Tween. Tween? Such a strange word. When I was growing up, we didn’t call ourselves that. We were either kids, or teens. There was no in beTWEEN. But, as weird as the word is, there might be some good in setting this stage of childhood off as its own separate category. There’s a lot going on in those growing bodies and minds. And, sometimes our children want to launch themselves from the age of 10 to 21 in one giant leap. Ah, no no no my little one! You might have a cell phone and curl your hair with a curling iron, but you’re still a child, and I’m going to help you enjoy these last few years before they’re gone for good!
Here are just five of the many ways we can help our tweens hang on to childhood a little bit longer.
Go ahead, it’s okay. You have my permission to help pick your child’s friends. You don’t have to pick every friend, and you don’t have to be overly controlling, but helping to orchestrate a few get-togethers with a girl from youth group or a boy from soccer that you’ve seen at Mass isn’t a crazy thing to do! This isn’t helicopter parenting, it’s just giving your kids the opportunity to get to know someone that they might not otherwise have a chance to meet. And we all know how valuable a good friend can be, especially for a tweenish child. Here are a few ideas:
- Plan with a parent to meet after school for ice cream
- Meet at a pottery painting place for a few hours
- Write letters to a camp friend
- Go to a movie or a sporting event
- Meet the families for a lunch on a Saturday
Also, help your children find productive things to do while they’re together. Rather than holing up in their room, whispering about boys (or girls) and playing on their phones, give them something to DO!!! One afternoon, I took my bored daughter and her bored friend to Hobby Lobby. We bought about $10 worth of scrapbook paper and supplies and they came home to spend the evening making cute stationary and valentines for friends. Sometimes it’s worth a little effort to help them remember that it’s okay to have fun and be silly. No one is watching! The middle school newspaper staff is NOT hiding in the closet…
All I can say? Choose well. Would you like one easy rule? Pick something old! You’re bound to be better off. Be sure to look through your child’s backpack. While your school library will have some very good selections, there is also plenty of junk. And, our local bookstores aren’t much better, with sections at a certain nation-wide bookseller titled “Teen Paranormal Romance”. Seriously!? You’ve GOT to be kidding me!
You can be sure that just because something has pages, that doesn’t mean it’s worth reading. And, if your child insists on reading what their friends are reading, be sure that they know that you have final say. The deal in my house is this: “you pick a book (with mom’s permission) and then I pick a book”. And, for as many junk novels that are out there, there are many more quality books that you can find for your children to read. They just won’t be on the book racks at Target, or even Barnes and Noble.
While I do prefer ‘real’ books to e-books, it IS very nice that so many great pieces of literature are available in the public domain (that means free) for download on your e-reader or computer!
Okay, so maybe you have one of those children that isn’t an avid reader. Its maybe just not their favorite past-time. Well, lookie here! Have you heard of Librivox?!! (they really should pay me to advertise for them…) It’s my favorite thing EVER! This may very well be the one true reason that God invented technology!
Anyway… Librivox is a completely free and legal collection of public domain audio recordings of literally millions of books. You can either stream live, or download the recordings to burn a CD or upload to an iThing. Listen at home in the evenings when the kids are wandering around. Listen in the car. There are plenty of opportunities. Here is a list of audio books under the ‘children’s’ category on Librivox. I’m talking Little Women, Treasure Island, The Five Little Peppers & How They Grew, Robinson Crusoe, Heidi! It practically goes on forever (which is heavenly). My favorite readers are Elizabeth Klett and Karen Savage. Sometimes I have to listen to a few recordings before I find a reader that I like. God bless ’em. I’m forever grateful.
Never underestimate the power that a good, inspiring and noble story can have on a child. And, during these years when your child is growing, thinking about ‘who they are’ and ‘the meaning of life’, be sure to allow them to fill their minds with quality literature.
Get thee to a hobby store! Or sports outlet! Basically, find your child a way to get outside themselves. Many young people spend way too much time on personal introspection: analyzing everything from their hair, clothes and acne to their talents, future dreams and worries. Some of that is natural, and acceptable. But too much can be devastating. Give your child a chance to do something that is outwardly focused. It might take a little extra time and effort on your part, but it’s worth it!
If your child is athletic, have her join a team sport, or be a volunteer coach for the younger children’s team. If he’s artistic, find an art class after school. Also, service opportunities are great for children of this age. Let your child volunteer in the church nursery, be a mother’s helper for one of your friends during the summer months. I have a friend whose child found happiness in knitting. Yes, knitting! So cool! There’s scouting, 4-H, after-school clubs, band, orchestra, etc… My daughter began volunteering as a swimming instructor aid at our city summer swim program a few years ago. She’s loved learning how to teach swimming and I’ve been amazed at the amount of responsibility she’s been given. And, it gives her a reason to wake up on a hot, lazy summer morning!
Movies and Music
In my home, we keep a pretty tight reign on what is watched and listened to. We have a good collection of movies, for both younger and older kids. There are a few shows on Netflix and cable that we watch together. God bless the Food Network and the Discovery Channel! (Here is a list of fun movies to watch together as a family.)
As a parent, I try to prevent movies, music and video games from becoming another place to hide away. I remember when I was a young teen, I would sometimes use music as a secret escape. And, while this can be okay sometimes, we have to realize that music is a very powerful emotional anchor. It can make us, and especially an emotional, hormone-ridden tween, feel like they have a secret world. As if only that person singing on the other side of their iPod understands how they truly feel. All I can say here is, be careful. Keep an eye on what they listen to and watch. Keep them from spending inordinate amounts of time holed up in their room with headphones on. You may have to physically pick your tween up and carry them into the living room, but do it anyway. They need to spend time with people. You know, talk, listen, play with siblings, be part of the fam!
My husband is in charge of our children’s iPods. They will give him music lists and he will purchase and upload the music. Or nix it. We also make sure that our children have a good balance of Christian and secular music. We talk about why there is some music we don’t like and won’t pay for or listen to. And, (I think this is key) we listen to music together as a family! Whether it’s something ancient like U2, or current like Taylor Swift, we make it a family affair. I believe this does two things. 1. It gives us the opportunity to comment on things we don’t like and don’t listen to and 2. Music doesn’t become their personal hide-away. It belongs to everyone!
We all know that we need to be careful with our (and our children’s) use of social media, music and movies. I honestly don’t think any one parent has the perfect answer on how to handle all of this, so what we need to do right now, all of us, is give ourselves room to make mistakes. It is okay to try something and then pull back again.
My friend Kathryn wrote a great post about navigating the world of social media with your child. You might like to read that. My three basic rules are these:
- “If you’re on it, Mom and Dad are too. And we have full access. We’re ‘friends’, we have your passwords, logins and rights to read and ask you about what we find there.”
The amount of time spent on social media must be WAY less than the amount of time spent with, well, REAL PEOPLE. Pick your own ratio, but a child isn’t allowed to be on their phone, kindle, iPad or computer ALL afternoon and evening, ‘socializing’ with friends, when their parents and siblings are sitting right there next to them.
And, most importantly, if you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, or out loud in the cafeteria, then you probably shouldn’t say it on social media.
(And, can I just say, whoever invented SnapChat… we need to talk.)
Your kids are on your time-table. Just because all of little Sally’s friends got on Facebook at 13 doesn’t mean that little Sally needs to as well. We all know how quickly children grow and change, both physically and mentally. You may be surprised at what a few months of waiting can do for your child’s maturity in using social media.
All of our children are going to be using these technologies (and others we haven’t even heard of yet) for the rest of their lives. We need to use our time with them to teach them self-control, and how to use them well, so that when they leave our home, they will be confident, healthy and safe in their social media use.
These are just a few of the many ways we can help our kids navigate the wary road of growing up. Just because they’re almost as tall as their mother doesn’t mean that they’re not still a kid inside. Let’s help them enjoy their childhood just a little bit longer, shall we?!
How about you, do you have any thoughts on Tween-dom? Please share your ideas in comments! I’d love to read them!