OU’VE SURVIVED the terrible twos, seen your child through primary school and are looking forward to a peaceful couple of years before they turn into Kevin, the teenager with the moody mantra: “It’s so unfair!” But modern life is seeing our kids grow up faster, spawning the new syndrome that north London parenting coach Bebe Jacobs calls the “terrible tweens”.
A tween may barely have achieved double digits, but is already going on 15, in Jacobs’s opinion. “Ask any parent how complicated it is to have a 10- or 11-year-old. These kids are hovering between childhood and teens and sway from being close to their family to desperately wanting to connect with their friends,” she explains. The complications increase towards puberty: “Boys have left behind toys and games and now mainly connect through sport or technology. Girls, on the other hand, have often started noticing boys and talking about them. They are also often mean to each other about what their friends are wearing and how they look.”
And it is the longed-for approval of those friends that causes problems. “Many of these children are still very connected to their families, but the bolshiness starts when they feel the pull of influence of their peers,” says Jacobs, a mother of three. “They are becoming aware of life outside home and that it won’t be long now before they can explore it without parents, so some are already pushing the boundaries to do so. Especially in this country,
SUMMER 2013 where children often travel alone for the first time to secondary school. If you can go on a train from home to school at 11, you reason that you can go to other places, too.”
What kind of difficult behaviour can parents expect? “Typically moodiness, as hormones kick in. One minute they behave like a child; the next they want to be treated like an adult. They become more secretive and want their own space.”
It is the mothers who are likely to find themselves declaring “It’s so unfair”, when all the TLC they have heaped upon their child comes back to bite them in tweenage. “If the child is not very self-reliant and the parents have done a lot for them, they seem to take advantage of it at this stage,’” says Jacobs. “It’s as if they have lost respect for the parent, whom they have started to view as their servant.”
Bebe, who has written a parenting book and holds online seminars, has strategies for coping with tweens. “Remind yourself what you do like about your child, otherwise you may find yourself focusing only on what you don’t like. Stop asking about school; they don’t want you to know! But keep communication as friendly as possible and be interested in at least some of the things they are interested in, so you have things to talk about when they do want to talk. Don’t try to come to the rescue and fix things, especially for girls, who will complain about friendships but don’t want parents to interfere.” And most importantly, “keep spending quality time with them, as soon they will be teenagers and will want to spend even less time with you”.
Do not let parental boundaries slip: “Being a tween can be scary and they need some security that it’s OK to say no. If you confront them with issues, do it as calmly as possible and don’t be shocked. Use articles and TV programmes to trigger discussions.”
Also, says Bebe, recognise your child for the tween he or she has become: “Be prepared for their confusion and the swing from childhood to teenage behaviour, but don’t try to make your child fit into one category or the other. At this stage they still need to be both, as they are not yet ready to leave childhood and become adults.”
It is a worry for Jewish parents that the tweens coincide with the run-up to bar- and batmitzvahs. Jacobs acknowledges: “They may be moody and find it difficult to focus; they already have a lot on their plate with academic work.” But she is reassuring about the materialism that seems to be the driving force for learning that portion. “It may seem as if they only want the presents, but underneath they really are affected by the spirituality of the occasion and will experience a great sense of achievement. At a time when they may have doubts about how popular they are, it’s good for their self-esteem to be the centre of attention for a weekend.” Bebe Jacobs offers advice to parents of all age groups on her website www. parentingcoachingnow.com