Preteens, children aged 9 to 12 and also called preadolescents, can have many of the same issues as adolescents, but because of their age and stage of development, a different approach than that used with adolescents may be more fruitful. For that reason as well as because the influence of older kids with the same problem may not be conducive to recovery, preteen help is offer provided separately from help for teens by organizations that assist both children of both age ranges.
There are a variety of issues that can affect preteens to the point that their parents seek help for them and a variety of types of help. Matching the assistance to the issue starts with a clear identification of what the issue is, if the root cause is not clear.
Because health issues and mental health issues can have so many and so varied results, from bad moods to failing grades to acting out to defiant behavior, it’s always a good idea to have a preteen seen by his or her pediatrician when a problem arises without a clear cause.
If a child’s pet dies, and the child acts moody and sad for several weeks, parents can feel fairly certain about the cause. But things are not always so clear-cut. Nutritional issues, a mood disorder, or a debilitating physical condition can have results that look like an attitude problem, and jumping to a conclusion about the origins of what looks like laziness, uncooperativeness, or moodiness could lead punishments or other actions that a parent would later regret when the true source of the problem became known.
You can alert the pediatrician in advance to the issue in order not to have to discuss it in front of the child. Even if the cause is not a matter of physical or mental health, but something like bullying, an experienced pediatrician with whom the preteen is familiar may be able to get an explanation from the child.
Types of Preteen Issues
Here is an overview of some of the types of issues for which a parent might wish to seek assistance for a preteen:
• dramatic change in mood or demeanor
• social withdrawal
• trouble sleeping
• change in appetite
• insufficiently explained injuries
• smelling of alcohol or tobacco
• sudden desire for privacy and secretive behavior
• unexpected failures to be where he or she says he will be when he or she has promised to be there
• a sudden change in dress in which the child’s body is quite a bit more or less covered than it used to be or in which style of dress or any slogans on clothes are worrisome
• dramatic change in the amount of time spent texting or using technology, including the telephone
• objects or clothes in your child’s possession that you didn’t purchase and that he or she cannot satisfactorily explain the origins of
• behavior that leads you to believe you are not being told the truth
• breaking of house rules with insouciance
• the presence of any clues of sexual activity
• reports from teachers that do not match the attention to schoolwork that you are seeing at home
• obvious difficulty in completing school assignments
Usually, the first step is a conversation with the preteen about the change or behavior that you’ve noticed. There may be a perfectly legitimate explanation and the behavior may be passing. It may also have a health-related source, as noted below. It may be something you can deal with as a family, or something for which you need or want outside help. If you do want outside help, keep reading.
Types of Help for Preteens
Besides your preteen’s pediatrician, these are some other sources of help for preteens:
• the preteen’s guidance counselor
• the school special education teacher
• the school psychologist
• a social worker
• your minister, priest, rabbi, or other spiritual counselor
• a leader of any organization your child attends regularly, such as a coach, mentor, or scout leader
• a therapist, such as a cognitive behavioral therapist
• a psychologist
• a psychiatrist
• organizations that provide counseling and education and healthcare, alone or in combination:
- boarding schools
- residential treatment centers
- outdoor therapeutic programs
- specialty psychiatric and behavioral hospitals
- wilderness programs
- small residential programs