Life Coaching Group, “and help smooth their Tween’s attempts. Mockery and anger will quickly shut down the emerging confidence of a tender youth. Instead, help fill in the gap, and then gently discuss the mistakes later that day. Often, they already know they made a mistake, and you can point out the key aspects of what they did right in the conversation and then what they did wrong.”
  • Powerhouse Declarations: As a Tween becomes a Teenager in her own right, her passion becomes ignited. Suddenly she is learning and developing strong opinions about everything. Hold on and enjoy the ride. Passion brings passion and the youth understand this. Carefully react just as you would any other adult friend who converses about something they feel strongly about. “This can be a tempestuous time, full of hormones and a desire to be their own person. If handled well, it can also be a joyful time as you see glimpses of maturity and the adult they will become,” Jalyn Bertagnolli said. “If you have gained their trust through the other stages, it will be much easier to point them in the right direction here.”
  • There are two other stages: The Almost There and The Now and Forever an Adult. The Almost There can be a calmer, happy time or it can be a time of resigned separation between child and parent, and a lot depends on how the previous stages were handled. In the last stage, the biggest changes and challenges are not with how the child manages this time of life, but how the parents adjusts to something they’ve been preparing for their entire child’s life but are never fully ready for.

From the beginning of Hovering, through the embarrassment of  Inept Attempts and the agonizing passion of Powerhouse Declarations, the youth will move into Unfolding Direction and finally arrive at the gates of Adulthood, while parents must restructure their roles into those of parents to adults.

The greatest fear of every parent is that their sweet little baby will someday become a raging teenager who hates them. Through understanding these key stages, a parent has a greater chance of filling in the generational gap, smoothing normal bumps along the way, and looking back on their child’s teen years with fond memories. The book Becoming Crystal Clear: The Art of Teenage Communication states, “The teenage years can be filled with deep and powerful conversations, light and happy moments filled with laughter, and a trusting, mutually enjoyable relationship between parents and their children.”