Keeping Tweens Young (while helping them grow up)


I wrote this article for Michiana Mi Child magazine, which is featured this month.  I thought I’d share it here and hear what you have to say about it!

Growing Up

Every kid grows up at a different pace. In the same sixth grade classroom, one boy could be daydreaming about kissing the girl next to him, while the next boy is daydreaming about what awesome Lego man he’s going to make after school, the girl next to him is wondering how long it is going to take for Lego boy to finally notice her, while the girl sitting next to her is pretending she is Barbie Mermadia floating on the sea.

Tweens are hard to figure out because there is such a wide range of development that happens quickly for some, and very, very slow for others.

We don’t want to leave our little girls floating on the mermaid sea, or our little boys building Lego’s for their whole lives. We really do want them to grow up eventually, but not without gleaning everything they can from their own childhoods first. Mermaid and Lego skills are important. We need to let our kids explore their wild imaginations, while gently guiding them into adolescence at their own pace.

Too Old to Play-

Four thousand three hundred eighty days after my squishy bundle of joy was handed me with a bow fixed neatly in her crop of dark curly hair, I came upon a stunning revelation. It happened somewhere around day 4300, but it took me awhile to catch on, since I’ve aged two days for every day she’s been alive. My Tweenie girl came up from her lair in the basement and groaned from boredom. I casually motioned to the phone and said, “Call Jane, see if she wants to play.” I was immediately caught in a laser gaze of fire and brimstone. I said something I shouldn’t have, and I had no clue what it was. “Are you not speaking to Jane? What’s wrong?”

“Mommmm….I don’t PLAY anymore.”

“Since when?”

“Mommmm…We don’t play. We hang out!”

Lesson learned. No more playing.

If you stop and take a look around, chances are you have noticed that stores are marketing their children’s products with a side of teenage angst at a younger and younger age. It is as if a department store completely skips the little girl phase and goes immediately from toddler to teen. Little boys are assaulted with video games targeted to their age, but with content acceptable for much older boys. My girls are ages 12, 11, and 7. I find it more and more difficult to find television shows for their age that don’t include “smoochy stuff” as we refer to it at our house.

We, as awesomely alert and wise parents of tweens in Michiana don’t fall for their tricks, but some parents somewhere might.

In it Together

DC Curry, Director of Student Ministry at Granger Community Church speaks to 400 tweens and teens every month. They have a simple and effective strategy for growing kids up while trying to keep them young. He says:

1. Intellectually we don’t try to keep them young. In terms of intellectually, we teach at levels a little above where they are so that they will be elevated and not slowed down in the maturation process.

2.  We try to give lots of reality checks so that they can see themselves in light of who they really are as a tween, not what they’re projecting. 

3. We keep things age appropriate.  Just because society says it’s acceptable doesn’t mean we have to. We play. We have fun.

4. We can’t control biological growth and development but we can educate and help through that process.

5. Peer influence is the dominant psychological issue. We try to help provide ways for students to be connected to each other so that they can grow together in smaller pockets with great leaders. Tweens have a very strong desire to ‘conform’. Growing up together in these smaller settings gives them confidence to just be who they are.

Every parent and family has to decide what “age appropriate “means for their own tween. Here’s what we do as a family:

· We carefully monitor all the shows our girls watch. No smoochy stuff. They’re not old enough for mushy kissing, hugging and dating, so we limit T.V. smoochiness to a minimum.

· We have rules about what the girls can wear. They can be pretty and fashionable, but they are tweens, not twenty. Pretty much the rule is: If you’d see it on a Bratz doll, you can’t wear it.

· Their books are age-appropriate. They aren’t teens. They are tweens. We let them read books whose main characters have qualities we want to see in our kids, not the opposite. No vampires, biting, blood, etc.

…and maybe most importantly

· We play with them. We do really fun things with our kids so they have an outlet to laugh and giggle. Playing with them keeps them young and us too! (We never say the P word while we are playing with them. They’d be mortified)

Parenting tweens can be difficult. Not parenting tweens can be even more difficult when they are older and “wiser”. We’re in this together friends. We can raise emotionally healthy-age-appropriate-intellectually mature tweens…right? (Deep breath…)

9 thoughts on “Keeping Tweens Young (while helping them grow up)

  1. island girl says:

    Great article!! As the mom of a tween girl, there is a fine line between what is appropriate and what is not…I just take each “thing” as it comes, LOL. The most important thing is communication…we talk about everything! (ALOT!) Your guide line points are great and right on track.
    Thank you so much for sharing!

  2. barefootlotus says:

    I remember when my son was like 11 and he wanted a certain game, but it said “Mature” on it. Both he and the salesman swore there was nothing “Mature” about it. So I told my son we could buy it but he could not open it until I called the number on the game. So I called the number when I got home and was explained that the only “Mature” thing about the game was that the main character, which was like a little boy, could get married. The makers promised me there was nothing “Mature” about it and it was safe. So yes, it is up to us to watch our kids. We can’t leave them to this world bc it is too dangerous. Oh and I also told him he could NEVER have the game “Grand Theft Auto”. That I didn’t care what his age was. It was not allowed in our house and that I expected him not to play it if a friend had it. I can hope and pray with the last “demand”. But luckily he is a good kid and will hear my voice if he encounters this game. lol

  3. barefootlotus says:

    continuation… I also explained to him why “Grand Theft Auto” was bad for him. I used myself, he female cousins, and aunts as examples and he seemed to understand.

  4. Janet @ KY Klips says:

    Excellent article. I seem to be dealing with all of this with my daughter who is 12. It’s also interesting that out two neighbor girls are two years younger and the girls have “played together” for years, but suddenly mine seems to be struggling with what things she can do with them and those that are too babyish.

    I love the line, “if you see it on a Brazt doll, you can’t wear it”. That is pretty much one of the lines in the sand here too. Of course, I still will never forget when my daughter (about 5 at the time) informed her friend, “I can’t have Bratz because Gramma says they dress like streetwalkers”. LOL!!
    Janet @ KY Klips Blog

  5. Melisa says:

    I especially like the part about intellectually stretching kids. It seems if we teach thinking skills, maybe it will help them work through some of the emotional roller coaster that is tweendom. Maybe. :-/

  6. DC Curry says:

    GREAT POST!!!! So helpful and such great wisdom!

  7. lifeinthecorn says:

    Love love love this post, Michelle. We are right there with you!

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