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Some Things That Glitter Might Be Gold: Life in the Tweenage World

Posted by Jen on August 4, 2010 at 8:57 AM in Raising Girls
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"I need to talk to you about this tweenage thing," my friend said to me a few weeks ago. Her voice was heavy with the need for confession. I didn't know if she was about to confess hatred for her impossible tween or some other more unspeakable act of parental frustration.

"Okay," I answered, all ears. "What's up?"

"It's just, you know...the Justin Bieber, the vampires, the glitter toenail polish..." She could barely get the words out. "I just LOVE all of it. Every single second. She's doing so well, and she's so happy about her life. Is there something wrong with me? I just can't get enough. I think it's great. Do you think that's bad?" She looked at me with the kind of worry a parent might feel after letting their teenager have a sip of champagne at her parent's 50th wedding anniversary.

I laughed. "Not at all," I reassured her. "I'm right there with you. As long as we're talking to them and staying connected and making sure we're honestly pursuing our own dreams for happiness--instead of living vicariously through our girls--I think it's fine. You're living your dreams. You're being honest with her about the hard parts. She can see all of that. I think it's great."

She sighed a deep sigh of relief and we sunk down into the couch for a long conversation, without the threat of censorship or the worry of "Good Mother" hanging over our heads. While some may be appalled and warn of worse pop culture influences to come (and believe me, I've got my eye on that horizon), there's something completely pure and innocent about being excited about the next chapter in a young girl's life. Some of these recent media crazes have taken on cult-level popularity for exactly this reason. They reflect the tension between being innocent and becoming wise. They mirror the euphoria of sometimes getting it right and the adventure involved in learning the difference.

So many of my peers were raised to be afraid of the teen years--the predatory boys, the potential pregnancies, the STDs. But what if in all of our caution and fears about what could happen, we're missing out on one of the biggest gateways to tween/mom connection--an ongoing conversation about what's good right now? What if in an effort to shield our girls from the negative messages their getting from the media, we're missing our chance to be a part of an ongoing dialogue about the things they don't want to miss--healthy friendships, really positive interactions with boys and the magic of discovering they are strong, beautiful and capable of learning the wisdom of their own intuition? Justin Bieber may not be a poster child for any of the above, but he taps into the hope of someone loving you passionately. And why shouldn't our girls expect that?

There's an old saying that youth is wasted on the young. At my house, right now, with the music blaring, the constant toe-nail polishing and the long conversations about the bright and exciting future, I beg to differ. Mistakes will be made, difficulties will be encountered, but all in all, there's something incredibly valuable about being excited about the ride. That's where I see my tween right now; that's what my friend sees, too.

We can't bring ourselves to not be excited for their high hopes--not because we haven't achieved our own, but because in so many ways we have and are doing so right now. And maybe a little late, because we lacked the courage to dive in headfirst. May our girls retain their courage and excitement for love, adventure and true happiness. May we not let our fears of the inevitable disappointments keep them from giving their all to the joys and delights that are theirs to be had.

I know this isn't the party line on raising girls these days, and I know there are dangers to uncensored media exposure. I'm not arguing that. But if you're connected and involved with your tween girl whose heart is open to you, why not be in that process of discovery together? What say you, internets? How are you handling your tween girls and the silly excesses of tween culture? On the continuum between keeping them young and letting them go, where do you fall?

And maybe more importantly, what do you think about the idea that we hold them back because we don't want them to be hurt or disappointed, the way we were (and are) ourselves?


sisterlove writes...

i can't really comment from experience on tween girls, other than i used to be one, and i can say i wish my mom had charted the waters with me instead of only sheltering me from all the "bad," which i was then just left to try and navigate on my own when i turned 18 and moved out.

i have a 14 y/o brother (20 years my junior) & mom shelters him like she did me. i choose to stay right beside him, giving him honest answers when he hears 'questionable' things at school from other kids that he doesn't understand, or sees things on tv, etc., taking those moments to show the good/bad and urge him to make his own decisions and conclusions.

my hope is that when he is 18 and decides to venture out on his own, he will have the knowledge necessary to navigate safely by himself instead of just jumping in feet first w/out knowing how to swim like i did.

i survived, and it made me who i am today, but it was a very rough few years. i'd rather have a few uncomfortable conversations now while we're playing video games (his comfort zone) than have him put my parents through what i did.

Jen writes...

There is always a "fairy tale du jour" for every group of tweens. It doesn't matter if it's vampires was cool when I was young? I don't remember. Maybe dinosaurs. LOL

I cannot wait for my beautiful young girls to become articulate young women.

Kristen writes...

I have an 8 year old and am just approaching the 'tween' era. I have completely embraced the idea that I want to work through the next several years with her. This post was great - made me think about how I am communicating what being a tween/teen is all about based on my own experience growing up (not great). I want to establish a relationship of trust and respect and hope that will get us through - much better than parenting out of fear. Thanks!

Cheri writes...

My two youngest have moved past tweens to 15 & 16, but if anyone had ever tried to tell me that these would be my favorite phase of parenting, I wouldn't have believed them.

Teenage girls can be funny, compassionate, bold, brave and smart. My sense is that they crave adventure, and I can talk and laugh with them about adventures that won't put them at risk--like surfing, learning to ski, serving on teen court, making home videos with their friends, putting their necks out a little in advocacy. Or I can worry about all those risks that can endanger the futures of teenage girls. I'm fortunate enough to be able to choose the former, and I'm not going to spoil it by worrying about the dangers that are not there.

Lina writes...

As I have two girls 8.5 and 6 years old, we are just getting started on this new era of development, and I'm trying to chart it out the best I can. Although I agree with most of the above article, as far as staying connected to your children, and be involved with what they like and encourage, I can not for the life of me agree with the silly teenybopper shows that are on these days. The language, the attitudes, the shallowness. For me there is nothing fulfilling in having my girls try to imitate the characters in these shows. And thank god we don't have cable so they cannot watch them at home. The exposure they get at friends houses is enough. And instead of watching media, they should be out creating their own real relationships and memories with friends. I am also a staunch critic to having children exposed to advertising, in this already material world. To take a look at the bigger picture we need to change our childrens' view on "things" and that is all involved in the media. Not that we should take away all the "glitter" from our kids, but we need to be aware of what we create for future generations.
Thank you,

amy writes...

Being present to your daughter is the key to your article. You are providing ballast of maturity for their boat. I worry about young girls who don't have a mom or dad or somebody close. Like Bella in Twilight really believes that her life has no meaning w/o HIM. Your presence in your daughters' lives is testimony that this is not true. They can have fun with vampires & death because they know their life is of value -- you show them that. Girls with absent or distant parents don't have that ballast and they sail without a moral compass.

Rebecca writes...

I think what people miss when they criticize tweeny culture is that their girls aren't ignorant. Most young girls are likely more media/pop culture literate than we are. Opening up discussions with your girls about what tween fad they are currently into will likely surprise you. I've heard quite a few young ladies who love Twilight, also discuss the pitfalls of Bella's character. They know that she's a mess. Girls aren't dumb. They can think critically about what they are exposed to, even more so if they have a safe environment at home to simultaneously enjoy and dissect their own culture.

Chris writes...

I have almost 7 yo and 8 1/2 yo grrls.. the older has decided that she needs to stuff her tops and try to sneak makeup when we leave the house... she was very modest a year ago and we do not have tv.. she doesn't go over to others' homes and I do not know where the quest to be sexy has come from... I too hate the shows.. I hope to add some of your (great!!) attitude in to my parenting!

Lynn writes...

My daughter sometimes amazes me. I thought she would like the Twilight books, my nieces loved them. I enjoyed them. But, she read the first book and her conclusion was this: "Mom, Bella is a wh*re, she wants to have sex with Edward and they barely know each other and aren't married.Edward is a stalker, he sits outside her bedroom window and watches her. Don't you know that means he sees her dress and undress? She ditched her friends for him. She thought she couldn't live when he was gone.That is NOT what real love is.And she goes doing dangerous stuff just to hear his voice in her head. She uses Jacob who has been a true friend to her. She's just selfish." Hmm... Maybe all our mom/daughter talks HAVE taught her to evaluate and think for herself. She was more than willing to share her opinion with friends. True, she chose to not involve herself in going to all the "Twilight" get-togethers, and movie. BUT she CHOSE this, I did not force it upon her (quite the contrary, I even discussed with her that she should consider putting her dislike for the story aside, and going just to enjoy her friends before deciding what to do).What more could a mom ask for in the molding of a young woman than seeing her daughter comfortable in her own skin with a moral compass that she choses to use?

lindsey writes...

Thank you so much for providing a glimpse into my future with my little girl... currently only 1 yr old. Your words have strengthened my courage and resolve to be present with my daughter in spite of and because of whatever popular craze is "in" at the time. Tears are in my eyes thinking about all the wonderful moments that are in our future together. Thanks for the window to your world and the sneak peek into mine.

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