Moms' Ultimate Guide to the Tween Girl World
- 2010 29 Jul
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is an excerpt from Moms' Ultimate Guide to the Tween Girl World by Nancy Rue (Zondervan).
Why Do I Need an Ultimate Guide?
If you ask a seven-year-old girl what she would like to have on her pizza, she will undoubtedly tell you. In detail. Leaving nothing to chance lest she should be confronted with something gross and disgusting and icky. Ewww. If you ask a twelve-year-old girl what she would like to have on her pizza, she will more than likely roll her eyes or stuff her hair behind her ears or make some other pubescently awkward gesture and say, "I don't know." Or, perhaps the more hip version: "Whatever."
If you ask a sixteen-year-old girl what she would like to have on her pizza, she will probably give you the now-polished version of that same gesture and say, "What would you like to have on our pizza?"1
What happens to girls between the ages of eight and twelve? Before they hit that pivotal period, they were so sure of who they were and what they wanted and didn't hesitate to tell you whether you wanted to hear it or not. What goes on in those five years? What makes sweet little baby girlfriends gradually lose their minds and become teenagers who, despite their show of independence, can't choose a pizza topping without taking a poll of their peers?
What happens is tween-hood. It isn't the innocent early childhood that, tantrums and potty training notwithstanding, was relatively easy to understand. And it isn't adolescence which nobody understands, though some misguided souls have tried.
This age eight-to-twelve period in our daughters' lives didn't even have a name until about ten years ago when the advertising world came up with the term tween. It's clever, but it implies that its members are merely sandwiched between two more important and infinitely more interesting stages of their lives. Freudian psychologists even used to call it "the latent period," and unfortunately a lot of people still see it that way. Tweens are old enough to take themselves to the restroom and, speaking of sandwiches, make their own, but we don't yet have to worry about them wrecking the family car or piercing their tongues.
Nice. Let's take a rest period before your household turns into WWE.
If you were one of those people who thought that, you wouldn't have picked up this book. I'm betting that you're a mom who knows her daughter is not just "latent," or simply "between" one thing and another, or silently gearing up to drive you nuts the minute she turns thirteen. You know that she:
- may or may not brush her hair on a regular basis, but she already knows that what she looks like makes a difference in how people treat her.
- is in possession of a body that's changing right before her eyes, or is wondering why hers isn't changing when "everybody else's" is.
- would almost lay down her life, or at least her favorite hoodie, for that center of her universe, the BFF (for the uninitiated, that's Best Friend Forever).
- will probably roll her eyes right up into her head if you say to her, "Just be yourself and you'll be fine," because she's discovering that who she thought "herself" was is now in question.
That's your tween girl — a rapidly transforming mini-woman, if you will. And yet like all human beings in transition, she's not on a linear track. Have you noticed that:
- one day she wants no part of your advice, and the next she's in your lap begging for help?
- one hour she's playing dress-up with her little sister, and the next she has a sign on her door that reads NO SIBLINGS ALLOWED?
- one minute she wants to operate the stove or the ATV or the chain saw, and the next she's afraid to ask a waiter for a glass of water?
- one second she's asking you to drop her at the corner so her friends won't see what you're wearing (Mo-om!), and the next she wants to borrow that cool necklace you just bought?
- one nano-second she doesn't get why you won't let her stay alone in the house at night and the next she's climbing into your bed, convinced the Boogie Man is alive and well and headed down the hall?
Her world is exciting and confusing, inside and out, and it's made more so by the society she lives in. That is probably one of the biggest reasons you've opened this book. You know that as a Millennial (born between 1982 and 2002) your mini-woman is growing up far differently than you did. The average tween girl today:
- 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.
So she looks for a deeper emotional connection with her parents — and you're in the midst of dealing with that schedule overload and economic insecurity and post-modern iffiness yourself. How are you supposed to provide centering, connecting events for your family when it's all you can do to get them from school to softball practice to Awana to homework to bed before midnight without screaming, "Shut up — I'm sick of all of you!"
Now, before you toss this book in the trash (who needs this downer, right?), not all of the change that has happened in our culture since you were ten has been negative. As a society we have a much better understanding of mental health than we did twenty-five years ago (good news for those of us being driven crazy by parenthood!). Thanks to the Internet and social networking, we can find anything and anyone we want right at the computer terminals found in most of our households — everything from how to help our kids with ADHD to where there might be a G-rated movie playing this weekend (if indeed such a thing still exists). We know more about the benefits of nutrition, exercise . . . even chocolate. We've elected an African-American president, which, no matter what your politics, is a sign that we are making progress in overcoming prejudice and bigotry. Even a fresh look at Christianity has transformed many pew potatoes into true disciples who are working to solve the problems Jesus cares about. Many Christians in the generation your tween will follow (those brought up in the eighties and nineties) are showing a greater awareness of the world, says Reverend Romal Tune, CEO of the Washington, DC-based Clergy Strategic Alliances.
"They're connecting through Facebook and using scripture to support their causes on social issues . . . The church will in 20 years not be defined by a building that people attend for worship on Sunday morning, but by how Christians treat people in the world.14 Yet still you worry. Old seems to be happening sooner, a phenomenon paraphrased by marketers as K.G.O.Y — Kids Growing Older Younger.15 Ten, "they" say, is the new fifteen. You go shopping for clothes with your eight-year-old and find only smaller versions of what the teenagers are (barely) wearing. Your eleven-year-old, like 54 percent of her same-age peers, doesn't think she's too young to wear makeup.16 Your nine-year-old is convinced she's grossly overweight. Your ten-year-old is in tears because her BFF stole the boy she was "going out with" (though no one knows where it is they were going or how they planned to get there). Worrying because that's what mothers do is one thing. Just try and stop us, right? But the lie-awake-at-night kind of concern the tween world presents us with shouldn't rob us of the joy of raising daughters. And it doesn't have to.
In my thirty-five years of teaching, writing for, hanging out with, and raising one of these, my favorite brand of kid, I have come to know many positive, joyous, soul-boosting things about the tween years. For example, in the tween years, your daughter is still more likely to look to you for guidance, security, and all-out authority than she is to anyone else, including the all-knowing BFF (or group thereof). She wants you. She responds to you. She soaks you up like the proverbial sponge, especially when you aren't looking.17
Even while the continual movement toward adolescence teems beneath the surface, she is still a little girl in so many ways. She may roll her eyes and use "whatever" as every part of speech but a coordinating conjunction, but she will play at the slightest suggestion — and giggle and snuggle and dream and squeal over the Easter basket with every bit as much delight as she did when she was three years old.
She is, by the nature of her developmental stage, open to all that the Christian faith has to offer: forgiveness, hope, empowerment, a sense of belonging and acceptance, and the knowledge that she is loved unconditionally. Even secular sources, such as Dr. James Barbarino, author of See Jane Hit, say that nonpunitive, love-centered religion has been shown to create a buffer against a sick society.18
He continues: "Children with a true belief that there is something beyond themselves that has power and who see a God-given purpose for themselves are far more likely to become confident, productive, empathetic and loving than those who don't." Since 90 percent of Christians make a commitment to follow Christ with their lives before age twenty — you can see where I'm going with that.19
In short, your tween daughter is in prime time. She can absorb all that you, the faith community, and her own unsullied instincts offer her, with far more wisdom than her early-childhood sisters, and with far less cynicism and confusion than her teenage ones. In other words, get her now, before she thinks she knows almost everything and thinks what she doesn't know she sure isn't going to get from you. It is never too late for our daughters, of course, but it sure can be too hard if we wait.
Pick Your Parenting Style
So who's waiting? Most moms I've talked with in workshops have chosen a parenting style and are running with it as fast as they can.
From my observation, they — you! — seem to embrace one of three ways to approach the awe-full task of raising a tween daughter.
- The Greenhouse Approach. Care for her like an orchid in a hothouse, sheltering her from absolutely everything "out there," beyond the glass walls, that might put anything negative or doubtful into her mind. The Greenhouse Mom's mantra: "If she doesn't know about it, she won't do it."
- The Throw-Her-to-the-Wolves Method. It's a tough world out there and she's got to learn to deal with it eventually, so bring it on. The Wolf Mother's mantra: "She's going to do it anyway, and she might as well be prepared."
- The Open-Handed Philosophy. She is still a young girl and should be protected, but not from herself. She needs careful guidance into the next appropriate thing so she can gradually go out into that tough world. The Open-Handed Mama's mantra: "She's going to decide what she's going to do someday, and I have to teach her how to do that now."
Do I need to point out which style I think gives a daughter her best chance of becoming the marvelous human being she was born to be? I'm all about Open-Handed Parenting, so I won't be giving you a list of things to keep your daughter away from. She isn't an orchid, but more like a tree, which needs to be exposed to the elements in order to grow. And I definitely won't be telling you how to "survive" parenting her as she goes out and does her own thing.
Instead, I would love to be your ally, encouraging you to be the most important influence in your mini-woman's life. I've brought together what I've learned from my work with tween girls and their moms, my training and experience as an educator, and my, shall we say, interesting journey as a mother, into a place you can turn for empathy, understanding, information, and suggestions. I would love to provide you with something like that instruction manual we all whined for when we got home from the hospital with our newborn baby girl and realized we didn't know what the Sam Hill we were doing. However, every make and model is different, so we'll have to rely on the truths that seem to apply to all of our tween girls and to us, and learn to know our daughters well enough to find the truths unique to each of them. In short, I want to help you open your hands, with confidence and joy.
Just So You Know Before You Read On
I am not a perfect mother. That's kind of like admitting I'm not a unicorn. Neither creature exists. Both are fantasies. As the mother of a tween girl, I was anxious, overcommitted, and anorexic. I spent what we used to call "quality time" with my daughter (a term I've come to hate), but on a daily basis I was often distracted and snarky and oblivious to the fact that my girl-child hadn't brushed her hair in a week. And yet, when I recently asked my now thirty-year-old daughter Marijean what she feels was messed up about her childhood, she pondered far longer than she usually does (she is seldom at a loss for words) and finally said, "About the only thing was getting my body image issues from you. But, Mom, I always wanted to be like you, and if you'd been perfect, I would have had to kill you." I'm going to take that as a you-did-many-things-right. I want to share those things with you, as well as what I learned from doing some things wrong. So it only follows that — well — you aren't a perfect mom either.
Maybe you play the role of peacemaker and never let your kids fight their own battles. Maybe you're basically the maid, and have the occasional bout of furious resentment that sends everybody to their respective corners to wait until you get dinner on the table. Perhaps you're the powerhouse who makes the rules and schedules clear but has no time for somebody breaking the rhythm to have a meltdown.
Could be you are the ultimate positive mom who bolsters everybody up but is quick to brush the negative stuff under the rug. At times, you are probably just plain angry, tired, guilty, and resentful — and you make no bones about the fact that it's everybody else's fault.
Chances are, you have been and will continue to be all of the above at one time or another. So — get over thinking you have to be the flawless parent. This path is about process, not perfection. Neither you nor your daughter is going to move forward without making a myriad of mistakes from which you'll both learn. That is actually where the good stuff happens.
I believe you are first and foremost your daughter's mother. Not her buddy. Not her BFF. You're her maternal ally as she learns to strike out on her own. You're the one who sets boundaries and warns of consequences and, as Carol Burnett once said, loves her enough to let her hate you sometimes. That doesn't mean you can't be close, share girly times, and treasure each other in a relationship like no other. It does mean frequently making decisions for her that she isn't ready to make yet, decisions that evoke "You don't understand!" when in fact you understand all too well.
I think parenting a tween requires as much change in us as in our daughters. Let's face it — some of what qualifies as good parenting of this age group just doesn't come naturally. Cuddling, rocking, feeding, and diaper changing, though exhausting, may have been almost instinctive. Early discipline was pretty cut and dried. Here's what "no" means and here's what happens when you say it. But backing off to let your tween daughter make a choice you know isn't going to end well, or watching other kids tease her because she isn't their clone — those things aren't necessarily in your makeup.
Not only that, but at this point your daughter knows which of your buttons to push because by now they are all clearly marked for her. Add to that the fact that she no longer misses a trick in your behavior. Even if you're just an average gossiper, tell a few white lies, and have the occasional maternal meltdown, you're acting in ways that, by zero tolerance standards, wouldn't be allowed in her school. Again, you can't be perfect, but if you want to be good, some alterations in your default reactions may be required.
You may have to change your image of what a "talk" is too. Yeah, I hate it, but 90 percent of "Because I'm the parent and I said so" is going to have to go if you want decent communication with your tween daughter. The 10 percent is reserved for situations where there's no time for an explanation — she has to get out of the way of the oncoming train, for instance. The rest of the time you're looking at dialogue, not just you holding forth and her listening and obeying. First-time obedience is the goal, but it's going to be more likely if she understands the reasoning behind what you want her to do. That wasn't appropriate when she was a toddler or preschooler. Now that she's developing higher levels of thinking, "Just do it" only works for Nike.
Here's the way I look at it: If you both don't come out of a discussion seeing something in a new way, however small, it wasn't a real conversation. That could mean she sees that you aren't the pushover she assumed you were, and you see that she is a lot savvier than you thought she was. Good things to know for future dialogues. It does not mean you have to repeat the conversation every time that topic comes up. It's perfectly okay for you to say, "I refer you to our agreement on October 5," and expect her to get on with it. You'll save yourself a lot of nagging, lecturing, repeating, and yelling, none of which works any better than "Because I'm the mother." Don't think you have time for dialoguing? What about all those aforementioned hours in the car going to and from everywhere?
As you work and play and talk with your daughter, she can help teach you how she needs to be parented in this new phase of her life. I can offer you tools and suggestions, but those things can only be used in light of what you know about her and what you allow her to show you about who she really is. Everything you read here should go through your personal filter. I respect that with every word I write, and I'll remind you of it ad nauseam.
If you're not enjoying being her mom at least some of the time, that really bears looking at. It's all right to admit that parenting isn't always a blast. Nobody's crazy about getting reluctant students off to school or reining in the first fits of boy craziness. But we can get so caught up in the frenetic, day-to-day job of, as one tween girl with ten siblings put it in an email to me, "making sure we all survive the day," we can forget to laugh at our daughters' jokes (tween girls think they are hilarious) and revel in their discoveries and delight in their growth. We miss out on just about everything that's worthwhile about being parents if we let that slip away unnoticed.
For all of this you are definitely going to need God. You know the verse where Jesus says it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God? That no one has a chance of doing it alone but every chance if he sticks with him? Then surely, it's easier for that same camel to pass through the eye of that identical needle than for the parent of a tween girl to guide her into a healthy, well-adjusted, God-loving adolescence without God right smack in the middle of it. Help for doing that is an inherent part of this book. At the same time, it's wishful thinking to say that a good home life with all the right influences, even being brought up in the church with Jesus all around, guarantees that she will turn out to be a deeply spiritual, highly productive adult. God doesn't promise that. At all. Trust me — I've looked. Even Proverbs 22:6 — "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it (NIV)" — isn't the never-fail promise it appears to be at first glance. If you don't train them up in the way they should go, you definitely won't see good results. But we've all known kids whose parents seemed to epitomize this proverb and who still had messy adolescences and messier twenties. And yet . . . at some point they eventually realized they needed to make better choices, and had the foundation on which to build a good life. There is no guarantee, not in this very-changed world. But there is giving them the best chance and praying them through.
A word about Dad before we continue. Parenting is such a team effort, as any mother or father trying to raise a child alone will tell you. That becomes more apparent than ever in your daughter's tween years when she encounters Dad's advice about boys (or his refusal to acknowledge them!) and his unspoken effect on her beauty and self-image. His influence is so important, in fact, that I've devoted an entirely separate book — written with my husband — for the dads of tween girls. You can look for She'll Be Crying in a Minute in the spring of 2011. So while I will refer to Dad from time to time, our focus here is on your special role in your daughter's life. Anything here that rings true for you, by all means share it with him. A united effort is always a stronger one.
What We'll Talk About
My work with tween girls has convinced me beyond a doubt that there are four areas of ultimate concern to them, and we ignore those at our peril and theirs. Having provided a book on each of these for the mini-women themselves, I'm offering you a mom's-eye view on these four ultimate issues: (1) Who am I? (2) Am I pretty enough? (3) What's happening to my body? and (4) Do they like me?
Section One: I Tell Her to Be Herself, But She Doesn't Know Who She Is (Identity)
In this part of the book, there's help for imprinting the concept of authenticity before adolescence comes in and tries to wreak havoc on it. You'll find advice here for helping daughters find and be comfortable with their true selves, including encouragement for letting them make mistakes along the way. As a result of this section you'll be able to let your mini-woman discover herself within the Christian parameters of a kind, loving individual, rather than tell her who she is or who she should be. That reinforces what your tween girl can learn in Everybody Tells Me to Be Myself, But I Don't Know Who I Am.
Section Two: Well, I Think You're Beautiful (Beauty)
It's my intent in this section to give you some help in encouraging soul-image (as opposed to self-image) and inner beauty in your daughter. Yes, you'll find tips for grooming and fashion that are age appropriate for mini-women. The emphasis, though, is on guiding her toward a healthy attitude about beauty in a decidedly unhealthy beauty culture. What you do as a result of reading this section will reinforce what she can read in Beauty Lab.
Section Three: Who Are You and What Have You Done with My Little Girl? (Puberty)
Here you'll find a mini-handbook for supporting your tween daughter through one of the most challenging periods of her life: puberty and its baffling physical and emotional changes. My purpose is to help you allow that mini-woman of yours to grow into full womanhood naturally and at her own pace, rather than nudging her, if not downright pushing her, into adolescence before she's ready to go there. We'll be all about ten not being the new fifteen, something your daughter can embrace in Body Talk.
Section Four: Why Can't They Just Get Along? (Friendships)
In this final section, I feel a deep obligation (and an equally deep humility) to offer help for guiding your daughter toward the healthy girl friendships that will shape her future relationships. I hope the suggestions you'll find here will enable you to enjoy your tween girl's totally girlfriend years before boys come in and tangle things up. That includes your looking at yourself and determining honestly how you want to participate in that. Whether you are the mom whose house all the girls flock to or the one-friend-here-at-a-time mama, you'll have a chance to set boundaries that will serve your daughter — and you — well. And speaking of friendship, I hope you'll find through this section ways to nurture a relationship with your daughter that will survive and even flourish in the teen years. What you glean here is reflected in your daughter's book Girl Politics: Friends, Cliques, and Really Mean Chicks.
How We'll Talk about It
Each of the sections is divided into chapters that focus on the real and the practical, with their basis in the spiritual and the mysterious, because our tween girls are all four of those things. There's a lot of stuff in there, to be digested while you continue to pack lunches, drive carpools, get yourself to work, and grab a minute or two daily for prayer that isn't interrupted by somebody's cry for clean socks, lost homework, or sibling refereeing. So you can expect features in each chapter that will act as a GPS system for you, whether you go through the book in one journey or take frequent side trips.
What It Looks Like: A real-life scenario used in the introduction to each of the four sections to show you that you are not alone — and that your daughter is deliciously normal.
Getting Clear: A full exploration of the topic, with statistics as well as psychological and developmental background and anecdotes — information you need but don't have time to google. Most of us will do better when we know better — even when we're already doing a pretty good best.
From the Ultimate Parent: The scriptural basis for the importance of the chapter topic. Each of these features includes suggestions for encouraging your daughter in her own faith journey and for helping you deepen your own even when quiet time with God looks like a luxury enjoyed only by those with nannies.
Test Your Own Waters: A self-assessment of how this topic impacts you personally. In a nonjudgmental way this can help you see what you may be unconsciously modeling for your daughter — positively or mistakenly. The kind of information you couldn't google even if you had the time.
Going for It: Ways to approach and deal with the chapter topic. This will include general guidelines and hands-on suggestions for applying them in a way that's unique to you and your tween daughter.
Bridging the Gap: Help in praying specifically the most important prayer a mom can lift up: "God, please bridge the gap between what my daughter needs and what I have to give."
Out of the Mouths of Mini-Women: Quotes from tween girls about what they wish their moms would (and wouldn't!) do, what they appreciate about their mothers, and what they wish they knew — everything they don't think they can tell you themselves (but, man, would they like to!)
That's it. That's our map. If you're ready — or if you have ten minutes when you aren't immersed in some girl drama — let's set out together. It is my honor to be your companion on a road I myself have traveled. A road I wouldn't have missed for the world.
Copyright © 2010 by Nancy Rue
This title is also available as a Zondervan ebook.
This title is also available in a Zondervan audio edition.
Requests for information should be addressed to
Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530
Nancy Rue has written over 100 books for girls, is the editor of the Faithgirlz Bible, and is a popular speaker and radio guest with her expertise in tween and teen issues. She and husband Jim have raised a daughter of their own and now live in Tennessee. Learn more about Nancy at www.nancyrue.com.