When adolescence comes a decade too soon

By Amy Dellasala 

My daughter is at a tough age. She is boy crazy, we have fights over her choice of outfits and she wears way too much make-up. I knew one day I’d be dealing with all this adolescent behavior. It seems as if only yesterday she was five. That may have something to do with the fact that she is five.

I’m not implying that this is uncommon these days. From commiserating with other parents, I’ve learned that this premature air of sophistication and defiant door slamming is prevalent among April’s kindergarten peers, seemingly more often in the girls. Because April’s 7-year-old brother spared me this experience and retained some degree of emotional baby fat, I was not prepared to encounter this lean-cut temperament this early in the game.

To the already enlightened parents, forgive me if I am being naive. Perhaps this presage of adolescence is considered to be a typical phase of development that has already been recognized, labeled and explained in one of those child operation manuals. But I have to admit that I haven’t cracked the spine of any “What to Expect….” books since my kids started solid food. I researched the Web using a Google search, which yielded results only pertaining to teenagers who behave like 5-year-olds, but not the reverse scenario.” Could it just be a city-kid thing? Are there any rural kindergartners out there refusing to milk the cows so as not to dirty their cool new shoes? Whatever the case, I believe it is common enough to merit its own name. I’ll call it “kinderlescence.”

Because there are numerous similarities to adolescence, kinderlescence could easily be mistaken for premature adolescence unless you recognize that there are some key differences in this behavior from true adolescence.

First, there is not a hint of self doubt, self-consciousness or insecurity, which is a key fiber usually woven into classic adolescent behavior. For example, when April stands in front of the mirror she smiles and admires her own vibrant image, gives herself a friendly thumbs-up and blows herself a kiss. Teenagers are generally more critical of their own reflection to say the least. In fact, kinderlescents are completely devoid of melancholy. It is wholly upbeat in spirit. That’s why you don’t encounter many brooding 5-year-olds sporting the Goth look. Purple is the female kinderlescent’s black.

Second, like adolescents, the kinderlescent often adopts a unique vernacular. However, there is a subtle difference between the two in the choice of expressions. The typical current generation teenage terminology consists of words like “dope” and “sweet” or the nostalgic “groovy.” I’ve concluded that kinderlescents, however, inexplicably tend to adopt colloquialisms that are too played out to be current, yet too recent to be nostalgic such as “awesome,” “bazaar,” and my favorite, “rad.” These expressions are generally enhanced with an exaggerated pitch modulation resembling “valley girl” talk, which is characterized by every pause in a statement sounding like a question. “So, like, mommy…? Today at choice time..? I blew a big bubble…? And I blew too hard… ? And it flew across the room and landed in the sand table..? But Charlie used it to make an awesome sand sculpture?” It would be annoying if it weren’t so cute coming from a living “Legally Blond” Barbie the size of a traffic cone.

Here are some other just-shy-of-adolescent behaviors exhibited by the kinderlescent: A need to keep a private journal — a new one each week since each word requires an entire page; a desire for privacy in one’s room — as long as mommy will be on-call to respond immediately for emergency boo-boo treatment or any doll-dressing crisis; rejecting mommies grasp to strut five paces ahead – until a big scary-looking doggy comes her way; and a stubborn insistence to wear high heels – the purple sparkly ones with Cinderella on the front. You get the picture.

I suppose it is possible that kinderlescence could be a type of purge which will spare the parents of the full impact of adolescence, but I’m inclined to believe that this is a glimpse of my daughter’s true adolescent behavior to come. If that’s the case, I am thankful for the warning and consider this a training exercise. I’ll use the time before the real thing to stock up on pre-paid calling cards, ear plugs and perhaps some bail money. Bring it on, April!