Home Alone: Are Our Pre-Teens Out of Control?

My Dear Readers,

During a recent review of my personal Facebook news feed, I saw a picture of two African-American pre-teens exchanging a deep kiss. The young woman was wearing a t-shirt that showed a side view of her bra, and the young man’s hands were caressing her rear end.  Under the photo, the caption posed the following question:

“You come home from work and see your 12-year old daughter like that as you pull up to the house.  What would you do?”

I was taken aback by the outlandish comments that were posted in response, but I also saw this as a wonderful opportunity to participate in an exchange on expectations and reasonable ways to respond to such actions and behaviors

So, I posted the following response:

Looking at all of the previous responses, there clearly is no doubt why our young people are either distant from us as older adults or want to shut us out of their lives. Very sad indeed.

Let’s see if we can move beyond the simplistic reactions of screaming, hitting and other behaviors of shaming and humiliation. I am hopeful that there can be a reasonable discussion that can assist those who will one day find themselves in such a situation. Let’s see if we can walk in that direction. Best regards all,

Dr. Micheal Kane

I will admit that a portion of my initial response was chastising, but to be honest, my intent was to encourage dialogue that would be empowering, giving the reader the opportunity to provide assistance to others who may find themselves in a similar situation.  That, however, was pretty much rendered moot when my comment was deleted from the post, and I was blocked from posting further.

However, I was still able to review the other comments, and I saw approximately 20 postings which I would categorize this way:

Physical Violence

  • “Call 911 because I am going to beat both of their asses.”
  • “Whip her ass once for wearing what she has on, whip her ass twice for kissing that raggedy boy, whip her ass three times for letting him touch her butt and whip her ass once more for even thinking she could get away with it. She’d learn.”
  • A picture of Adrian Peterson, who is currently charged with child abuse of his four year old son, with the caption “Go get a switch, I wanna beat yo ass”
  • Picture of a Gorilla showing an angry look with the caption “That look your mom gives you when you are about to get your ass whipped”
  • “Ass whooping and we would have a long discussion afterwards.”

Death Threats

  • A picture of a group of pall bearers carrying a small casket with the caption “Guns Don’t Kill People, Dads With Pretty Daughters Kill People”
  • A picture of Liam Neeson from the Taken movies with the caption “I Will Find Him and I Will Kill Him”
  • A picture of Tyler Perry dressed as Madea cocking the hammer on her pistol with the caption “Oh Hell No!”

Shaming & Humiliation

  • Picture of a black male actor with a grim face with the caption “You Know That You Done Fucked Up Right?”
  • Picture of Elderly black woman with a sour look on her face with the caption “Lord, What is Wrong With These Children?”
  • “a) First have a long talk, b) take her to the doctor, c) make her volunteer where people get counseling for HIV and other diseases, d) give her an assignment to look up the cost of daycare and everything a baby will need, e) make her babysit a baby and make her do all the work, f) tell her that babysitting is not an option and she must fill in her schedule with after school activities, g) she will now be required to dress as a nun and h) repeat until a full understanding is met… Maybe even until she is 18 years old.”

Parental Denial

  • “She would not be my daughter, cause my daughter wouldn’t behave like that.”

Really? Threats of physical violence, death, shaming and humiliation?  For acting out in the behaviors that naturally occur as puberty approaches and sexual feelings begin to develop?  In response to this, we:

  • Beat the sexual feelings out of them?
  • Shame them; humiliate them?
  • Kill the male for what? Grabbing her butt?

As a parent and clinician working with pre-adolescent and adolescent youth, I find these responses to be disturbing.   The individuals I saw in the caption appeared to be of the same age, well groomed, wearing appropriate attire and physically attracted towards each other.

Yes, they were involved in a deep embrace, and it appeared to be mutually desired.  They were standing in the front of a residence.  They were not engaged in sexual activity.  There was no attempt to hide from plain sight.  They were very public in their actions and behaviors.

I have no doubt that it would be surprising to any parent to arrive at home and find one’s daughter and male friend involved in such behavior.   However, to be shocked, appalled or driven to physical violence, shaming, humiliation and ultimately death threats only shows that we as a society continue to deny the normal human behavior that develops among this specific age group.

What do we know about pre-adolescence?

Pre-adolescence is a stage of human development that follows early childhood and is prior to adolescence.  It generally ends at 10-13 years of age, with the beginning of puberty.

Pre-adolescents tend to have a different view of the world than their parents.  Parents may have difficulty understanding the specific changes that may occur swiftly as their child moves from the intense fantasy world of childhood to one that is more realistic.  Pre-adolescents making this transition tend to have more mature, sensible thoughts and actions than they had before.

Pre-adolescents during this stage will often develop a sense of intentionality, specifically the wish and capacity to have an impact and to act upon that with persistence.  It is also within pre-adolescence that they will have a more developed sense of looking into the future and seeing the impact of their actions.

It is also at this stage that they begin to view human relationships differently. They are beginning to develop a sense of self-identity and have increased feelings of independence.   They may begin to feel more as an “individual” and no longer “just one of the family”. It is at this stage that a different view of morality begins to emerge as well as the desire to balance one’s own needs with those in peer group activities.

So, what does all of this mean? It means that pre-adolescence is a time of “emergence”.  Unlike childhood and adolescence, it is a short period in which individuals may find themselves seeking clarity regarding newly discovered emotional and sexual feelings.

Concluding Words

Are our pre-adolescents out of control?  Simply, no. The picture just provides us with a snapshot of two very young and innocent individuals exploring and attempting to find their way in uncharted new lands.  It would actually be helpful to them for responsible adults to assist them through counsel and advice instead of going directly to punishment.

It would be emotionally wounding and psychologically damaging to ridicule or heap threats of violence, death, shame, and humiliation for normal human behavior occurring at the appropriate age level by two individuals of likewise ages.

As adults we have choices– we can make ourselves available to our inquiring youngsters filled with this growing sexual energy, or we can hold ourselves in denial and do things that are certain to drive them away from us as parents.

One of the responses that particularly stands out for me is this one:

“Whip her ass once for wearing what she has on, whip her ass twice for kissing that raggedy boy, whip her ass three times for letting him touch her butt and whip her ass once more for even thinking she could get away with it.  She’d learn.”

Right…after repeatedly getting her behind tore up she’d learn alright.  He will, too.  They will come to understand the brutality and lack of understanding of those who say that they love them.

The real question is this: As they grow into  adults, will they learn and prosper from our words and experiences, or will they just know the ignorance that we kept them in?


“Once burned, we learn. If we do not learn we only assure ourselves that we will be burned again and again and again until …we learn.”

Ten Flashes of Light For The Journey of Life

 Until the next crossroads….The journey continues.

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