The other day my tween-aged twin boys spent an hour trying to convince me that they had to join a Whatsapp group, started by one of their school friends. When I brought it to their attention that they first needed a mobile phone, they quickly had a two-minute discussion between themselves and decided that … yes, they needed a mobile phone as well- and one for each! Being the thoughtful kids that they are, they reasoned that the phones didn’t need to be very expensive but a camera would be helpful. Naturally, the evening did not end well. While I tried in vain to explain that they would have plenty of time for Whatsapp and cameras when they’re adults, they said ‘This is as adult as we’re ever going to get’. And they just turned eleven in July.
No one told me that kids turn into mutant ninja turtles when they turn eleven. Yes, it happened. One day they were normal, peaceful ten year-olds. And the next day, they evolved. Suddenly they’re thinking on frequencies that make my mind boggle, they’re saying things that make my blood boil and are doing things that make my nerves self-combust. Whatever happened to times when they would hang on my every word? Today, my words are met with ‘Oh really!’ or ‘But all the kids are ….’. They’ve changed. Just like that.
My mommy not so cool
If it were left to our kids, my husband and I would have a PhD in uncoolness. They constantly remind us of how lenient and liberal other parents are. In fact, they often ask ‘What have you done with our real parents?’—trying to get us to admit to some heinous kidnapping charge that they have going against us. But we don’t mind. It was never our intention to become best pals with our kids. We have friends, of the grown-up kind. We believe God gave these little people to us so we could be parents. And being a parent means drawing a line and even though sometimes you may have to rub off the first line and re-draw a new and improved version of it; the fact is that there still is a line. That line may upset our kids. That line may activate super sulk mode. That line may even tug at your heartstrings and make you wonder if saying ‘no’ was really worth it. Our kids may think the very worst of us for not letting them watch a certain TV program or read a book that ‘all their friends are reading’, but hopefully it will teach them right from wrong. So if we have to be uncool to make that happen; in my books that’s a great trade-off. But while drawing lines and enforcing discipline, it’s sometimes rather difficult to keep communication lines open, especially when our advice and opinions are no longer treated like manna from heaven.
There’s a monster under my bed
Remember those days? The days when we could play superhero, the days when a few cuddles and hugs could solve even T-Rex-like problems, the days when you knew exactly what to do…. yes those days. Well, they’re gone. Tweens are not bothered about monsters (probably because they know no monster would survive their company), but they’ll have questions that will have you stumped, not because you don’t know the answer but because you don’t know how to answer it or whether you even should.
Is there a right/wrong answer? Should you be discussing this topic with them? Should you pretend you’re on the phone? I’ve struggled with all that and more. One thing I know for sure if that it doesn’t pay to ignore the situation. They’re not going to forget about it or stop wondering. In fact, your decision not to address the question will probably prompt them to find an answer from less reliable sources such as their friends, media or magazines/books etc.
As parents we would rather have them ask us, than to get answers that are either inaccurate or untrue. That doesn’t mean that you have to offer a thesis-like explanation on every topic that they’re curious about. That also doesn’t mean that you lie to them or tell them to stop asking such questions. In our family, we dilute the information we give based on the age of the child.
When our six-year-old asked us how babies were made, we told him that God blessed us and put a baby in mommy’s tummy. He was perfectly fine with that answer (at least for the time being). However, when my twins (aged ten at the time), asked me why we buy sanitary napkins; I gave them a small lesson in basic biology- just simple, clinical facts.
No, it’s not about giving them the ‘whole truth and nothing but the truth’ but giving them the truth in amounts that they can easily understand and accept. By the way, there’s a huge difference between being truthful and graphic!
The ‘oh-that’s-gross’ stage
One of my twins was recently asked to participate in a group dance program held in his school. I thought he’d be over the moon with joy as he’s normally very stage-friendly. However, I was quite surprised to find out that he turned it down and when asked why, he simply said “What! I’ll have to hold hands with a girl! That’s gross!” When did something as simple as that turn gross?
It made us realise that our boys are growing up fast and we had to stop treating them as toddlers in big shoes. So how do you get your kids to experience healthy platonic relationships? That’s a toughie. Hopefully these tips will help.
- Monitor how we talk about the opposite gender even when we’re at home so they develop a healthy attitude.
- Encourage kids to talk to members of the opposite gender and avoid creating a negative image so they develop a natural level of comfort.
- Explain how girls and boys are emotionally different so they don’t perceive ‘differences’ to be ‘weaknesses’.
- Set boundaries so they learn to monitor their language, conduct and mannerisms around the opposite gender, right from an early age.
- Remind them that all good relationships are based on mutual respect.
As parents there’s a lot we can do to prepare ourselves for the tween years. We can start by actually listening to them, watching for changes and predicting questions and fears that they may have. It also helps to initiate rightly-timed discussions. Once, when we drove past a billboard which had quite a scandalous slogan, one of our boys asked us what it meant.
We used this as a good opportunity to explain that as individuals we have to set a high standard for ourselves. A standard that should be obvious in the way we think, talk, behave and interact. And it’s okay if our standard is vastly different from that of the world—it just shows that we’re different, and in this case—different is good.
When we label a topic as taboo it will send their curiosity skyrocketing. Therefore, it just makes smart parenting sense to deal with every situation, scenario, question or concern- patiently, lovingly and intelligently.