Moms' Ultimate Guide to the Tween Girl World
- Thursday, July 29, 2010
- enters puberty at age nine, eight if she's African-American (a full year earlier than in 1960).
- prefers the same television programming as most fourteen year-olds,2 not good news since 70 percent of what's available for viewing contains sexual content.3
- spends ten hours a week at her computer, with seven of those taken up with computer games, surfing the Web, and emailing friends4 (not homework, as she claims!).
- has a 33 percent chance of having a cell phone by age eleven.5
- spends ten hours a week texting.6
- influences 30 percent of her family's purchases.7
- at age twelve is likely to have higher levels of aggressive fantasies than boys of the same age8 (who admittedly don't have to have fantasies because they are out there actually duking it out).
- has a 25 percent chance of being physically bullied and a 45 percent chance of being cyber bullied by her peers.9
- can pick up a magazine designed for girls ages ten to fourteen and read:
"Can Your Crush Go the Distance?"
"Get Your Ultimate Bikini Belly"
"Love Your Butt"
- has a one in four chance of being sexually molested by the time she's 18.10
- is 75 percent more likely to commit suicide before she is fourteen than her counterparts in 2004.11
- refers to her childhood in the past tense. (And who wouldn't with those statistics?)
The world she has to navigate has been altered so drastically since you were her age, it's hardly recognizable as the same place. In this foreign-to-you land she is trying to navigate she is keenly aware of the breaking of public trust. Tweens on the upper end of the age range can remember 9/11, and all of them are living in the wake of it. Even those who can't tell you what insider trading or subprime lending is are aware that somebody messed up someplace and now people's moms and dads don't have jobs.
She is also likely to feel rather entitled. Many tweens are chauffeured everywhere, given every possible opportunity, and consistently entertained. That's what good parents do these days, and many kids expect it.
Her time is probably tightly structured. She may have to squeeze free play in between dance classes, soccer practice, and a Happy Meal in the back of the SUV on the way to Wednesday night church. When she does have down time, the increasing parental fear of predators makes playing outdoors with friends or (gasp) on her own completely out of the question. According to psychiatrist Stuart Brown (Baylor), who has studied the importance of play for forty-two years, "the lack of opportunities for unstructured, imaginative play can keep children from growing into happy, well-adjusted adults."12 Free play — not a play date with a full agenda of activities planned by moms — is critical for developing problem-solving and stress-reducing skills.
Your daughter is no doubt a digital native. The computer, the cell phone, and the MP3 player, to name only a few, have become the constant companions of our tweens. Even if your daughter owns none of the above, she undoubtedly has acquaintances who do and may secretly covet these instruments of belonging.
Many of our tweens can't find their way to the grocery store, the church, or their BFF's house because their portable device keeps them glued to a tiny screen while their moms are driving them to those places. They think of the Internet as a neighborhood, and they have virtual friends there. Surreal to those of us not on Facebook — perfectly normal to them. And if your tween daughter isn't technically savvy — well, there's one more area where anxiety can soar and self-worth can plummet.
If she's like the majority of tweens, she lives with parents who may themselves be digitally focused. No judgment intended here — just some facts. Sixty seven percent of moms check their email three to four times a day. The average dad spends nineteen hours a week playing video games or surfing the Net.13 I personally seldom see a young mother without a cell phone on her person — not just in her purse, but inserted in her ear or clutched in her hand. I don't doubt that her thumbs go through the motions of texting while she sleeps.
Needless to say (but let's do), the tween girl lives in a world of accelerated change with few cultural or social traditions, norms, and support to help her feel secure. Nothing in the world is the same as it was last year or last month or sometimes last week, just when she needs for it to be.
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