A teacher has recently told this to me about my 13 year old daughter, in what he intended as a compliment. And I’m happy to take it that way.
I remember an adult telling me I was mature for my age when I was about 14. Great, I thought. Doesn’t help me get any friends. Same thing for my daughter.
There are several things involved with appearing mature when a young teenager.
One is an advanced vocabulary. Easy to acquire if one likes to read and have a good memory, but not a true symptom of maturity. And kind of off putting if you use that vocabulary in front of your peers. But it’s really hard not to use just the right word. Don’t even know how not to use the word my brain picks for the occasion.
Another is being able to piece together bits of knowledge into a comprehension of the bigger picture. This is awesome and fun, but once again not useful for socializing. It can make for sudden vocal outbursts that some kids may think weird.
This also means that there is a lot of ruminating going on, and sometimes this leads to the anxiety knob being cranked just a bit too high or in some cases I know, a LOT too high, so that the child is cautious. This appears to some adults to be maturity. Really, it means we’re just over thinking things. The teacher doesn’t see the laying in bed at night, worrying about what might happen, whether it is very likely (some peer might make fun of me the next day) or less likely (what if an earthquake happens?) or even less likely (what if an alien lands and uses giant earwigs to take over my parents brains, who’ll then try to take over mine?).
Now, this ruminating can lead to aspects of true maturity. For instance, taking a real interest in the future and connecting it with what the student is doing now. This lets students lay a really good foundation for highschool, college and beyond. But that is career. Let’s get back to social.
The imaginations and worryings of the mature child isn’t just directed at self, it is often directed towards other people. They can be really good at imagining how another person is feeling, especially if something bad has happened to them. This means that the mature child detests drama. They also have a sense of fairness, so the typical social maneuvering feels barbaric to them.
Add to this the fact that sometimes social cues are more difficult for the more literal minded child. This is somewhat like aspergers, and sometimes may even be aspergers. But it could just be not enough experience (repetition) with social interactions, made worse when children refuse to socialize with the child because they are wierd. Adult interactions with these children don’t help, because the adult is more tolerant of what they see as childish foibles in a very smart child.
What the “mature” child who seems to have trouble with people their age needs is explicit instruction on socialization. Not just manners, which can be helpful, but also being able to cue into subtle social cues. The earlier the intervention here, the better. But the intervention can best come from daily interaction from parents, and parents don’t always know what to do. Especially when we barely know ourselves, because we didn’t get that intervention.