Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Formation of Character: the awkward, critical stage

'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 wasn't 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..."


...they call me mommy... said...

Thank you!!!! You can't know how nice it is for me to read from those blazing the trail ahead of me in this CM journey!!! I like what you said about the child-led parenting. Great reminder!!! I have only pre-teens at the moment, but it's coming! :)

...they call me mommy... said...

PS - What a lovely view!!! :)

Sharlene said...

Thank you for sharing this information. I have 5 teens at home and this attitude is "everywhere". I think it has lasted longer than it should because I haven't handled it with good humour. That is definitely something to work on.

Hwee said...

Thank you for sharing your experience. I have a 10-year-old but I can totally see that his teen years are not going to be smooth sailing for any of us! Your post is very helpful to prepare me for what lies ahead. :-)

dawn said...

We find some of this even with our younger children, I'm afeared of when they get older. We had the chance to help fill food boxes at Christmas time and they complained about it on the way there, I was in tears. It got better and now they are excited about doing it again, they learned about taking the focus off themselves. We need more such opportunities. Thanks, Carol.

Lisa said...

Thanks for sharing your experience,Carol. My first 3 children were a breeze..very little confrontation, even through the teen years. And then, my Aaron was born: a polar opposite of my other 3. But the Lord has shown me that I need to embrace the difference, however challenging it may be. Thankfully, my younger 3 are low maintenance. One high maintenance child is my limit. ;)
Love your blog, friend.

Sharon said...

I have three teenagers at the moment and personalities are so very different. I have one that needs help in not looking at self but at the needs of other. I don't think that is limited to just teenagers. Young children and adults can forget to look at others ahead of self. A good reminder to us all, I think.

Carol said...

Thank you, Lisa :)

Elizabeth said...

My son was a breeze...thankfully.

This books sounds wonderful. Thanks for sharing it.

And...thanks for coming by my blog earlier.

Stopping by from Carole's Books You Loved February Edition. I am in the list as #11.

My book entry is below.

Silver's Reviews
My Book Entry

Lorna said...

I'm really glad to read that! I didn't notice it really with my daughter, but my son who is 15 yo....hmmm. Very encouraging to know it is normal and it passes! *hope* :) Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Great post, my eldest was a breeze, my next lovely boy is super sensitive and I see these things happening.
A less smooth path for a number of reasons. Your post in its calm logic brings comfort.

Carol said...

'Your post in its calm logic brings comfort' - thanks for that comment. I didn't want this stage to sound miserable - it's difficult sometimes but it's not constant. I've always rejected the 'rebellious teen' scenario & believe that bringing up children is a something we do in faith, calling on the Grace of God. I can write about this stage now without fear because I've seen what the Lord has done in my older kid's lives - and a couple of them were hard going at different times!
Thanks to everyone else also for your kind comments.

Sara said...

The awkward critical stage is difficult for both parents and children. You don't quite fit in... friends change... as Charlotte Mason put it, it's awkward and critical. How a child handles it sets the tone for the rest of their teenage years.

Thank you for sharing an in-depth view of the stage!

Silvia said...

Super super helpful, so wise... Thanks for it,

I love this,

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:

So true. I am guilty of this and have to make an effort to remember it's not good.

Carol said...

It's hard! I don't want my children to miss out on anything good - be it opportunities, education or whatever. It really takes wisdom to know where the boundaries lie.

Sarah said...

Hi Carol, thank you for this post. We are here now with our 14yo, actually I have just had an outburst with my son in the last half an hour, I am so frustrated, and I am doing the wrong thing by taking his 'awkward moments' personal. He is chilling out away from me, and I am reading your blog and others. It certainly takes Godly wisdom and council on a daily basis.

Carol said...

Good point about not taking their reactions personally, Sarah. This was something I had to learn & it pointed out some deficits in my own character - a bit of sanctification for both parent & child!

Christy H said...

My twin sons just turned fourteen. I see this so much with, I swear you could have been writing about them. Fantastic post......I something I needed to hear/read.

Carol said...

Twins would be interesting! I've had 4 teenagers at the most at one time but they were spread out in age & at different stages of awkward. I do enjoy the banter of this age; they just need to know the boundaries which takes a bit of time, not to mention maturity.

SarahD said...

So far, in my experience, I've found that 10-11 with boys can be tough too. I'm going through it for the second time now. By 12 or 13 the first improved a lot. Second is soon 11. I'm grateful for your honesty in sharing this. It's a timely "heads up" that we're probably not out of the woods yet (eldest is soon 14).

I need the reminder to not engage in the heat of things but not let the teaching moment pass. And I very much needed to be reminded that I cannot cater to all whims.