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Moms' Ultimate Guide to the Tween Girl World
By Nancy Rue
ZondervanCopyright © 2010 Nancy Rue
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWill My Real Daughter Please Step Forward?
Whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves. John 1:11-12 * * * I feel like I'm living a life that is not mine, like I'm in a movie with someone else writing the script telling me what to do. age 12
Not to put you into a cubbyhole - especially since this section is all about being uniquely oneself - but as a parent, it really is helpful to look at the generation you're part of, because, ten to one, you do embody at least a few of its characteristics, and that does have an effect on the way you understand your daughter's generation.
If you were born between 1974 and 1981, you're part of the much-talked-about Generation X. And can I just say that if I were a Gen X-er instead of a Baby Boomer, I would take serious exception to being called "X"? You have been much maligned for being angsty and materialistic, and for playing the victim, because, after all, you were the latchkey kids. As tweens and teens you definitely had an edge to you, and I admit that when I was teaching high school in the 1990s, you nearly drove me to the edge.
But you had every reason to be resentful and push the envelope and express all that was heinous in the world. When we were raising you, many of us Baby Boomer parents were pretty busy "finding ourselves" in the wake of that whole hippie thing-and a lot of us mothers were buying into the superwoman myth that served no one but the creators of antidepressants.
That's putting a pretty dark face on it, but the point is, as a young girl coming of age in your generation, peer pressure was about breaking rules. Anger was cool, and hope was absurd. Seeing how far they could go in blasting through old taboos was the mark of Generation X in their growing-up years. As a teacher, my heart ached, because in my view, it was all done in hopes that somebody would notice and say, "Okay, stop. Just stop. Let's figure out what's really going on here."
Somebody finally did say, "Stop." It was you.
As a generation of young parents, you aren't doing things the way we did. Your children are your treasures, and most of you are bending over backwards cherishing them. They want for nothing. You will sacrifice anything as long as it means they go to the best schools, have their place on the right teams, get the lessons with the top professionals, and possess every electronic device that will enable them to keep up with all of the above. The fact that you care so deeply and are so committed to your kids is the very reason you're reading this book. Your children are blessed to have you raising them.
However (and didn't you know there would be a however?), the X-ness is still out there in the world. Take the media, for example.
Even though you may be protective about what your child is exposed to, the world of music, movies, television, and Internet offerings still thinks that this new generation will want to continue to push the limits of acceptability in entertainment the way Boomers and X-ers did. I love what Neil Howe and William Strauss say in their eye-opening book Millennials Rising:
Imagine growing up, as a kid, in a world in which older people provide a trashy lineup for you, tailor it to your vernacular, market it in your media, and then condemn you for participating in it.... That's what it's like to be a teenager today.
Your tween daughter, born after 1982, is a Millennial. She's growing up far differently than you did, but the people making decisions about what media is available to her are still caught up in let's-see-how-far-we-can-take-this. It's not an eight-year-old who is writing the offensive lyrics to the music being sold to her-it's a thirty-something. Ten-year-olds don't make movies full of sex and obscenity-the forty- and fifty-year-olds are responsible for that. She's not seeing a reflection of what she thinks and feels and wants in this new world she lives in. She's "being pulled by the license of the adult culture far more than [she] is in any sense pushing it."
So-if your innocent daughter is going to maintain that innocence and be allowed to be a kid, either you're going to have to raise her like an orchid in a hothouse, or you're going to need to help her find out who she is and what she wants, and show her how to maintain that in the face of what our generations are throwing at her.
The sad-and-sorry state of media is only one of the reasons that authenticity is as essential to our tween girls as good nutrition and the right ballet teacher. Let's explore five more.
Getting Clear: Why She Has to Be Real
Peer pressure has changed. Peer pressure basically means: "Friends-who know everything-have way more influence than our parents, who essentially know nothing." Dealing with peer pressure always has been an important part of growing up. Learning who to listen to and trust is vital to well-being-and there has never been a generation of parents who has been successful at pulling off the listen-only-to-what-I-say-and-obey-only-me approach to raising kids. It's not even healthy to go at it that way, since the minute your child goes off to preschool you are no longer the sole influence in her life. She has to learn to sort through all that she's hearing in order to get the good stuff from it, and there is good, valuable stuff to be learned from her relationships with her peers.
The "pressure" part of it starts bearing down when what "everybody is doing" (supposedly-have you ever taken an actual poll of "everybody"?) goes against what she knows is right. At least, that was the way it was for us. "Peer pressure" in both yours and my day came in the form of alcohol, drugs, sex, and, if you really want to go back, protests against the "establishment." In essence, we were pressured to break the rules.
Hard as that was, it was somewhat easier on our parents. The decisions were pretty clear. Do this and this will happen. There you go.
For the Millennials, though, three things have happened. First, they had to have slept through elementary school not to have heard about the evils of drugs, underage drinking, and unprotected sex. They knew "Just say no" before they had the Pledge of Allegiance committed to memory. There's still pressure to participate, but they're much more savvy and not so easily persuaded. That's good news.
But, two, the pressure now is not to break the rules, but to "fit in." And that is a more complicated and much muddier thing to accomplish. You have to own the right stuff, talk the right way, wear the right clothes, and have the right coolness factor, which can change at any moment depending on the whims of the Ruling Class that makes those kinds of determinations, i.e., the Popular Kids. The pressure to figure that all out is much more complex than deciding whether or not to have a beer at a party. The consequences of succumbing to that pressure are not life threatening, but they can be soul threatening.
Third, that kind of pressure starts long before the teen years. Your daughters feel it as early as second or third grade, and it hits its stride in grades four and five, so that by the time they reach middle school, they're being bombarded with it hourly, often in cruel ways.
What that means for parents is that just equipping girls with the rules, a set of rights and wrongs, is, though important, not enough. If a tween girl isn't developing a strong sense of who she really is, her true self can be swept away in the rush to belong in a community that doesn't even know what it is from one minute to the next. The eight- to twelve-year-olds I talk to on a daily basis know not to drink, smoke, do drugs, or get physically involved with boys. Y'know, like, du-uh. But they are already sick of trying to be cool and popular and part of the clique. They are crying out to be real. You can help them.
School is becoming more standardized.
No Child Left Behind (or as my educator friends call it, No Teacher Left Standing) has shed the spotlight on the shortcomings of our public education system and made schools more accountable, at least for standardized test scores. Their response has been to return to a more structured curriculum, more order in the classroom (in the form of zero tolerance), and more emphasis on the basics. Have you noticed that your daughter has more homework and more demanding teachers than you did? Is she more excited about math and science than you were, as opposed to the previously more "girly" subjects like humanities and history and the arts? Does she perhaps balk at the assignments that don't call for black-and-white answers? Does she stress about getting it "right"?
The result of "teaching to standards," which educators are now called upon to do, has its upside as test scores improve nationwide. Yet there is a downside, which is that we cannot expect school to be a place where our daughters can express themselves in authentic ways. The trend toward cutting arts programs in these tough economic times speaks to that. In Nashville, where I live, there is one music teacher for every seven hundred students in the school district. Drama and band programs are seen as "nonessentials"-in other words, there's no standardized test for those, and we have to be getting them ready to score well in math and language arts, so let's not waste time and money on frills. Self-expression, however, is not a frill. It's a very real part of helping kids discover who they are, which is just as vital to their education as their basic academic skills.
So the job of allowing your daughter to express herself into a true sense of who she is falls to you. Her generation is becoming left-brained. But her soul doesn't reside there.
Technology can eat away at individuality.
Before you write me off as a technology-resistant fifty-something who just doesn't get how important technology is to daily life in the new world-seriously, I do. I sit now before a computer with two screens. My email signals me every time I have a new message. My laptop waits in its bag for my next trip to a coffee shop that has free wireless. I own an iPhone that practically reminds me to pee, and if I don't blog and Facebook (which, I understand, is now a verb) daily, I hear about it. Especially from your daughters.
I wouldn't be able to do what I do without technology, and chances are you wouldn't either. The kinds of schedules you keep up with for your kids boggle my mind, and I know you can't pull it off without at least a BlackBerry. Again, I really do get it.
I also get that your daughters are what Dr. Mary Manz Simon, the guru of trend-savvy parenting, calls "digital natives." Even if you didn't have a Blue Tooth device in your ear during labor, your child has no doubt always been very aware that electronics define much of her world. Computers are as natural to her as VCRs were to you. She's not afraid of technology. In fact, it gives her a certain air of superiority to know that she can operate devices with far more ease than her elders. My sister's eleven-year-old granddaughter recently taught her how to text. Tween girls who post on my blog are not shy about telling me if I would do this, this, and this, my pictures would load more easily or I could change fonts, you know, so it wouldn't be boring. No offense.
I don't begrudge them the labor-saving devices they get to use in their education. Who wouldn't rather look up facts on the Internet than plow through the Encyclopedia Britannica? Even as I'm writing this book, I'm remembering the agony of typing footnotes on an electric typewriter on erasable bond paper. Only on my crankiest days do I resent the fact that our tween girls will never have to endure that.
But I still have concerns. Will our mini-women depend so much on technology they'll become isolated from the very people they're constantly connecting with? I have a blog for young teens on which posters are constantly saying, "I wish I could be as real with my face-to-face friends as I can with all of you." I am so saddened by that.
I also worry that they are limited in expressing their uniqueness. There is a certain sameness in texting and Facebooking that, no matter how much they customize and personalize, seems to compromise their individuality. I see them in danger of being cookie-cuttered, only allowed to be creative within the limits of a MySpace page or a cell phone screen.
Another problem is that constant emailing and texting and Twittering and cell phoning could make them so dependent on peer support, they don't even know if they're okay unless they have their BFF within an instant's reach. It used to be bad enough to eat alone in the cafeteria. Now if no one's emailed them in the last five minutes, they wonder if there's something wrong with them. It's far easier to be in the loop than it is to be real.
Scheduling is now the biggest part of parenting.
Moms these days don't mean for it to be, but so often it's the truth. By the time you get them to school, participate in the book fairs and field trips-whether by physical presence or yet another check made out to the school because you yourself have a job to pay for all of the following-make sure they get to the after-school activities, make some kind of meal happen, supervise (or referee) homework, and get everybody ready to do the whole thing again tomorrow-is there actually time for all the things you thought parenting was about? You know, like teaching life lessons, sharing everybody's day at the dinner table, lingering over the tucking-in to say prayers and tell stories. You dreamed of that, didn't you?
And then the world took over. Sure, you could take your daughter out of everything and try to recreate a nostalgic fifties' cookies-and-milk-after-school atmosphere in your home, but a nagging anxiety would creep in that you were cheating her of all that's out there for her, all the things her friends are taking part in. You'd sense that she was perhaps falling behind and would soon become a gymnastics-less, soccer-challenged, piano-deprived misfit. You're a good mom. You can't do that to her. It's the way things are and you're coping with it, and probably pretty well.
I really do believe that, so please know that this is not at all a criticism. It's merely an observation that you might want to look at. Yes, I'm seeing tween girls who are gaining great confidence and team spirit from participating in sports, who are exhibiting tremendous poise and grace from performing in dance, gymnastics, and musical endeavors, who have a deep spiritual awareness because of their involvement in church life. At the same time, when I suggest to them that they take some time to dream or journal or talk to God, I often get very adult-sounding responses:
"My schedule's pretty tight. I don't know if I have time." "My plate's already full."
"If I add another thing to my day, my head's going to explode!"
These are nine-, ten-, eleven-, and twelve-year-olds. Most of them love what they're doing, or they at least know the importance of it, and no doubt they're learning things about themselves in the process. But when do they sort that through? When do they process it? What chance do they have to express it or experiment with it or even have a good cry over it?
I have a very real fear that they will become capable, efficient, accomplished young women who have no clue what lies under all their achievements. The more they add to their résumés-and at twelve many of them are already thinking about what their college applications need to look like-the more what they do defines who they are. That's certainly a part of the big picture, but it isn't all of it. The discovery of self that used to naturally occur when kids took off on their bikes after school and weren't seen again until Dad stood out in the front yard and gave the family whistle doesn't happen now unless the parents are intentional in finding other ways for their daughters to simply be.
Excerpted from Moms' Ultimate Guide to the Tween Girl World by Nancy Rue Copyright © 2010 by Nancy Rue . Excerpted by permission.
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