QUESTION: My thirteen-year-old daughter has become increasingly lazy in the past couple of years. She lies around the house and will sleep half a day on Saturday. She complains about being tired a lot. Is this typical of early adolescence? How should I deal with it?
DR. DOBSON: It is not uncommon for boys and girls to experience fatigue during the years of puberty. Their physical resources are being invested in a rapid growth process during that time, leaving less energy for other activities. This period doesn't last very long and is usually followed by the most energetic time of life.
I would suggest, first, that you schedule your daughter for a routine physical examination to rule out the possibility of a more serious explanation for her fatigue. If it does turn out to be a phenomenon of puberty, as I suspect, you should "go with the flow." See that she gets plenty of rest and sleep. This need is often not met because teenagers feel that they shouldn't have to go to bed as early as they did when they were children. Therefore, they stay up too late and then drag through the next day in a state of exhaustion. Surprisingly, a thirteen- or fourteen-year-old actually needs more rest than when he or she was nine or ten, simply because of the acceleration in growth.
In summary, your daughter is turning overnight from a girl into a woman. Some of the physical characteristics you are observing are part of the transformation. Do everything you can to facilitate it.
QUESTION: How can parents prepare their younger children for the assault on self-esteem that is almost certain to come in adolescence? That was a tough time for me, and I want it to be easier for my kids.
DR. DOBSON: Well, one important approach is to teach boys and girls valuable skills with which they can compensate in years to come. They can benefit from learning something that will serve as the centerpiece of their self-concept during the difficult years. This would include learning about basketball, tennis, electronics, art, music or even raising rabbits for fun and profit. It's not so much what you teach your child. The key is that he or she learns something with which to feel good when the whole world seems to be saying, "Who are you and what is your significance as a human being?"
The teenager who has no answer to those questions is left unprotected at a very vulnerable time of life. Developing and honing skills with which to compensate may be one of the most valuable contributions parents can make during the elementary school years. It may even be worth requiring your carefree kid to take lessons, practice, compete and learn something he or she will not fully appreciate for a few more years.
QUESTION: Should school children be required to wear clothes that they dislike?
DR. DOBSON: Generally not. Children are very concerned about the threat of being laughed at by their friends and will sometimes go to great lengths to avoid that danger. Conformity is fueled by the fear of ridicule. Teens, particularly, seem to feel, "The group can't laugh at me if I am identical to them." From this perspective, it's unwise to make a child endure unnecessary social humiliation. Children should be allowed to select their own clothes, within certain limits of budget and good taste.
QUESTION: Having a child diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder can paint a pretty bleak picture. Is there anything good you can tell us?
DR. DOBSON: There are some advantages to having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. In a sense, even the word disorder is misleading because the syndrome has many positive features. As Time reported, "(ADHD adults) see themselves as creative; their impulsiveness can be viewed as spontaneity; hyperactivity gives them enormous energy and drive; even their distractibility has the virtue of making them alert to changes in the environment. Kids with ADHD are wild, funny, effervescent. They have lots of life."