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…)

Table Talk

As the school year draws to a close for our older girls, we had some funny conversation over dinner last night.  I am saving this photo for any time in the future I may be tempted to allow them to have sugar or caffeine:

Maddie and Whit-Moes

Notice Whitney under the table laughing hysterically and Maddie choking on her chip. 

Some of the things we discussed:

  • 4th and 5th grade girls can beat boys at tug-o-war
  • 4th and 5th grade girls can run faster than boys
  • There is a sad realization that these are their last years at being able to be faster and stronger than their boy peers.
  • 4th and 5th grade girls fight a lot.

Some things Rob and I have learned from raising these two tweens:

  • They are more fun now than ever
  • They are clever, funny, smart, and think they are smarter than us most days (and most days I wonder…)
  • Parenting tweens is harder than potty training, teething, and toddler tantrums put together
  • Parenting tweens (especially our own) is the most fun thing we’ve ever done.

I love my crazy girls.  They keep me on my toes, even when my toes hurt.  For that, I’m grateful.

Tweens, Texting, and Twitter

I was recently interviewed for our local Tribune about kids and social media.  Imagine my surprise when I woke up yesterday to find the article on the front page!  It was a great and unintentional Birthday Surprise.  I re-printed it here in case you didn’t have a chance to read the original article.  I’d love to hear your feedback about this important topic.

Well-connected tweens worry parents, officials Should middle school kids have access to texting, Twitter, other social networks?

Tribune Staff Writer


Michelle Wegner recognizes the value of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.
The Granger mom uses them every day to promote her blog.
But, when it comes to her three daughters’ use of the same technology, she straddles the line.
Wegner acknowledges the potential dangers and misuse that can arise when kids have access to the Internet, but she also believes that with proper supervision, it can be a powerful tool.
When the family, which includes Wegner’s husband, Rob Wegner, a pastor at Granger Community Church, went on a mission trip to India last summer, she set up Twitter accounts for the couple’s two oldest daughters, Maddie, 11, and Whitney, 10.
She carefully chose who she’d allow to “follow” the girls on Twitter and had all corresponding e-mails sent to her own address.
“We wanted people on this end to get our kids’ perspectives on what that kind of encounter (in India) would be like,” she said.
Most of the girls’ tweets were humorous and light, Wegner said, often referencing things like how they were excited to find a restaurant that served hamburgers, but then disappointed when they were full of hot peppers.
But, some things the girls posted were more poignant, such as the advantages they began recognizing Americans have.
After the trip, Whitney sent out her last India-related tweet.
“She wrote, ‘I never realized how much I have until I got home and saw my house,’ ” her mom said.
Push for a ban
Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Ridgewood, N.J., attracted national media attention in recent weeks when Principal Tony Orsini sent an e-mail to parents asking them to get their kids off all social networking sites and to monitor their text messages.
In a phone interview with The Tribune last week, Orsini said there wasn’t one particular incident that led to him requesting the voluntary ban, but rather a culmination of them.
“I’ve met with a lot of parents who are in pain because their kids are in pain (because of something that’s been posted about them on a social networking site),” he said.
“It’s not really cyberbullying,” he said, but rather incidences such as one student starting a group on Facebook called “Johnny is ugly” and then many students joining it.
Or two friends will get in a fight, one will post a comment about the other and yet more will scramble to take sides.
So far, Orsini said, the community has been receptive to his request. Parents have been empowered, he said, to make the decision to not allow their kids to use sites like Twitter and Facebook.
Orsini said he’s not completely opposed to social networking and realizes it’s part of the world in the 21st century.
“When they (students) get a little older and can emotionally handle it, it’s not a negative thing,” he said.
Locally, a middle school principal, two guidance counselors and a Mishawaka DARE officer all agree the use of social networking sites can be problematic for middle school students.
At Discovery Middle School, student squabbles related to text messaging or Facebook and MySpace posts pop up several times a week, said guidance counselors Sandra Badur and Connie Long.
“Usually, we get the next-day fallout,” Badur said, “We get the child that comes in who’s upset.”
As Orsini said, many times the disturbances involve name-calling initiated by an off-line conflict.
Girls are more often involved in starting rumors, the counselors said, but boys also get involved in name-calling via online gaming sites.
And while some parents might brush the behaviors off as a stage that all kids go through, they should understand that the anonymity of the Internet has a way of amplifying them, the women said.
“Texting (a put-down) makes it impersonal,” Long said.
Sheryll Harper, principal of Discovery, said cyberbullying is indeed a big deal, but it’s something the school has worked hard to combat.
“We’ve really stepped up our communications with kids about what bullying is,” she said. “What worries me is that parents don’t understand the capacity of the Internet.”
Lt. Tim Williams, the DARE officer for School City of Mishawaka’s elementary schools, said like the New Jersey principal, he, too, has seen an increase in the number of kids who put each other down via text messaging and social networking sites on the Internet.
In his educational sessions for students, Williams said, he explains that bystanders to cyberbullying can be just as culpable as the offenders.
“They just want to see how big it gets,” he said.
When cyberbullying escalates to the point where threats are made, Williams said, the law in Indiana allows police to step in to investigate.
What’s the solution?
Dominic Caristi, a telecommunications professor at Ball State University, said middle-school-age kids indeed need to have limits when it comes to using text messaging and social networking sites, but he doesn’t agree with an all-out ban on those things.
“I don’t think the solution is to order them not to (use social networking),” Caristi said. “It won’t be successful. Rather, we should teach them how to be responsible (users).”
Regarding cell phones, Caristi said, parents should establish rules about when and how they’ll be used.
And, kids should be educated about how photos that you put on the Internet for your friends to see can also be seen by your friends’ friends and others.
While advocating definite boundaries, Caristi, however, stops short of advising parents to insist on having access to every text message, e-mail and Facebook comment initiated by their kids and their kids’ friends.
“No, I’m not going to get into the business of monitoring my child’s communications,” he said.
For example, he said, some parents may have a false sense of security because they’ve “friended” their kids on Facebook. In reality, Facebook users can set up multiple pages and friend whomever they want at each.
Even with all of the potential dangers, Caristi said the upside to exposing middle-schoolers to technology outweigh the disadvantages.
For parents who say they’ll simply not allow their kids to send text messages or use social networking sites, he has a message, too.
“(Kids) can still use computers at their friends’ houses, schools and libraries,” he said. “Some have access via smart phones.” So, rather than banning such activities, he said, “it’s better to be clear about what your expectations are.”