Thursday, November 6, 2008

Understanding your tween

My late piano teacher, having taught hundreds of kids over the years, used to say, "Something happens to kids once they hit p5 - suddenly, they think they know everything." I never took this seriously... until Lesley-Anne entered p5.

Overnight, my sweet, thoughtful little girl, who's as close to an angelic child as you can get, became sulky, rude, emotional and hyper-sensitive (ok, she always was a sensitive child, but now magnify it x10). What happened? I was bewildered to say the least. After speaking to some parents who faced the same problems, we decided it was probably hormonal and a bad case of "growing pains".

Now that we're nearing the end of the year, I can say that Lesley-Anne has calmed down somewhat compared to the beginning of this year. Maybe she has managed to resolve some of the issues on her own, or maybe I'm learning better how to deal with them in a way that is acceptable to her.

Last week at the library, this book caught my eye - The Everything Tween Book: A parent's guide to surviving the turbulent pre-teen years. I thought, hmm... interesting! So I borrowed it.

For those of you who don't know, tweens are defined as those between the ages of 8 and 13. There is lots of talk about the "terrible teenage years" but hardly anything before that. But considering that during the tween years, kids go through a whirlwind of physical, social and emotional changes - it deserves proper attention.

The book itself is nothing ground-breaking, in my opinion. Like most of the books in the series (as well as the For Dummies and Idiots series), it is meant to give a general overview on the topic, written in a simple way. It covers all the related topics but doesn't go into in-depth discussions, if that's what you're looking for.

But there are some interesting titbits in this book that I thought would be worthwhile sharing. First, a quote that captures it all in describing tweens:
"Tweens are a mass of contradictions. Even as their bodies are maturing in preparation to create other human beings, they can have temper tantrums worthy of a two-year-old, sleep with stuffed animals, and need Mom to remind them to wash their ears when they take a bath."
That is so true. Lesley-Anne is mature for her age - she has the patience of Job when mentoring a p2 student, yet she needs to be told repeatedly to dry her hands after she has washed them.

According to the book, here are some of the characteristics of tweens:

1. All-or-nothing logic. Tweens tend to see everything in black-and-white. People are either good or bad, situations are either fair or unfair. There is no middle ground with them. But yet, these perceptions can change in an instance. You can be the world's worst mum, but do something nice and suddenly you're the best mum in the world.

2. The silent years. Those who have tweens will know you sometimes need to pry information out of them. Standard answers to your questions are: "Dunno", "Whatever" or even just a shrug. What I found comforting was that the book says it's not that you are losing touch with your child, rather, your child has lost touch with herself and is unable to identify and express her emotions.

3. Looking for authority. In the early tween years, parents or other adults tend to be the kids' role models. In the later tweens, this authority is transfered to their peers. Mum and dad know longer know it all. (In fact, sometimes they know nothing!) Instead, their friends are the fonts of wisdom. This is also the time when peer pressure is very strong.

4. Emotional basketcases. Tweens (especially girls) have intense and unpredictable mood swings. Even a normally placid tween can suddenly become emotionally charged and explosive, sometimes for seemingly no good reason. Tweens often over-dramatise events ("my life is over!").

So what can we do to help our tweens (and parents!!) during this difficult transition period?

There is one very interesting point in the book I want to highlight. I'd always assumed that hormones was a big reason for the roller coaster emotions. But apparently, this belief has not been established scientifically. I was surprised to learn that the testosterone level of boys at age eight is approximately five times that of boys entering puberty. Wah! So if we believe that hormones influence behaviour, Andre is more likely to act aggressively now than when he's a teenager. No way!

According to the book, the more likely reason for emotional older tweens is a combination of immaturity and social pressure, NOT hormones. It was a little disturbing to read this (of girl tweens):
"By age twelve, too many girls define their self-worth almost exclusively in terms of what their peers think of them - or in terms of what they think their peers think of them. No matter how much emotional support and reassurance you try to give your daughter at home, you may feel impotent to combat a peer group that seems to be catching her more tightly in its grip with each passing day."
In fact, many older tweens will hide or give up their special talents if they feel their peers will not approve. As parents, it's all too easy to tell our kids, "Don't give in to peer pressure! If your friend jumps, will you jump too?" But in reality, it is very difficult for tweens to stand tall in their individuality, especially since kids in school can be very cruel. The solution offered by the book is to take your tween seriously and don't belittle or shame her for feeling the need to fit in. Acknowledge her feelings and just keep telling her that when her peers mature, their values will change and they will be more accepting and even appreciative of differences. Continue to be supportive so that she will know she can approach you to share her feelings.

Here's the encouraging part: even if your tween talks back to you, tells you that you're the worst parent in the world, most girl tweens still consider their mothers as their biggest role models, and boy tweens their dads. So look out for the moments that they are most communicative (which may be rare!) and show your affection and support either physically or verbally.

I find that sometimes, when Lesley-Anne is in one of those black moods, it's not that she doesn't want to come out of it, she doesn't know how. Snapping at her almost always makes it worse. I find that humour sometimes diffuses the situation. By saying something totally silly or doing a funny action, it lifts the tension and she'll then laugh and say, "Mummy, you're so silly!" Or sometimes, she just needs time to be by herself, and the storm will blow over on its own.

In short, what I've learnt over the past year is that the main thing required to deal with your tween is patience - oodles and oodles of it.


max said...
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Alcovelet said...

Monica, you're gonna have 2 in this tween category for 3yrs before 1 heads off into teendom, and nobody thinks THAT's a walk in the park, gulp.

Yah, this social acceptability thing is hugem but it's a rite of passage. What we can do as parents is just be there for them. Like James Webb says, be a sure shelter. Just love that book!

eunice said...

I am definitely not looking forward to the teen years. My friend's son turned from sweetheart to sullen, smelly (didn't want to bathe) teen.

Am hoping that Sean maintains his sweettie-ness (is there such a word?) He's not shy to hug me in school. Sigh.. now I appreciate my mum even more having to put up with me

monlim said...

Ad: and after the tween years, they'll hit the horrible TEEN years!! I don't want to think that far *shudder*

Eunice: Andre too is still full of hugs and kissess - hang on to this stage for as long as you can! I hope he remains like this for a while longer...

Lilian said...

For the past few years, I've been periodically asking Brian this, "When will you stop letting mummy hug you in public?" and he'll go NEVER!! I thought with these constant reminders, we'll continue hugging till forever.

Up till 4 months ago, he still allowed me to hug him in school, suddenly one day, he just wriggled his way out of my clutches.

I reminded him of what he said about always letting me hug him, he denied ever saying that :( Gotta accept that he's growing up but at the time I did feel a bit hurt.

monlim said...

Lilian: I know, so sad, right? But if it makes you feel better, Lesley-Anne stopped letting me display public emotions to her long ago :(

eunice said...

I know. Am treasuring these 'huggie' moments. I did ask Sean if he'll ever be embarrassed to hug us in public and in all seriousness (as only 8 yr olds can do) he said 'but mum, you guys are my parents, why will I be shy to show you I love you?'. Of course I asked if I could get that in writing!!!

Yes, am NOT looking forward to teen years which seems more worrying than when we were teens (or is it cos we re parents and therefore responsible adults now who should know better?)

Anonymous said...

There may be something to be said for what's almost universal in cultures with long histories, whether Chinese, Indian, Middle-eastern or African.

What I'm talking about is this insistence on respect for elders, that's drummed into the children in these cultures.

The flip side to this tradition is that it may excuse parents from making the commitment to LISTEN to their children, which can thus breed bitterness in the children & sometimes insurmountable barriers.

Nevertheless, having grappled with trying to be an 'enlightened' parent in the aftermath of teenage folly, I learnt that there is a lot to be said for a culture that drums into these immature children a sense of perspective that may MODERATE their hormonally driven overweening sense of self-importance & know-it-allness.

Left to their own devices even highly intelligent children who are 'mature for their years' can still make immature choices with lasting repercussion, simply bcoz they do not have the perspective that comes with years & experience & exposure.

It can do them a lot of good to be repeatedly reminded that they actually know less than they think they do, but at the same time have their occasional astute inputs recognized & affirmed.


(btw i've been silent for a few days due to being caught up with the US election :-)

monlim said...

YY: Good to have you back with us! Many Singaporeans were gripped by US election fever too, but now the real work starts - would be interesting to see how Obama moves forward.

Agree with you that tweens need to reminded every now and then that they are not as wise as they think they might be, just to save them from themselves. At that age, they think they are immortal and nothing bad can ever happen to them, which is so dangerous.

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