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The Family Project: 12-year-old boy testing his autonomy

Q: How do you handle a 12-year-old child who makes poor choices such as not putting on clean clothes in the morning before school and then makes excuses?

Age 12 is when a child is going through a lot of changes and starting to test his autonomy, said the Family Project panel.

Panelist Chad Stefanyak said you can’t just tell a 12-year-old to do something without giving him the reason why.

“This child has just entered a different phase. You have to change as a parent as well,” Stefanyak said.

He suggested to let the son make choices on things which are less concerning.

“For example, you could let him choose showering at night or showering in the morning. It lets him feel he has some control over his life,” Stefanyak said.

Panelist Mike Daniels suggested focusing instead on when the boy makes good choices.

“Kids make a lot of choices and they are not all bad. And 12 is an age when hygiene naturally tends to slip a bit,” Daniels said.

Choose your battles, added panelist Denise Continenza.

“Let it slide sometimes, unless it is not negotiable, such as when you go to church. Talk to his teachers and see how he is interacting in school. It could be a power play,” Continenza said.

Stefanyak wondered what non-verbal messages the parent is sending to the son.

“Imagine how he feels when, after a year of you living in your sweat pants during the pandemic, you tell him he has to get dressed. Are you modeling one thing and saying another?” Stefanyak asked.

Continenza noted you also can let him experience natural consequences because of his choices,

“Let them play out. He may be cold because of what he chose to put on,” Continenza said.

Stefanyak agreed: “Other kids might make fun of him, if he smells.”

Daniels suggested discussing the family’s values.

“Talk about how members of the family present themselves to the world. If he gives push back, the whole family should start getting ready as if it was pre-Covid. Start a routine. If everyone is participating, he will eventually join in,” Daniels said.

This week’s panel: Pam Wallace, program coordinator, Project Child, a program of Valley Youth House; Denise Continenza, extension educator; Chad Stefanyak, school counselor, and Mike Daniels, LCSW, Psychotherapist.

Have a question? Email: projectchild@projectchildlv.org

The Family Project is a collaboration of the Lehigh Valley Press Focus section and Valley Youth House’s Project Child.

The Times News, Inc., and affiliates (Lehigh Valley Press) do not endorse or recommend any medical products, processes, or services or provide medical advice. The views of the columnist and column do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Lehigh Valley Press. The article content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, or other qualified health-care provider, with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.