My kid is now deep into his 11th year on this planet, and as such, will begin middle school tomorrow. Now, with my area of expertise, you’d expect me to find some relief in this fact; after all, up until now, I was really winging this parenting thing (although those toddler years do strike a familiar cord). In reality, however, that first eye roll still came as a surprise.
It was then that I woke up and realized that I had a tween living under my roof. What’s also true, is that my kid woke up and realized he had a tween teacher living under his.
Ben is my oldest son of two and he’s a great kid, a great son, and a great older brother. Curious, trustworthy, kind, sharp. But his inherent traits won’t stop the inevitable chaos that signals the onset of tweendom.
WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH MY SON?
For years, I could count on Ben putting away his devices after his electronics time had run out. Nowadays, there’s this wonderfully comic scrambling to hide his iPad under his pillow as he hears me enter the room.
He’s not reading our signals as much. Hell, even if we leave no room for interpretation – “Cut that out,” – he’s smiling while doing “that” again. He pushes the envelope over and over.
His sleep pattern is also totally different. These days, after I’ve closed up the fort at night, I come into his room around 11:00pm to kiss his forehead, only to find him still wide awake. There he lays, eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling and awake. It used to be easy to wake him for school at 7:00am. Now, he meanders out on the weekends around 9:00am complaining that his younger brother’s noise woke him up.
He stinks. I mean really stinks. Not metaphorically. I’m talking we could buy stock in Tom’s Deodorant and keep them in business.
I always tell parents of middle schoolers that they have to realize that they won’t be able to avoid the tween years altogether. Girls will go through a chapter of cattiness. They try out the feeling of being mean on their tongues. Boys get a little lunk-headed and goofy. They flirt with laziness. It’s possible the tweens will be a short chapter; but it could be a long one too. Ya’ never know. All you can do as a parent is plant the seeds of decency and hope that they balance out before too long.
In my first book, ‘Tween Crayons and Curfews: Tips for Middle School Teachers, I say the following of kids in this chapter:
Elementary students are to caterpillars as high schoolers are to butterflies.
Therefore, high schoolers are to butterflies as middle school students are to .
Answer? Howler monkeys. That’s right. Somewhere between caterpillars and butterflies, the human child becomes an entirely different species. OK, maybe they are not totally unrecognizable, but the fact is that tweens straddle two worlds, and that defines a lot of who they are during this time of their life and how they function as learners.
In any tween classroom, let’s say from around 5th grade to 9th grade, you have students who watch CNN and those who still watch the Disney Channel. There are kids “playing doctor,” and those still playing patty-cake. There are kids who have their eyes set on the high school college entrance requirements, and those who still need to be watched to make sure they put their homework in their backpack.
I don’t know yet which will be my own kid (though I expect I’ll be making sure that homework is in his backpack for a while until he can prove otherwise), but the fact is that there are definite, biological differences between a tween and his elementary counterpart.
At some point, a switch was flipped and Ben became far more sensitive. He feels so deeply now, and he was a deep-feeling kid even before. But now it’s sometimes uncontrollable, and many times his sensitivity seems to appear for no reason that he can communicate or even understand. We’ve been hearing a lot of “sorry”s these days through ugly cries he can’t seem to control.
From my studies on the tween brain, I also know that they are wired to be indecisive. Their frontal lobes are still smooth. Nevertheless, it’s at this time that we tend to push them to think deeper and require decisions that have higher-stakes.
So to help myself as I look down this tunnel of tweendom, I thought that I, the teacher, would give myself, the parent, some advice. I can take it or leave it, of course, but it’s important to be straightforward with parents to help them out with this upcoming chapter.
TIPS TO HELP TWEEN PARENTS FROM A TWEEN TEACHER
I’m crazy about my kid, but I don’t think for a second that he’s going to avoid this chapter. I’m hoping if I can see him clearly, maybe I can help him get through this bumpy time and come out the other side stronger and ready to continue down the road towards an even bigger challenge in life: adulthood.