‘Here we go again…’
I really thought my thoughtful and affectionate youngest son would skip the awkward stage but almost overnight, the change came.
I should have known.
Each of my children have gone through this ‘awkward, critical stage,’ as Charlotte Mason defines it, beginning around the age of about 14 years with the boys. It was less noticeable in the girls and occurred at a younger age and seemed to last a shorter time.
For a few years I felt I didn’t get a break from the regular friction with the boys because one would just be finishing their awkward stage at the same time as another would be starting.
I used to think that my children were just stubborn or that I was doing something wrong. Or maybe it was because I was home schooling.
It wasn’t until we had older children and people began to talk to us about their 14 or 15 year old who was being difficult or causing chaos at home that it sunk in that maybe our kids were normal. It happened with kids who went to school and those who didn’t. And it turns out that this awkward, critical phase is not just a modern phenomenon.
Charlotte Mason wrote in her book, Formation of Character, Part III (published in 1905) that:
Indeed, this, of the growing boy or girl, is not only an awkward, but a critical stage of life. For the first time, the young people are greatly occupied with the notion of their own rights: their duties are nowhere. Not what they owe, but what is due to them, it is, that oppresses their minds. “It’s a shame,” “It’s not fair,” “It’s too bad,” are muttered in secret, when no one ventures to murmur aloud, – and this, with aggravating unreasonableness, and a “one-sidedness” which grown-up people can hardly understand.
I wasn’t so surprised that a couple of our boys went through this stage, but I was not expecting the youngest of them to do so. It was so unlike his usual compliant, easy-going attitude – as if someone came one night and swapped him for another.
But this tiresome behaviour does not arise from any moral twist in the young people…
At the same time, I noticed a heightened sense of justice. They could be blindly loyal at times and not see what was obvious to other, more experienced eyes. Sometimes I was worn out with their aggressive, argumentative logic and was convinced they would all end up becoming lawyers.
So what do you do??
Charlotte Mason continues:
What they want, is, to have their eyes opened that they may see the rights of others as clearly as their own; and their reason cultivated, that they may have power to weigh the one against the other.
This aggressiveness is not mere naughtiness.
They must be met on their own ground. Care must be taken not to offend their exaggerated sense of justice as to all that affects themselves. They must get the immunities they can fairly claim; and their parents must be at the trouble to convince them, with good humour, when they are clearly in the wrong.
The good humour part is decidedly difficult but it does work.
One thing I tried to do was to avoid confronting a situation while it was heated. One of my children had a quick temper and it was pointless addressing a situation while he was in high dudgeon. He needed some time to cool off and think about his behaviour. He was usually very humble after a little reflection…
It was then I had the opportunity to teach into the situation but I had to be disciplined enough to follow through and not let the moment pass.
Loving parents sometimes fall into the trap of child-centred parenting. By that I mean that the child’s needs and wishes are of prime importance to the parent. But allowing a child to fix attention on himself to the exclusion of others creates an exaggerated self-love:
It rests with the parent to turn the attention from self to other people, and the affections will flow in that direction to which the attention is turned…
No home can be happy if a single member of it allow himself in ugly tempers and bad behaviour.
“Teach me to feel another’s woe,
To hide the faults I see;
That mercy I to others show,
That mercy show to me…”