Keeping Tweens Young (while helping them grow up)

Sisters

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…)

Leaving Kids Home Alone

car keys,house keys,households,key rings,keys,Photographs,skeleton keys,transportation

I’ve recently had the opportunity to write a few articles for Mi Child magazine.  I thought I’d share the latest one here.  I’m sure we’ve all wondered what the “magic” age is to leave a child at home alone for a short period of time.  That’s what this article is all about.

When It’s Time For…

Staying Home Alone

Our brand new baby was just two weeks old. Our church was offering a Parents Night Out with free child care. What could be better? We needed some time to talk without the constant drone of crying or burping or puking in the background. We dropped our firstborn baby girl off at the nursery and with trembling hands I gave her over to the nursery worker. I was a brand new Mommy. I barely let anyone touch her let alone keep her for an hour. The worker sweetly said, “She’ll be having Cheerios for a snack then?” I literally sucked air. “Um..no. She is two weeks old.” I almost cried. I changed my mind on the spot. I could not leave my baby alone with a woman who thinks she can give a two week old baby Cheerios! I began to panic…which meant my innards got all twisted and my lip began to tremble, and my chin quiver. Rob said, “She’ll be fine.” Grabbed my hand, and we walked out. I sat absolutely silent during dinner, and Rob asked the server to bring the check quickly. I had left my baby alone too soon.

Fast forward eleven years. My little baby and her sisters began declaring their independence, trying to prove by any means possible that they would be fine if I left them alone for a few minutes at a time. My mind saw the teeny baby being passed across the counter to Cheerio lady.

But the day came when I knew I needed to test their independence. I needed to run a quick errand and did not want to have to bundle all three girls up, get what I needed at the store, unbundle and defrost three kids, causing the errand to triple in time from thirty minutes to at least ninety.

It was their one big chance. It was their test. If they could make it 30 minutes alone this time, I would breathe easier the next. My girls were 11, 9, and 5 at the time. I knew Maddie could handle herself alone-she’s always been mature and cool-headed for her age. I knew Whitney could do it. I knew Belle couldn’t, so I brought her with me on my short errand. I left my cell phone number next to the phone, put the phone next to them where they were sitting, showed them how to hit 1 to speed dial my phone, reviewed all emergency instructions, including not going to the door under any circumstances if the doorbell rang.

The girls simultaneously rolled their eyes as they sat bleary-eyed in front of a Disney Channel show. I knew they couldn’t get into too much trouble watching this show they were so engaged in, and I’d be home before it was over.

I buckled up Belle in the van, came back in the house, yelled last minute instructions down the basement stairs and heard grumbles back up the stairs in response. I ran to the grocery store and back in record time, still a little nervous about leaving them alone.

Twenty minutes later I walked in the house, put down my grocery bag and yelled, “I’m home!” No response. I ran down the stairs to find three girls instead of two. The girls didn’t even look up from the T.V. Their friend was at my scrapbooking desk, using my very expensive and favorite paper and supplies. “She really, really wanted to come in.” One of them responded-still not looking up from the T.V.

Nothing terrible happened–minus a few scrapbooking supplies ruined, but I knew that if they ran up the stairs and let this friend in with just a little coaxing from her, they were not ready to be left alone yet.

Test failed. I really couldn’t believe it, and was mad at myself for over estimating their ability to follow a short set of rules for 30 minutes. First the Cheerio lady, and now this. I could see my children swaddled to me forever at this point.

I gave them a few more months of maturing time, gave the test again, and they passed with flying colors. They have done great every time I have left them alone since then.

We all know that is a funny story with a happy ending. No one got hurt. But, would my kids be prepared for the worst? What about yours?

With the holidays upon us, the question like the mistletoe hanging in the air looms above us: How young is old enough to leave your kids home alone?

Officer Edward Kozcan of the South Bend Police Department pointed out to me that there really is no law about what age a child can be left home alone. He offers this common sense advice:

Does the child know CPR?

The American Red Cross offers CPR/basic first aid classes for babysitter kids starting at age 11.  If a child at 11 can learn what to do with basic life skills then that is a good capability and very basic skill to have.
Can they think and function under stress? Does your kid freak out or do the opposite and shut down during a crisis? A level headed kid is the best kind of kid to leave alone.

Is the home a safe environment? Is there a pool at the house?  If a toddler the 12 year old is watching were to fall in, can a 12 year old rescue the toddler from the pool?  What about other safety hazards?
What are the defined rules of the house and the situation

· Children need to have a clear set of rules to follow, such as never letting a stranger in, (or a friend), keeping doors locked, only answering the phone if it is a parent or on a parent’s “ok to answer” list.

· Having a password in place that only the people involved with the child would know is a great idea.

· Making it clear that kids are not to indicate to anyone at the door or on phone that an adult is NOT home at the time.

Is the child familiar with dialing 911 or how to get help?  Do they have a neighbor’s house to be able to go to as backup, relatives to call, etc.
Is the neighborhood safe? Basic understanding and rules is the key- are kids allowed to play outside, or do they have to stay inside until a parent comes home?
What about emergencies?

If the power were to go out, is there anything special needing attention?  Can a child get into the house with a key somehow instead of a garage door code that won’t work in that case, or do they have somewhere to go?  Is there a phone in the house that they can use if power is out (cell phone or a phone that will work w/o being power cord plugged in.

These are all very important factors when evaluating if your child is ready to be left alone. If you feel unsure, take them with you. It’s worth the extended shopping trip to keep them safe.