The “tweenage” years often mark a child’s entrance into a social hierarchy. Unlike the more carefree days of elementary school, middle school kids must learn to negotiate a social system that was previously managed by their parents.
As a parent, this can be daunting and scary. You may have heard whispers about “tween mean.” Perhaps you have been afforded an opportunity to catch clips of your tween’s conversations with friends. At times you may be taken aback or even downright surprised. It is not uncommon to hear sarcasm with a twinge of sassy in these exchanges.
Put bluntly, tween mean is no myth. Your tween however, is probably far tougher than you realize. Maybe you see flashes of this when he answers you with just enough edge to suggest an attitude. But some tweens are more vulnerable. Regardless of the realities of the tween social scene, what follows are some tips to help you — and your tween — negotiate this confusing new system.
What You Can Do
1. Listen, listen, and then listen some more
If you want the scoop on what is going on and how your tween is managing, refrain from cutting her off when she tries to tell you even if you have concerns about what you are hearing. Tweens often tend to rant and vent to their parents.
2. Only offer advice if you are asked
When your tween tells you what is going on, he is probably looking for a sounding board, not an answer. Instead of offering advice, offer validation when he relates how he is handling certain situations. If you do not agree with his approach be mindful of how you mention this.
3. Communicate concerns calmly
If you have concerns regarding the social interactions of your tween, find a time to sit down and present your concerns. Tweens tend to be very sensitive so don’t be surprised if she perceives your concern about her behavior or the way her friends are behaving as criticism.
4. Re-direct respectfully
If your tween responds to you in a terse tone and/or with disrespectful content, it is important to redirect him. How you respond to him makes a difference. If you yell, you unfortunately reinforce his negative behavior.
5. A little bit of knowledge goes a long way
Create a network of collateral sources such as other parents, teachers, coaches, etc., to ensure that you are equipped with information you require to monitor your tween’s social scene.
What Your Tween Can Do
1. When in doubt, talk it out
Encourage your tween to talk out concerns related to social interactions or events with you or a trusted friend. Talking through her concerns will provide a forum for her to use perspective taking and offer an opportunity for her to work out why she may have worries or concerns.
2. Being reasonable sometimes outweighs being right
In order to avoid unnecessary conflict and/or drama, your tween is best served acknowledging sometimes it is about keeping a situation calm. This may mean keeping his opinions to himself even when he is sure he is in the right.
3. Put yourself in your peer’s shoes
If your tween has doubts about her actions or reactions toward another peer, she should try to see the situation through her peer’s eyes.
4. It can be a difficult situation when you don’t agree with how a friend or peer is being treated
If your tween is afraid to say it out loud or directly to the individuals involved, he should seek the support of a parent, teacher, coach, or other adult he trusts.
Being mean may seem like a requirement in the tween social scene at times. In reality, demonstrating kindness, caring, and support to each other not only makes us feel better but it encourages better communication and more positive interactions. While tweens may not always realize they are offering attitude, it is the responsibility of the adults in their lives to ensure that tween mean loses steam.
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