How to deal with tweens

When I first heard the term, I thought, “What the heck is a tween?”

Then someone explained that tweens are kids who find themselves in that crazy stage between sippy cups and wine coolers, cartoons on Saturday mornings and unprotected sex on Saturday nights. Back in the dark ages of the early 1980s, when I was in that age group, we called ourselves preteens and watched R-rated movies from the back of the theater after giving the teller some of our cigarettes.

Things are different today.

Preteen was abandoned for the more-innocent sounding tween and a delightful new demographic for Nickelodeon and Disney was born.

Since everyone on this planet hovers somewhere between life and death, aren’t we all tweens of one kind or another?

In our twenties, we’re tween STDs.

In our thirties, we’re tween marriages.

And in our forties, we’re tween meds that keep us coming home each night.

When my children were ten, they were almost always between homework and wondering, out loud, why they can’t have pizza for dinner each night. I didn’t call them tweens; I call them contributing factors to psychosis.

No matter how we label them, though, this subset keeps us on our toes. My sons’ teachers sent guidelines home: “Tips to help you understand tweens.”

I would have called it, “How to live with these creatures without killing them or yourself.”

Let’s take a look, shall we? With my additions in bold.

Tweens truly appreciate all-or-nothing logic; they see the world in black and white and have great difficulty discerning shades of gray. They are a lot like conservatives. This is why we, as parents, must assert some control and when our children fail to see the nuances or variables in daily life, we smile and say, “Be the hush.” Because “Shut the fuck up” is rude.

Tweens don’t always like to talk and may express themselves more readily in actions. Two can play at this game. “Actions speak louder than words, Johnny, and I’m sorry no longer works,” that’ll be our new mantra. As parents, let’s respond to better behavior rather than words. For example, our tweens should walk into the bathroom the first time we ask them to brush their teeth, instead of five times when we finally scream and threaten physical violence.

Peer pressure is real. To help our tweens, keep reminding them that when their peers mature, they’ll be more tolerant of differences, but don’t dismiss efforts to fit in. Volunteer often at the school to keep an eye on everyone. This gives parents the opportunity to see which creeps are giving our kids a hard time. We can also learn from other parents about why it’s happening. Later that night at the dinner table, we can clue our kids in. Tell them Allan is upset and acting out at school because his mom is back in bars and his daddy just found Jesus in prison. Problem solved.

It’s normal for tween boys to be rowdy and aggressive; we need to provide them with physical activities that can serve as an outlet for their energy. And we can forget about nice furniture, clean bathrooms, or doing laundry without feeling nauseated. For the rest of our lives.

Even though our tweens may post a Keep Out sign on their bedroom doors, they still needs our love and guidance; the sign is their way of trying to establish boundaries between themselves and the outside world. But let’s not forget that we can take down the sign and open their doors. If our twelve year-olds want privacy, they can move out. For now, they live in our house and we should see what’s happening in each and every room. Nosy parents are never the last to know about their kids’ drug use, porn addiction, or firearm collection.

Tweens do need rules and discipline, but let’s make sure we are fair and consistent. Allowing tweens to break the rules will send a message that rules are made to be broken and Mama’s a chump.

To remain close with tweens, we need to spend time together. Put down the Blackberry.

Take them to the grocery store, ask for help at dinner, or watch a movie and then talk about it. Make eye contact and listen. A detailed discussion about the eating or dating habits of everyone in school gets tedious, but we’ll remember these talks in a few years when our kids can’t stand the sight of us.

If our tweens are suddenly not doing well in school, don’t assume they’re slow. Talk to them and find out what the issues are. The kid can surf inappropriate websites and then erase the browsing history, so how slow can he be? Maybe his poor grades have something to do with watching television until 11pm and then eating Coco Crisps for breakfast the next morning. Kids need sleep and a healthy diet.

If our tweens never clean up their room, no matter how many times we remind them, it may be that they don’t know where to start or how to go about it. To teach that skill, break down the process into small steps and check progress along the way. If try to get us to do it, we can stand at the door and direct their every move. This takes a lot of time, but we were the ones who threw away that diaphragm eleven years ago.

My sons got home from school and said their teacher was covering Sexual Reproduction. Can’t wait to see those guidelines.