Heather Wolpert-Gawron


By on August 16, 2017

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.


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.


  1. Keep devices charging in a public place – Don’t want him up all night playing on his computer or phone? Don’t have it in his room. Yep, he’ll yell and complain. Yep, he’ll beg to be trusted. Don’t. Keep the devices public, especially at night.
  2. Encourage oxygenation – Physical activity is vital under any circumstances, but in particular for our kids’ more transitional chapters. While our kids might want to crash and click on the couch, activity helps to keep those brains firing.
  3. Pick your battles – Not every eye roll deserves a reaction. In fact, if you want fewer, you’ll pick which moments to react to.
  4. Don’t get sucked into the drama. – Take everything with a grain of salt. Remember, everything FEELS extreme for a tween. That doesn’t mean teachers are THAT unreasonable or that their friend meant to be THAT hurtful. Remember that your tween’s filter is clogged with the changes that they are going through.
  5. Know his friends, but don’t expect to control his friendships. – It’s perfectly acceptable to know names and numbers of friends and families. But know that you won’t be able to know them all. Be aware, but also trust.
  6. Remember to enjoy him – The tweens years can also be a fun stage. Tweens are funny. They think differently and it’s awesome to hear the perspectives they bring to the table. They can talk about history, politics, relationships, but they also go nuts over something as simple as smelly pencils.
  7. Realize that kids are a Works in Progress – Allow them time to continue writing the rough draft that is their life. Forgive kids when they mess up. And when they screw up royally, let them try again.
  8. Be there to listen, but don’t expect them to talk – With tweens, their volume goes up even while the communication might go down. Let tweens process at their own pace. That might mean allowing them to go to bed mad. Having said that, if it’s a big enough deal, don’t let them move on without closure, reflection, and if necessary, an apology. There’s only so much you should let slide, including how they talk to family members or treat past friends. Remember to teach them that tone in the voice is as important as intention and content.
  9. Remember who you were as a tween – You were a jerk too. OK, well, maybe you were perfect, but I sure as heck wasn’t. I did exactly as I was wired to do: roll my eyes and screw up.
  10. Maintain expectations but be empathetic – Don’t lower your expectations of how to function as a family or how we treat one another, but be empathetic for what he’s going through. Stand strong in the face of his inevitable anger and disappointment. Yep, it’s true. A mom’s reputation is bound to be marred during this chapter, but you can’t be scared to do the strong things even when he might hate you for it.

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.







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