Middle school was a big change for Deanna F., 12, of Middle Village, N.Y. Her mother, Josephine, said her daughter was becoming developed in every sense of the word. “Very moody! Also, her interest in boys! It’s breaking her father’s heart.” Although Deanna talks frequently and openly with her mother, Josephine still feels like there may be subjects her daughter is leaving out. “I want to know everything that happens in her daily life, and I know I don't.”
Indeed, the changes that go on in the pre- and early teen years, from age 11 to 13, are astounding. Children are transformed physically, emotionally, sexually, and socially, making that first year of middle school tough for both parents and children.
A Physical, Psychological, and Emotional Upheaval
Although for some, the transition happens slowly, to many parents, it can seem as though the child who got on the schoolbus in the morning has morphed into someone else by the time he comes home. The giggly girl who smiled all the time is now sullen and poker-faced (could it be that she’s embarrassed about her braces?) The happy-go-lucky team player is suddenly argumentative and challenging, looking for a fight. Preteens behave differently with friends, they become moody or elated without much cause, and of course, they start to look different.
According to Elizabeth M. Casparian, Ph.D., director of educational programs at HiTOPS in Princeton, N.J., around the ages of 11 or 12—sometimes earlier in girls—parents will begin noticing all sorts of physical changes in their children, such as body odor and breast budding in girls. A growth spurt may include longer arms and legs, and in boys, thicker facial hair and body hair, cracking voice, and wet dreams (nocturnal emissions). In girls, the changes include vaginal discharge, the onset of menses, and breast development.