Why Tweens are Embarrassed by Their Parents

My step daughter Olivia is a tween and her mom and I are watching her out the window as she provides us with proof of the characteristics of this age group. The classic tween is an interesting species of the human race, still hanging on to child-like behaviors and yet, demonstrating some signs of maturity. At this moment, Olivia has two friends over to the house and they are standing by the side of the road, dancing. She is wearing a green colored winter ski cap with a cartoon character on the front, pulled down over her ears, and her female best friend is wearing a brown furry hat, complete with horns, resembling a buffalo head. Standing alongside of the two girls is a mutual male friend from down the street. He is wearing a comically oversized pair of sunglasses and a bright blue wig from a Dr. Seuss Thing 1 costume. Standing on the sidewalk, they are each doing their own dance routine, attracting the attention of motorists passing by and receiving frequent horn honks of approval. With each blast of a horn, they shout out with glee over their reward for their comical behavior. While the three of them could easily pass physically for a young teenager, their behavior indicates otherwise.

The Power of the Peer
This sometimes fragile and transitional time for the older child begins a critical phase in development of relationships with peers. In his book Get Out of My Life, but first could you drive me and Cheryl to the mall?, Anthony Wolf, Ph.D. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux Publishing, 2002) tells us that two relationships are most critical to the development of the child; the parent and the peer. But beginning around the age of 10, peers take on a greater role in the tween’s and teen’s development of their self-image. Their true happiness, he tells us, begins and ends with friends.

Where Did My Sweet Child Go?
What becomes hard for many parents and other caregivers of tweens is the disconnect they start to feel and observe. The tween begins to take the parent for granted, sees adults in general as flawed and annoying, becomes easily embarrassed by the parents, and if they do seem to look up to any adults, it is never their own parents. As a result, adults oftentimes feel hurt and angry, feeling the pain of “losing their baby” to the alien that seems to have suddenly inhabited their sweet child’s body. The parents become defensive and then accuse their child of being ungrateful for all that the parents have done for them up to this point. But as experts like Wolf tell us, this disconnect must occur and it must be successful for the evolving child-adult to blossom. The secret is that tweens and teens begin to see themselves as flawed and far from perfect. They then begin to look for the flaws in the adults around them and if they are able to see them in their parents and other adults, they will believe that they too can fit in to their new world. The result will be a successful transition to eventual adulthood. But it the child sees all of the adults as perfect and unblemished, they own self image will be flawed and they will not adapt in a healthy manner.

What You Can Do To Help Your Tween Adapt and Grow
As I revealed in my own example with Olivia above, we take the measures to provide her with a safe environment within our own home where she can invite her friends to come and “hang out.” Immediately following their episode of roadside antics on this one particular day, the three of them retreated to the backyard deck with an FM radio, sodas, and a fresh pizza. We were sure to close the glass patio doors to provide them with the feeling of privacy, yet we made frequent walks past the glass doors to check on them. This is the important job of any good parent of tweens and teens, creating the environment that is conducive to social development with peers and yet far enough away from the parents to give them their own space. We set up clear boundaries and check in often.

Creating Safety for Tweens
Clear boundaries and limits to the media and electronics that tweens have access to is also critical to creating safety. It is my opinion that too many parents allow their children to have access to dangerous and useless things for three reasons; just because they exist, because everyone else is doing it, or just because they fall victim to their tweens wearing them down. For example, in our home, all tween visitors are asked to turn in their cell phones, PDAs, and laptops. It is important that Olivia’s mother and I know who they are communicating with while in our care. As a result, some of the parents of Olivia’s friends were outraged with our decision; while others adapted and have their children leave the devices at home. Olivia does not have a cell phone and won’t have one until she’s at least 15 or 16 years of age. And when it comes to the Internet, we know it is no longer the fun and limited novelty that many of us remember. Today if offers unbridled access to things tweens just don’t need to see. The increase in cyber bulling has created more danger than good with social media tools such as Facebook and MySpace. Olivia has access to the Internet for any academic purposes that come up in her school work, but entertainment access is limited and controlled. I can’t tell you the number of parents who have contacted me for help on this topic. So many of them gave their children unsupervised access to the Internet, a cell phone, or social media tools as tweens or younger, saying back then, “I know my daughter (or son) wouldn’t do anything that I wouldn’t want them to do.” This halo effect in some families creates blindness that is hard to undo when bad things happen. One mother contacted me for help because her daughter was 15 and setting up secret rendezvous with boys after the mother went to bed.

The Tween of today feels more empowered than any generation before them. Without the right frame of mind for the caregiver adult, this empowerment can appear to be mouthy, ungrateful and obnoxious. To be successful with this modern day tween, be open to new ideas and relax. Know that the behavior you see is their way of growing into the strong adolescent you want them to be. It all requires you to give them room, create respectful boundaries, and remain close by to keep them safe.  For more help, see my book on Amazon; Love, Limits, & Lesssons: A Parent's Guide to Raising Cooperative Kids or visit http://www.cooperativekids.com/

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