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 hook ups. 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 your tween.”
I would have called it, “How to live with these creatures without killing them or yourself.” Let’s take a look, shall we? (The parentheticals are mine.)
1) Tweens truly appreciate all-or-nothing logic; they see the world in black and white and have great difficulty discerning shades of gray. (Fantastic, they are a lot like conservatives. This is why you, as the parent, must assert some control. When your children fail to see the nuances or variables in daily life, you smile and say, “Be the hush.” Because “Handle it” is rude.)
2) 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.” Tell Johnny you respond to better behavior. For example, he should walk into the bathroom the first time you ask him to brush his teeth, instead of five times later, when you scream and threaten physical violence.)
3) Peer pressure is real. To help your tween, keep reminding her that when her peers mature, they’ll be more tolerant of differences, but don’t dismiss her efforts to fit in. Volunteer often at her school. (This gives you the opportunity to see which creeps are giving her a hard time. You can also learn from the other parents about why it’s happening. Later that night at the dinner table, clue your kid in. Tell her Allan is upset because his mom is back in bars and his daddy just found Jesus in prison. Problem solved.)
4) It’s normal for tween boys to be rowdy and aggressive. You need to provide them with physical activities that can serve as an outlet for their energy. (And you can forget about nice furniture, clean bathrooms, or doing laundry without feeling nauseated. For the rest of your life.)
5) Even though your tween may post a Keep Out sign on her door, she still needs your love and guidance; the sign is her way of trying to establish boundaries between herself and the outside world. (First of all, take down the sign and open her door. If your twelve year old wants privacy, she can move out. For now, she lives in your house and you 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.)
6) Tweens do need rules and discipline, but make sure you are fair and consistent. Allowing your tween to break the rules will send him a message that rules are made to be broken (and Mama’s a chump.)
7) To remain close with your tween, you need to spend time together. (Put down the smart phone.)
8) Take her with you to the grocery store, ask her to help you make dinner, or watch a movie together and then talk about it. (Make eye contact and listen. I understand that a detailed discussion about the eating habits of everyone in school gets tedious, but you’ll remember these talks in a few years when she can’t stand the sight of you.)
9) If your tween is suddenly not doing well in school, don’t assume he’s slow. Talk to him 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 you letting him watch television until 11pm and then eat Coco Crisps for breakfast the next morning. Kids need sleep and a healthy diet. I know they complain. I would tell you to handle it, but that’s rude.)
10) If your tween never cleans up her room, no matter how many times you remind her, it may be that she doesn’t know where to start or how to go about it. To teach her, break down the process into small steps and check her progress along the way. (She is trying to get you to do it. Stand at the door and direct her every move. This takes a lot of time, but you were the one who decided to throw 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.
Katie Durkin is a mom, writer, political organizer, and runner. In her spare time, she looks up words on the Internet in order to understand her children. Follow her shenanigans at Baby Teeth to Back Hair.
Photo: Sofia Minetto