The other day I heard a woman at work complaining about her tween. Apparently, the tween was upset about her appearance and being a real pain in the you-know-what about what she was going to wear. Is this annoying? Yes! In fact, raise your hand if you've dealt with an annoying tween and her fashion quirks and tantrums. I bet a lot of you have palms stretched to the sky. Me? I'm still in preschool territory navigating younger tantrums, but when I heard this woman and her valid complaints, I couldn't help but feel empathy for the tween.
It's hard today to be a tween or teen. Social media. Smartphones. Technology. Kids are way too knowledgeable about adult life and adult problems. Marketing and the media have girls dressing like women before their time, in my opinion, and every time a tween or teen girl turns around, she's being sent home for wearing the "wrong clothes." If I thought puberty was hard in my time, it's doubly so now. We are all so far from that time, though, that as parents and as people, it's sometimes hard to remember those icky feelings of tweendom, like these:
My Parents Are Embarrassing Me. Again.
As a tween, I wished my mom would stop talking so loud in that Brooklyn accent that people could hear for miles away. I wished she wouldn't comment on the eyeliner I wasn't supposed to be wearing that I tried to sneak on right before we left the house. (It didn't work.)
Everything my mom (for some reason I was harder on my mom, most likely because she was the one who did most of the parenting work) did or said was an atrocity to my soul and reputation for, like, EVER.
Tweens can't help it. They're so socially awkward and concerned about how they appear to others that everyone around them is a potential source of embarrassment, but most especially if you're related to them.
"Why are you kissing me goodbye in front of everyone?" I thought.
"Why are you wearing that?"
Everything your parents do seems magnified since they're a direct relation.
Point of Empathy:
Moms, think about how mortifying it was/is when your kids had tantrums in public. When your kids wore hideous outfits and people thought, "I can't believe the mother let them walk out like that," but the fact was if you fought that battle, you would have never left the house.
Remember that feeling, that deep down, "Oh sh*t, I forgot the X, Y, or Z item for school for my kid."
That's the kind of embarrassment your tween feels whenever you do, well, just about anything! Hey — at least this stage isn't forever.
Why Is My Body Developed/Not Developed?
I got boobs at 13, and it was explosive, to say the least. Before that, I was flat yet all the girls around me were a more precocious group, budding into tiny cupped training bras, but still — they could wear training bras! I campaigned heavily (what I call the "bra campaign" years now) to my mother, who knew I didn't need a bra but, feeling bad for me, caved in.
Whether your tween has breasts already or not so much as a nipple, remember that so many kids today develop early and that development or lack of can be painfully embarrassing. By the time your child reaches full teenage status, it's more likely that kids will be at more or less of an equal status and more comfortable with the idea that their bodies are changing, but the tween years are especially awkward because they're too little to be considered young adults like teens but too old to play as freely as they did in their early childhood. Body changes are excruciating for these tweens!
Point of Empathy:
Do you remember how you felt when you were pregnant and people said how cute you looked, or "Wow, are you carrying twins? You're huge!" or "You barely look pregnant. Are you eating enough?" When you're pregnant, your body is on parade of sorts, and strangers and family enjoy commenting.
What about postpartum? Remember how people asked when you were due, yet you had already had the baby? Or how huge your breasts were when the milk came in? It was as if everyone was looking at you all the time, and they probably were.
Tweens feel like they're on parade except no one is commenting — to their faces. Or at all really, but to tweens, they're certain everyone has something to say or think about their awkwardly large breasts, no breasts, acne, height, or weight, yet they don't even have the full knowledge yet of what the heck is going on in their bodies, unless they're in sex education or have parents who talk to them.
Does That Person Like Me?
Being liked is important to tweens and teenagers (so this stage lasts a while), and the social circles of girls are so complex. Unfortunately, being liked becomes a priority for most tweens over, sometimes, everything else. Whenever any comment or slight comes a tween girl's way, the impact of said comment or slight feels like a literal dagger to the heart and injures your tween. It could be an innocent comment or not-so-innocent comment and one that you as a mother and adult recognize right away as either an innocent comment or simply the remark of a nasty kid, but your tween girl is just entering into the world of complex girl relationships and, tougher still, girl-boy dynamics. Unless you've got a very confident and strong tween girl and even then, your tween girl is going to spend a lot of time evaluating the weight of comments and other interactions that may seem silly to you, but they aren't to her.
Point of Empathy:
Remember how you felt postpartum or when you met your very first mom friends at a mom group or joined a dance studio, soccer team, or mommy-and-me playgroup. You were looking for a friendly face and trying to assess the dynamics of the ladies in the room. If you were newly postpartum, you were doing that plus dealing with the emotions of your hormones and the life changes that a baby brings. You were probably more sensitive and cautious about things you said to others and evaluated what others said to you, as you wondered how best to make friends with these mothers and ladies. You had the insight of adulthood, but it was still a new experience and one that you had to navigate carefully in order to make friends as a new mother.
This newness and hesitancy is something your tween feels except for it doesn't go away as easily as it did for you as you got comfortable with the group. The anxiety of being liked takes a while to dissipate for tweens, and if your tween has low self-esteem, this anxiety is more severe.
Tween girls and teen girls have a bad reputation for being difficult and annoying, but I feel this has been exaggerated and also an unfair stereotype to stick on tween and teen girls. It makes it seem as if tween girls are so horrible while tween boys are a walk in the park. I think one of the bigger problems here is that parents forget those awkward feelings all too quickly, when if they took a moment to stand in their tween's shoes, they might find a little empathy and perspective could go a long way.