hard pass

My Kid Looks Like A Teen & It Freaks Me Out

My 10-year-old son looks more like a teenager than a preteen.

Ariela Basson/Scary Mommy; Getty Images, Shutterstock, Stocksy
Teens & Tweens

My son’s lacrosse game has just ended, and I’m waiting for him to make his way across the field. He’s moving slowly, with two fists full of gear, attempting to shake sweat out of his hair as he high-fives teammates while he walks. The mom next to me laughs as she looks in my direction. “My God,” she says. “He looks 15!”

And I hear it often from other parents, neighbors, relatives, all echoing the same thing: my 10-year-old son looks more like a teenager than a preteen. He stands a head taller than most, with a mature face and a swag that feels more post- than pre-puberty. And it’s always been this way; despite him being one of the youngest in his grade, his size has always fooled people into thinking he was much older than he was. And honestly it’s always stressed me out.

I notice it most obviously in sports. While he’s not always the most advanced athletically, he looks like he should be. He looks intimidating and I watch as coaches, players, and parents put wild expectations on him because of his size.

So often he is met with comments like, “You know, you could really dominate if you just…blah blah blah.” Or, “Hey, if I was your age with your size I would be….blah blah blah.” Nobody seems to understand what it’s like to move around in a large, sometimes clunky, and ever-changing frame. Quick, agile athletic movements aren’t exactly a piece of cake for him.

So as his mom, I worry about his confidence in these moments. I worry that he’s stepping onto the field and the court in a body that looks intimidating — and then when it doesn’t perform that way, and people express their shock or disappointment, that he likely feels pretty shitty.

His looks have also started to propel him into social groups and situations that seem too advanced for his 10-year-old brain. I see him navigating the middle school social scene, and I can tell he is very comfortable socializing in older peer groups, likely because he looks like he fits right in. But I think those older kids often forget that he’s in fifth grade and not seventh or eighth, and they don’t think about whether their (relatively) more mature topics of conversation are appropriate for him. They don’t have the visual reminder of a baby face.

His smaller peers seem to be relishing in their youth. I worry that my big-bodied boy is striding into puberty on the faster end, and maturing more quickly than I am ready for. I know I'm not alone. And I know that my son is dealing with a relatively mild version of this, as a white boy; I know that parents of Black boys face a particularly scary world when helping their sons navigate the process of growing up.

But of course, like so many other things in motherhood, this is a bit out of my control. I will continue to parent him for the age he is, rather than the age he looks. I will remind him, often, that people’s expectations of him might not always be fair and that it is not his job to live up to those.

And I will cross my fingers and hope that things slow down just a little bit because when the throes of puberty hit I know there is no turning back. And I am just not ready for all of that quite yet.

Samm is an ex-lawyer and mom of four who swears a lot. Find her on Instagram @sammbdavidson.