I was walking home with my 9 year old last week and he shared an interesting perspective with me. He said ‘when I think about 8 year olds, it feels like so much younger than me even though I’m only a year older.’
I mean, I know he’s brilliant and all but I thought that was a rather astute comment. There are significant social and cognitive changes that begin around 9.
Like many 9 year olds, my 9 year old is becoming more interested in being involved in major decision-making that impacts him. He’s capable of taking on household responsibilities and is participating in a new and rather grown up way compared to his actions a mere 12 months ago - or what feels like a million years ago to him.
He has a growing social circle and is more emotionally mature and able to handle conflicts and frustrations. He has a growing curiosity about the larger world around him, and utilizes critical thinking skills when considering that larger world.
While 9 year olds are still very young, they’re becoming much more independent and are developmentally mature enough to handle many responsibilities and situations without a whole lot of adult intervention. They’re really standing at the precipice of adolescence.
For some this is a daunting reality. For others, there is a race to grow up fully. Many are somewhere in between.
What does this mean for parents or other adults with 9, 10 and 11 year olds in their life?
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond is British Columbia’s Representative for Children and Youth. I recently heard her speak at the McCreary Centre (an awesome not-for-profit org focused on improving the health of BC’s youth). Turpel-Lafond and McCreary draw attention to the transition times in the lives of children and youth. One of these transitions is the one into adolescence. It’s not easy – there’s a lot of shifting ground beneath our kids. I think the transition is a hard one for parents too. What do we say? What do we omit? How do we frame things? What expectations should we have of our kids? There really is no right or wrong answer but I do want to prepare my kids for the big, exciting, complex world that they are discovering with every passing day. That sometimes means introducing them to ideas and topics before they are introduced to them by some other means (ie. mass media or peers).
When my kid made the observation about his age, I let him know how reasonable and fair a perspective I thought it was. I mused that it seemed like the brain and body changes for kids aged 9 to 15 were really huge. We’ve talked about puberty a bunch but I mentioned just how much I think kids change around their independence and responsibility starting at around 9 which is why it might feel like he’s so much older than 8 year olds. I noted that he might feel similarly about 9 when he reaches 10.
I then mentioned that some kids at 12, 13, and 14 start to experiment and try adult stuff. I wanted him to hear from me that this sense of maturity that is a part of growing up means there are decisions young people make even when there is a ways to go before reaching adulthood. I was specific and named trying drugs and alcohol and being sexually active.
I know he’s 9. And that’s really young. He still crawls into my lap and we have kissing competitions (no matter who gets the most kisses in, everyone wins) But last week he went to the library by himself. Last month he initiated taking on certain household chores and recently people notice that he talks to adults as though he were an adult too. He pays attention to those who are a few years older than him – as though soaking up information about their adolescent journeys as he prepares for his.
There may be no physical signs that the transition is underway but adolescence is around the corner for him. And if he isn’t experimenting with grown up things during that transition, some of his friends will be. I want him to know that I know about it, have opinions about it and am always ready and available to talk to him about it.