Dear Your Teen:
I’m concerned about my 12-year-old daughter’s immature behavior. One-on-one, my 12-year-old daughter is very sweet, thoughtful, kind, and funny. But in a group setting, she transforms into someone desperate for attention, trying too hard to be funny. She is oblivious to the fact that she comes across as obnoxious and immature. I’ve seen that other kids get annoyed by her.
She has a few good friends and even they lose patience with her silliness. I’ve tried talking to her about it but she honestly doesn’t seem to understand. I worry that continuing to point out concerns with her immature behavior will not only hurt her feelings but could cause her to feel rejected by her parents (her dad talks to her as well), but I also strongly feel that it would be wrong to ignore it and allow her to act this way unchecked. I’m at my wit’s end.
Oh, if only there was a way to make it easier to be 12 years old! This is the age most adults would be eager to gloss over in our recollections of our own childhoods. Several factors coalesce at twelve to create this perfect, awkward storm. First, many 12-year-olds are caught in the precarious position of mostly wanting to be older while sometimes wanting to be little again, which can create behavior that seems inappropriately silly in certain situations. They also experience a heightened intensity of emotions—their highs are higher and their lows are lower than ever before. Finally, friendship groups often change in sixth and seventh grade to include new members and exclude others, leaving many 12-year-olds to feel as if the ground is shifting beneath them in unpredictable ways.
In an attempt to navigate this changing landscape, many tweens resort to goofy behavior or reactions that seem “too big” for the situation. Coming from an empathetic, loving place will be key in addressing this with your daughter. When the timing is natural (e.g., if she is complaining about being left out or bringing up a situation with friends), you might start by reflecting on your own memories of what it was like to be 12.
Point out the solid friendships she has and how she seems to be more comfortable one-on-one or in smaller groups. The more opportunities she has for those types of encounters, the more confidence she’ll gain in her social skills. It may be reassuring to know that research finds children with one or two close friendships have higher levels of well-being than children who are identified as “popular” by their peers—there is no need to be friends with a large group, and it’s often easier and more enjoyable to have a couple of friends instead.
In the context of a gentle conversation, try to help your daughter identify aspects of large-group socializing that make her nervous, and then help her connect the dots to her goofy behavior in those settings.
If your concerns grow, or if others (e.g., teachers, coaches) are concerned as well, consider a social skills group targeted toward girls her age. These can be great resources for kids and teens in need of some help and practice developing social skills in a neutral, safe environment.
Finally, take solace in the fact that fellow 12-year-olds are often more forgiving of this type of immature behavior than adults. Her friends may simply take it in stride as part of the friendship, knowing there are other qualities they appreciate about your daughter.
Dr. Tori Cordiano is a clinical psychologist in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and the assistant director of Laurel School’s Center for Research on Girls.