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What Happened to My Little Girl?Dad's ultimate guide to his tween daughter
By Nancy Rue Jim Rue
ZondervanCopyright © 2011 Nancy Rue
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCan Somebody Tell Me What's Going On?
What Just Happened?
You come home from work the way you've done every night of her nine-year life, pretty much whipped but still ready for her to belt out of her room, eyes dancing, arms open, squealing her girl-child squeal. It is a sound only dogs can hear. Dogs and daddies.
You turn on your laptop, pour the usual cold whatever, and wait for the welcome. Whether you're likely to scoop her up and make an obnoxious noise into her neck, high-five her, or simply say, "Hey, Baby Girl, where's your mother?" you at least secretly savor the fact that somebody is ecstatic to see you no matter how you smell or who you've impressed or what you earned that day.
Yeah, so, where is she? No door has burst open. No flip-flop-clad feet have flapped down the hall. You do hear muffled squealing coming from the direction of her room, yet you have the immediate sense that it's directed not at you but at the other squealers who are obviously in there with her. Sounds like there's a platoon of them.
Mystified, if not slightly miffed that your arrival hasn't been heralded, you head for her doorway, already picturing her leaping up from her pile of stuffed animals and chirping, "Daddy! I didn't hear you come in!"
But the door is closed, and the cutesy pink-and-purple sign her mother bought at some froufrou boutique, proudly declaring this to be Her Room, has been replaced by one scrawled in Magic Marker on a piece of your laser printer paper. It says:
Snickering, you turn the knob and poke your head in.
The squealing chokes itself out. Four ponytails swish as faces turn toward you. Faces that look vaguely familiar, although you're sure you've never seen those particular lips gooey with color or those eyelids smeared with a shade of blue you haven't witnessed since your mom wore it in the '80s. You can pick out your daughter because hers is the mouth that opens and says,
"Da-ad! Didn't you read the sign?"
"Yeah," you manage to say, as your gaze takes in the tumble of MP3 players and polka-dotted journals and what even you recognize as your wife's old makeup bag. Where are the Barbie dolls? The tea set? The crayons in every color known to man?
"Hell-o-o!" your daughter says, hands on hips you weren't aware she had. "You're a boy!"
You think you might grin, might even say something clever and giggle-producing. But then she does a thing you could not have foreseen, even in the darkest colic-screaming, tantrum-throwing days of her baby- and toddlerhood.
She rolls her eyes at you.
Right up into her head. The thought comes to you that she must be having a seizure before you realize that this is merely the universal signal for "You just don't get it."
Whether you respond by backing out of the room or sending the friends home to their own fathers so you can ground her for the rest of her childhood or warn her that if she rolls her eyes at you again you're going to roll her head — your existence has been rocked. In that instant you know that you no longer automatically trigger, "Stop the world — there's Daddy!"
You might tomorrow. You might even later that evening when the other goopy-lipped girls have departed and she once again climbs into your lap. But you'll never again take that for granted, because, Dad ... your daughter is now a tween.
What's a Tween?
Tween is a term coined by the advertising world to designate a kid between the ages of eight and twelve. One group of youth marketers actually calls them "the great tween buying machine." Most of us look at them less as potential consumers than as children who are no longer sweet little baby people but who have not completely lost their minds yet and become teenagers. They are definitely "between" innocent childhood and confused adolescence, a station in life you'd think would be pretty easy, fairly carefree. You should have as few worries and hang-ups as they do.
Until the mid-twentieth century, even psychologists would have agreed with that. The in-between years were often referred to as the "latent" period, and parents tended to let out a four-year-long sigh of relief as they steeled themselves for the teen years everybody kept warning them about. It wasn't unusual to be enjoying a day at a theme park with your eight-year-old and have somebody turn to you in line and say, "You're having fun now, but wait till she gets to be a teenager."
But our view of the tween years has changed, and not just because marketers decided to give them a name and prey on their $43 billion annual spending power. (An impressive sum for people who can't even drive themselves to the mall.) We're realizing that (a) a heck of a lot of important stuff is going on during those years, and (b) as parents we'd better jump on that because society already has. Those same marketers who named them "tweens" have also fashioned the acronym KGOY — Kids Getting Older Younger. Their sales campaigns for everything from shoes to breakfast cereal are based on the belief that ten is the new fifteen.
And then there's you, the dad, looking at your eight-, nine-, ten-, eleven-, or twelve-year-old daughter and saying, "Are you serious? She's still a little girl!"
Yeah. Try telling her that when the clothes on the store racks look like junior hooker wear and her friends are sniffing at her and saying, "You still play with dolls? What a baby." Inform her that she's a little girl when she drags home a backpack full of homework, when the gymnastics teacher tells her she needs to lose that baby fat if she's serious about the Olympics, when she starts her period at age ten — and even at that, she's a good six months "behind" her BFFs.
Child development hasn't changed. Eight- to twelve-year-olds are still on the same place on Maslow's hierarchy of needs where they've always been. It's society that's been altered — in some ways for the better, in some for the worse.
On the better side, we've come to realize that the tween years aren't latent, nor are they merely a rest period before teen hormones reach their peak. We know, in fact, that more physical, emotional, and mental development occurs during this period than in any other in their lives except birth to one year. Armed with that information, we can pay more attention to what's going on with our kids and direct how they grow from it, rather than assume this is just the calm before the storm, and that at age thirteen all hell is going to break loose.
Fathers of teen daughters have a huge influence on how that goes down. Huge. The good news is that you still have enough sway with that mini-woman to guide her into adolescence as a strong, confident, authentic, God-centered human being. The bad news? If you do nothing — and let's face it, that's easy to get away with — you direct her path too. She enters her teen years feeling unsure of who she is, insecure about her strengths, and doubtful in her faith. Dude, a big, big part of it is on you.
If you've even picked up this book and gotten to this point, it's obvious you want to have that positive influence as a dad. Either that or your wife has threatened you with eternal dinner-less-ness if you don't read it. You are probably already taking a real good stab at being a great girl-dad, maybe even better than you think. But chances are you're parenting that girl-child the only way you know how ...
Christian author Terry Esau is the father of a tween daughter, and he lights up more when he talks about her than when he's telling you about his latest book. He says, "As a parent you tend to gravitate toward the way you were raised. It's like there's a hook in you, pulling you where you don't want to go." Not that there weren't wonderful dads in the '70s and '80s. Paternal instincts rank right up there with women's intuition and can shape awesome fathers. Always have. Typically, though, the grandfathers of today's tweens (your dads) were the earliest of the Baby Boomers, born between 1945 and 1955, and were focused on making a living and dealing with tumultuous decades of war, racial tension, and changing moral values. They had to basically re-raise themselves in a society where nothing was as it had been when they were kids. Your dad's parenting style may have ranged from leaving it all up to Mom to running the whole show with an iron hand. In any case, it wasn't the norm for Dad to be involved in his children's lives the way Mom was.
However that affected you as a growing-up boy, it has more than likely influenced your parenting style too. You may hear yourself saying stuff to your kids you swore would never come out of your mouth because you hated it when your father said them to you:
"Because I said so."
"Stop that crying or I'll give you something to cry about."
"Don't make me stop this car."
Or, if you were raised in the South, "I'm fixin' to bust me some butt."
You were never going to yell at your offspring or make them live in fear of the dreaded "wait till your father comes home" or give them the occasional grunt from behind the newspaper and call it a conversation. Yet here you are, wincing every time you realize you've done all of the above or shrugging and saying, "No wonder my dad did that. Kids can drive you nuts."
In a new society, we owe it to our tween daughters to form our own style of parenting, one that matches the kind of growing up our girls are doing. A growing up that is far different from ours.
That's what this book is about. It's not an exposé on the mistakes our moms and dads made. In fact, we're all about encouraging you to keep the good stuff that shaped you into the great guy you are and toss out the things that aren't working any better for your kid than they did for you. It's not too late to do that. A tween girl isn't going to say, "Oh, so NOW you want to spend time with me? Forget it — I have my own life!" Wait till she's a teenager, though, and you might hear that and worse.
Nor is this book designed to make you feel guilty or change your personality (like it could) or tell you flat out how to be a father to your daughter. It's not a how-to book. It's more like a travel guide. We'll tell you what we know about the girl world you've found yourself in and give you suggestions for doing more than merely survive it. Just because you really have no authentic choice but to immerse yourself in it, understand it, and guide your daughter through it doesn't mean you can't have a great time while you're there. That's what we're about.
Now would be a good time to mention who "we" are and explain where we get off giving you all this advice.
One of us is Nancy Rue, tween girl "specialist." (I hate the word expert. Works for wine, ballistics, or rock climbing, but not for kids. Especially girls.) Nancy's been working with eight- to twelve-year-old girls for twenty years and has written 108 books (this is number 109), most of which are for and about that age group. She speaks extensively to tween girls and their moms about everything from puberty to leg shaving, mean girls to who-in-the-world-am-I? Her latest book is The Mom's Ultimate Guide to the Tween Girl World (Zondervan, 2010), which does for mothers what we hope this book will do for you. If your daughter's mom doesn't have that book, by the way, we strongly suggest that you pick it up so the two of you can be on the same page. Literally. At least 80 percent of Nancy's career time is spent blogging for, emailing with, talking to, writing for, and delighting in tween girls. She can tell you more than you really want to know.
While Nancy did much of the writing and research you'll find here, the narrating voice is mine — Jim Rue. My credentials are experiential. Not only have I fathered a daughter — now thirty-one and pretty amazing — but I've worked with the giggly, squealy female set as a camp counselor, music- and drama-camp director, youth-group leader, children's theatre director, youth-group adviser, and mission-trip team leader. I was everybody's "other dad" during our daughter's tween and teen years and am still known as Papa Rue by some who now have kids of their own. My success in those areas wouldn't be at all impressive (and maybe it still isn't!) if my life before all of that hadn't been in the military. I served as a SEAL for twentyfive years in active and reserve duty. With a background like that, being a dad to a tween girl was a challenge.
We're not the last word in raising daughters, which is why in the pages that follow we'll refer to other specialists and dads who've been where you are. You can't have too much information and support as far as we're concerned. More importantly, we'll talk about God's place at the center of all this, which is not an easy thing to grasp when your ten-year-old has told you that you just don't understand, and you're inclined to agree with her. More on all of that below. First, though, let's take a look at who a tween girl is and what makes her tick (you off!).
Here's the Deal
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 20 million tweens in the United States in 2009 (a number that is projected to reach 23 million by 2020). We can assume that approximately half of them are girls. What we can't assume is that they're all alike. It boggles the mind to think that there are 10 million different little personalities, but there you are. Kind of eradicates the tendency to lump them all together. But there are a few major characteristics you're going to find in any girl between the ages of eight and twelve, even though these same traits may express themselves differently in each tween. It's a good idea to get your mind around these. In fact, ignore them at your peril.
She knows everything. Everything. Her favorite sentence, in fact, is "I know." She's not being a little snot when she says that (okay, maybe she is, depending on whether she punctuates the sentence with an eye roll). She has merely discovered that she has a mind of her own and that she really does know a lot. At least, a lot more than you think she does.
She's active. Even if she's not into soccer or gymnastics, she probably can't sit still for long. She even stands on her head when she's reading a book. If she's a couch potato at this point, have her checked out by a doctor. Seriously.
She's confident and assertive. There's a range involved there. Your daughter may be quiet, shy, reserved, but that isn't necessarily a painful thing for her during the tween years. She's fine standing back and observing until she gets the lay of the land without worrying that everybody thinks she's a loser. If you have one on the other end of the scale — extroverted, opinionated, never met a stranger — you already know she'd be as comfortable meeting the First Lady as she is telling you how the household ought to be run.
Her emotions are at full tilt. Again, that runs the gamut from internalizer to full-blown drama queen, but the feelings are there, and they often run rampant because she doesn't quite understand them yet. As a rule, everything's either wonderful or horrible, with not much in between. She may not voice that, but if you're at all observant (that is, if you pull yourself away from the playoffs now and then), you'll see that emotional yo-yo in action.
Excerpted from What Happened to My Little Girl? by Nancy Rue Jim Rue Copyright © 2011 by Nancy Rue . Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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