When I saw the break-up text to end all break up texts come across my Facebook feed, I expected to see some clever teenager concoction or adults behaving like children. When I looked a little further and saw that this was an 11 year old, I was shocked.
Not because I live under a rock and believe that 11 year-olds don’t in fact have boyfriends or cell phones, but because in an effort to be pro feminist movement, it seemed to slip by everyone’s attention that this was a bit too much drama for a tween to be engaged in. There were even people in the comments saying that this was no big deal, just puppy love stuff, but I wasn’t quite so sure.
Back in my days as a middle school counselor, I was privy to more than my fair share of “tweenage” love affairs. It’s not common, as we have more and more children entering puberty at what seems to be breakneck speed, that they will occasionally hit a speed bump or two. But sometimes we forget that although bodies may be developing quickly, the emotional regulation and communication skills generally lag behind.
Over the summer kids will bloom. Some will grow multiple inches in height, many will have hair in places that they have never seen before and all sorts of pink dots can show up on their face literally overnight for no apparent reason. But if you have a tween, particularly one entering middle school for the first time, I have 9 things that are actually more important for tweens and parents to know, than how to epically break up with someone via an electronic device.
1. Your body is changing. Be ready for anything.
I can’t tell you how common it is for girls or boys to be caught off guard by some bodily function and completely mortified by it. Help them keep an emergency pack of essentials in the locker or backpack.
2. Your emotional development will come in waves — back and forth waves.
There will be days when your tween will seem like they have it all together, and others when they seem to have reverted to toddlerhood. The hormones do crazy things and that’s okay. Model emotional regulation by maintaining your cool when they are struggling. Pick up a conversation about how to improve the reactions or communication when they are calmer.
3. Friendships can change in middle school and that can be a good thing.
Friendship issues are a common reason for kids to come to the counselor’s office. Losing a friendship can cause the same feelings of loss and grief that it would if you as an adult ended a relationship. Let kids know the feelings are normal, they will pass, and that it’s okay to feel them and talk about them in the meanwhile.
4. Teachers don’t hate you, they really do want you to be okay.
Middle school teachers are a special breed. They actually CHOOSE to be with tweens all day long! They understand the development that is going on and they are trying to shape and prepare tweens for high school and beyond. Encourage kids to begin advocating for themselves by communicating with teachers directly. You can be there for support, but let them speak for themselves as often as possible.
5. Asking for help does not make you look like a baby.
While there are a few kids every year who want too much help, by and large, kids try and show that they are more capable than they actually are. Many times they wait too late and make things way harder than they need to be. Whether it’s a big conflict or a class that they just can’t seem to get a grip on, encourage kids to communicate about needs. Try the high low approach. Instead of just asking how was school ask what was the high and the low of the day. Knowing what’s going well, and not so well, each day can give you a chance to talk about what signs they need to look for if things are getting out of hand.
6. Communication is a two way street, listen twice as much as you talk.
The whole “he said, she said” thing really kicks up around middle school. You remember that whole underdeveloped emotion thing? Kids, even good ones, can get themselves in heap of trouble when they say one thing too many. One joke too far or one snappy comeback to the wrong person. Teach kids that taking a breath or two before speaking can save a lot of heartache in the long run. This is especially important if they are angry or are in a large group when everything seems to get blown out of proportion.
7. Balancing your developing social life and school takes effort and planning.
Organization is a skill that middle school kids need to develop. Many schools now include a planner as a part of the required material for school, but if kids only add the homework for the day, there’s a lot of room for growth. Most kids think they are much better at keeping track of time than they are, helping them visualize the balance they need can begin with going over the weekly calendar. Teach them to schedule family and friendship time and even alone time as well.
9. You’re not crazy, this is hard.
We parents sometimes forget just how important the perfect outfit for the dance is or the devastation of missing out on a party invite. Letting kids know your own stories can normalize the challenges that they face, while helping them feel connected to you.
Even though your parents may seem to have morphed into crazy people, they are still, usually, the best place for good advice.
This isn’t just a shameless plug for you parents, it’s the truth. A few things may have changed, but the big stuff is still the same. Let your kids know you can handle the things that they can’t, you’ve been to the tween years and you’ve lived to tell the story.