OPINION: The age all parents must prepare for
APPARENTLY, it happens relatively quickly. Perhaps it's similar to how a caterpillar might change into a beautiful butterfly.
But this change sees that sweet-faced, obedient tween you've gushed over for years turn into a moody, grumpy, rebellious teenager.
Fourteen. Apparently, that's the age.
And the change from 13 to 14 is huge. Those 12 months of relentless physiological, emotional, intellectual changes: no longer a kid; certainly, no adult.
Australian author Madonna King has written a book aimed at 14-year-old girls - Being 14 : Helping Fierce Teens Become Awesome Women. King's own two girls are staring down the 14-year-old barrel.
The inspiration for the book came from the constant comments she was getting from friends, fellow parents and teachers, who one by one began telling her how awful 14 was: Year 9 - apparently, that's the year from hell.
So she interviewed 192 14-year-olds from across the country and found a generation of bright, capable girls who were also full of anxiety.
"Kid helplines have revealed that, in the last four years, they've had 22,000 contacts from 13-year-old girls," she says. "Many are ringing because they have missed out on getting into the top of things: the A-band of maths, or the top netball team or into an extension class.
"And that really worries me; that our girls, instead of bursting through the door and talking to us, they're ringing a counselling service to find out how to talk to us.
"Social media is a big part of it. There is so much pressure to have the perfect child - be fast, be smart, be beautiful … a lot of the good girls are weighed down by a fear that they are not going to do well."
THE TWEEN AND TEEN YEARS
One of Australia's leading parenting experts and columnist in The Advertiser, Justin Coulson, will be in Adelaide this week giving a free parenting seminar - hosted by Parenting SA - all about the tween and teen years, with a focus on respectful relationships.
Called "Understanding the 'Boy Code'", the seminar will include discussions about the influence of social media and celebrity culture.
Coulson says the teen years shouldn't be as scary as some people make them out to be.
"The first thing we need to recognise is that one of the most common responses to adolescent challenges is parents raise the white flag, they shrug their shoulders and say: "I give up" and they walk away," he says.
"Children say to me all the time: 'My parents don't care what I do'."
TUNING INTO YOUR KIDS
This age is exactly when parents should be really tuning in to their kids.
"Ironically, our teens need more of us at a time when we, as parents, have become so busy that, instead of giving more, we seem to be giving them less."
King also sees this as a problem. "Teenagers have always been difficult to raise, but there are big differences with today's teens: the level of competition, social media, the frenetic home life of their parents, bullying that enters bedrooms and can go late into the night."
The problem is that today's parents are helping kids wade through their teen years without having experiencing it themselves: naked selfies, online porn, Snapchat … none of these were even a twinkle-in- the-eye to the vast majority of today's parents when they were teens themselves.
"Teens need nine hours' sleep two nights in a row for the things they've learned to seep into their long-term memory, and often it's social media keeping them up and the number of extra-curricular activities they sign up for: hockey, debating, netball and, by the time they do their homework, it's impossible to get nine hours' sleep," he says.
LETS TALK ABOUT SEX
We're busy. We're hectic. They're hormonal. American author Elizabeth Clark has been counselling teens for 30 years and has written a book dedicated to the hormonal: Love, Sex and No Regrets, which has just been released in Australia through Finch publishing.
She says society is facing a crisis in terms of teens and sexuality.
"I am seeing research now that says 80 per cent of children 11 years old and up have bumped into internet porn at some point," Clark says.
"So, often, their first visual of sex is porn, and porn was never meant to be educational; it's for a very different purpose - for arousal and mostly self-pleasure - not to educate teens about normal, healthy sexuality."
She says that, if parents can get to their kids and talk to them about sex - healthy relationships, mutual respect - before they see the porn, a generation of teens would be growing up happier people.
"Most of the stuff they are hearing from movies and TV and porn are fantasies being sold to them as truths," Clark says.
"And, when they try and emulate these fantasies in real life, they are terribly disappointed and often injured by the experience.
"Most of them cannot put words to this. Most of them believe this is as good as it gets.
"Most of them silently think something is wrong with them because they are terrified or simply not enjoying it. I have known many barely 18-year-old girls who apathetically say they are finished with sexuality."
King is equally worried about porn being the current sex educator for boys.
"That's impacted on how girls are treated," she says, "and they're willing to accept it because they're desperate to have a boyfriend."
And Coulson will be touching on the topic when he's in Adelaide this week.
"I'll be offering a whole range of solutions for parents who want to have good relationships with their kids and who want their kids to be respectful," he says.
"There is a broad acknowledgement that our boys are struggling in the respect department.
"And we'll talk about how we can help make our boys more respectful, particularly towards girls and women."
Dr Coulson says that, as boys approach their teens, the emotional repression results in disrespect, aggression and a severe loss of empathy.
"We need to teach respect by asking them to take the perspective of others," he says.
Clark agrees: "I really encourage conversation with boys, because parents naturally will talk to girls about sex more than they will boys."
It seems that parenting experts are united on one thing then: turn towards your teen, not away from them.
King says: "I think parents are trying; we're so involved - we do tuck shop, we're taxi drivers, we fundraise for the school, but I think there may be a difference between involvement and engagement.
"I think our girls are asking for us to engage with them.
"We should allow them to fall, but to be there to help pick them up so they learn resilience, they learn how to deal with challenges."
Justin Coulson's "Understanding the 'Boy Code'", presented by Parenting SA, Tuesday, May 30, Adelaide Convention Centre, 7pm-9pm, free. Register online through Eventbrite.com.au
ENJOYING HER GIRLS' JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY
MOTHER-OF-TWO Kelli Foran is in the thick of the teenage years.
Having raised Maddi, 18, successfully through school, she is now readying herself for Bella, 14.
And, she says, there is much to enjoy about the teen stage.
"I love that we have developed real friendships and enjoy just hanging out together or walking the puppy together," she says. "I miss them when they aren't around."
But the hardest part for her is watching them working out their place in the world.
"The vulnerability that comes from that takes hard work to ensure they we keep it in perspective," she says.
"Social media puts a lot of pressure on kids.
"It can cause immense self-esteem issues at an age where most kids are already struggling with so much.
"It also affects their ability to socialise normally; at get-togethers, now they all sit around the living room messaging each other instead of talking. It's crazy."