Tweens are Shaken Pop Cans, or Not
Shake up six of a twelve pack of pop cans, then mix them all around on the table while not looking at them. Then open them one by one. That’s how life is with tweens. As a parent, I never know until in the heat of the moment if the response I will get from my tween will be explosive and messy like the shaken can or if it will be calm, peaceful, and refreshing like the unshaken can.
I remember being a tween, and all the bad feelings I had while in that phase of my life. I try to keep that mindset as I parent my boys. I know as a mom, I need to be forgiving in all situations and show my boys unconditional love.
I’m sharing my Authentic Helpful Advice for Tweens Entering Middle School from my own parenting experiences.
My disclaimer, although I’m a trained RN who has worked with pediatric patients, I’m not a child psychologist or therapist, I’m writing this simply as a mom who parented one tween boy into teen-hood and who is currently in the throes of parenting another tween son. My advice is based strictly my own opinions and experiences parenting my boys, so please seek advice from a professional with all concerns.
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The Tween Years are Tough
Simply put, being a tween is just plain hard. It’s hard work. But, we can equip our kids as moms to weather the storm of the tween years and sail onto the next stage of their lives with smiles on their faces, confidence in their hearts, and some sense of peace. We can at least try. At the very least, as parents we can leave them with the impression that we will be there for them always, no matter what.
Tweens are still kids who are still learning about life and how to act. Even though they are becoming more adult-like, they are still kids who need a parent’s help.
Middle school is a tough age for all tweens, and it is especially tough for a sensitive tween. Kids are growing and changing at a rapid pace in the tween years. Their hormones are giving them new feelings and mood swings. There are new challenges for heading to middle school, new dangers, but also new exciting experiences.
Yes, Sometimes It Sucks!
Sometimes school sucks. Sometimes teachers suck. Sometimes friends suck. Sometimes sport team tryouts suck. Sometimes coaches suck (more on that later). Sometimes parents suck.
These truths are a fact of life and a reality for everyone at some point. I teach my boys how to make it through the parts of life that suck because the next phase could be good. I need to teach them this mentality–just because something does suck, that doesn’t mean it will always suck.
But, I can give my sensitive tween some tools of how to think of the middle school hardships in relation to the rest of his life. I can prepare him with armor to shield him from the shocking insults by talking with him about the potential bad parts of middle school. Because I prepare him, hopefully he can bear the hard times because he expected them to happen. This way he can weather all the bad experiences better with less heart ache.
Kids Can Be Mean and Some Will Say Cruel & Untrue Things
One important thing I now know to tell my tween entering middle school is that kids can be mean, even more so than in elementary school. I didn’t expect this when my first son entered middle school so I didn’t talk with him about this topic. But, having been through it once, now I know better.
A tween’s self-esteem is delicate and vulnerable to mean attacking words from peers. Kids say mean things to each other. They just do.
I’m telling my tween to not take cruel words to heart, but I’ve seen it happen already and I know he will take it to heart and feel bad. As a mom, I need to build my kids back up and tell them that person was wrong. I need to tell them those cruel words the other kid said to him aren’t true and replace them with positive truthful words.
Words I want him to remember I’ve even repeated them more than once to get the words ingrained in his head. I repeat the words so he will remember them when being insulted. I tell him positive phrases to overpower the sadness from the mean words. I think it’s best to point out how the mean words don’t even apply (they aren’t even realistic) and replace them with positive talk.
Tweens going through an awkward growth phase or new physical development are particularly vulnerable to insults. They already feel self-conscious often about their bodily changes, but when peers point them out or make fun of them for them, their self-esteem plummets.
The Word Suicide May Enter Vocabularies
The phrase I’ve heard tweens say to each other recently is “Why don’t you go suicide yourself” as a way of dismissing another tween, insulting them, or to try to get rid of them. This is such a dangerous phrase when spoken to any tween, but especially a sensitive tween because they might believe the person saying it. If the child respects or looks up to the tween saying it, he will take an even harder hit to his self-esteem and begin to feel worthless. My oldest son says kids say that phrase (and other similar phrases) all the time which is very disturbing to me as a parent, especially given my family history of depression. I’m not going to sugar coat it, as a parent, this worries me.
Suicide jokes are not funny.
Tell Tweens They Have Power
I tell my tween he has the power to believe what he chooses to believe. He doesn’t need to believe what others say about him. Other kids may cut him down by making comments about his appearance or performance. The kids may think they are joking around, or they may be intentionally being mean. I tell my own kids those kids are just trying to make themselves feel better.
I like to paint the big picture for him and mention how tweendom is just a short little stint in his long life and how one person’s opinion of him shouldn’t (and doesn’t) define him. I tell him if he lets that mean person define him, he is giving that person power over him. I say, “Don’t give them that power. You keep that power for yourself. It’s yours, and yours alone.”
Tell Tweens They are Wonderful and Shower Them With Compliments
When my kids were younger, I worried about over-complimenting because I was fearful it would make them boastful and full of themselves. However, I’m done with the fear that complimenting my child too much will make him arrogant, he needs my abundant never-ending over the top constant compliments to survive all the negative comments he will receive in middle school. He needs all that positive compliment history built up in him to survive the battlefield of tweenhood.
Teach Them They Aren’t Defined By the Sports They Play or Don’t Play
Sports are fun, winning is fun, but sports and winning just don’t matter in the long run of a person’s life. Sure, it’s fun to win, but in the end, it won’t matter how many football or basketball games his team won. It won’t matter if he made or missed that basket in the basketball game. What matters is how much effort he put into it and if he tried his best. Plus, did he have fun, that’s what important to me as a parent.
For the non-sports kids, I remind him sports for most people aren’t a lifelong career. I point out how for most people, sports are simply a lifelong leisure activity. I tell him not to let playing sports or not playing sports define his life. There is so much more to do in life than sports, and only a very small percentage of kids go on to professional sports careers. The majority of adults play sports simply for fun or exercise, so a tween’s sports, or non-sports, status really doesn’t matter in the long run. It hurts to be picked on for not being a good player in a gym class, but those kids who are doing the picking on, most of them won’t be playing sports professionally as adults no matter how good they are now. Sorry, they just really aren’t that good either.
I tell my tween all of this so he sees the bigger picture rather than focusing just on the now.
Drugs and Alcohol Exposure Will Happen
Kids might bring alcohol or drugs to school. Teaching kids that alcohol is for adults and never for kids is key. But, there will be some kids who bring it to school and whether he sees it or not, he probably will hear about it. I tell my boys to stay away from drugs and never touch them. I talk with my boys about not using alcohol or drugs so I don’t have to talk to them about it after they’ve already tried it and it’s a problem. I make sure it’s clear to my boys they are not allowed to use any drugs or alcohol ever. Not even to just try it once.
Social Media Matters to Tweens
Social media matters. Tweens are big into social media and they love it.
Tweens also love Snapchat because posts stay up for a short time and supposedly go away. I’ve heard it never really goes away though, and nothing on the internet ever completely goes away.
I tell my boys they need to think about what they are posting on social media before they post it. They need to ask themselves, do they want their parents to see it, or their future spouse, or even their own kids someday. If not, then don’t post it. Ever.
They need to think about their future careers. I hear employers do searches on social media to learn about applicants, so if they don’t want their future careers riding on a nasty inappropriate post, they shouldn’t post it. They need to really think twice before posting which is hard to accomplish with the impulsivness of youth.
Cyber Bullying Will Happen
Cyber bullying on social media is very real and it is hard to control. No one can control cyber bullying because kids are at the mercy of each other and often parents don’t even know it’s going on. Unfortunately, some kids are just plain mean and use social media to bully other kids. Again, I hope the armor of positivity I build into my boys will help them weather any cyber bullying they might encounter.
Many middle schools give out information to parents or host seminars for parents on the latest social media trends and cyber bullying so parents are aware and can watch for warning signs of dangerous behavior.
Personal Safety Continues to be Very Important in the Tween Years
I remind my tween son of personal safety not only with peers but even with teachers and other people in the community, whether strangers or people he knows.
Freaks and pedophiles are living amongst us and we need to be smart about training our kids and constantly reminding them because they get impulsive and forget. They are carefree and young and they just want to have fun, so safety sometimes becomes less important than fun. I’d much rather annoy my child and give him warnings each time he goes out with friends then regret having not repeated the warning. I want to keep the warnings fresh on top of his young mind.
Unfortunately, predators are on the lookout for tweens who are alone or who are seeking someone to make them feel good about themselves. I tell mine to never bike alone, don’t go to the park bathroom alone, don’t go near woods alone, watch out for suspicious vans or lingering vehicles, and run when something feels off. Always bring their cell phones when they are out biking with friends. I love the Find my iPhone app and Life 360 app for keeping track of where my kids are at because these apps track the location of the phone (this is a reason to give tweens a phone in my opinion).
They Can Fight Back
If someone hits them, they can fight back. There I said it.
I’ve told my boys from a very young age to never, ever hit, but now I’m telling them, as kids who are out and about on their own with friends, they have permission to hit and fight back if they are physically attacked. This is the one time they can, and should, kick, bite, hit to get away from a predator or a bully. School’s have their own rules about this, and it’s good they do, but out at the park, my boys have my permission to defend themselves if attacked. They may not instigate a fight, but they certainly can defend themselves. I tell them do not worry about hurting a potential abductor, in fact, they should try to hurt them intentionally to get away from them.
Coaches Aren’t Always Ethical or Fair
Parent coaches will try and play their own kids more on the teams they coach. This is a fact of life and kids need to get used to it. We can’t control it. In my experience, many parent coaches are this way.
Now, this is a broad statement that won’t apply to all as some parent coaches are honest and play their own kids equally or even less than their own kids if talent warrants it. Some coaches play all kids in fair rotation. But, most parent coaches will play their own kids more than other kids, this is my opinion from years of experience watching my boys on parent coached teams.
I tell my boys part of growing up is learning how to survive on a team and work through kinks such as an unfair coach. Plus, often coaches change through the years so they need to make the best of a situation with a bad coach, and look to the future for hopefully better interactions with new coaches. Middle schools often offer sports activities to kids where teachers are coaches leading to perhaps a less biased experience than with a parent coach. Middle school sports could be a positive experience in this case.
Life Isn’t Always Fair
Life isn’t always fair. Other kids will get more advantages, more play time in the game, more fun in leisure time, more vacations, more teacher attention, more peer attention than others, and more friends. Some kids will get a better team of teachers. Some kids will get more free time because they get less homework.
That’s life and the sooner they realize this the sooner they won’t be a slave to it. The sooner they stop being the fairness police and focus on their own goals, the happier they will be in their own lives.
The Bus Experience Will Be Different
I hear middle schoolers don’t talk on the bus, they play on their phones. This will be a very different experience from the elementary school bus ride to and from school. For my kids, the bus in elementary school has always been a social time of talking, joking around, and laughing (with sometimes some bad language associated); so riding the middle school bus as a silent bus ride can come as quite a shock to kids new to middle school.
Name Calling Will Happen From Older Grades
The older kids often have a term for the newbies coming into the middle school. At our local school, sixth grade marks the beginning of middle school and all the older kids call the sixth graders “sixlets”. It’s not really meant as a derogatory term, but it is meant to tell them their place is the lowest wrung on the ladder. It’s more of a ranking that a bad word, but apparently it goes on all year, all the time.
Friendships May Change in Middle School
Past friendships from elementary school may change in the middle school years. I tell my boys they might lose friends, they might gain friends, but true friendships are the ones that last through circumstances and time. In true friendships, both friends make an effort in the relationship and say kind words to each other. True friendships are positive interactions.
Lunch is Overwhelming at First
The lunch room will be bigger with more kids so finiding friends from elementary school might be a challenge at first. Look for a friend and sit with them. I tell him his friends can pick a regular table in the lunchroom so they can find each other each day.
The food choices for lunch are often expanded in middle school. This is both overwhelming and fun. I tell my son he needs to be mindful of what he chooses and select healthy foods rather than a picking a cookie-filled lunch.
The schedule of what assignments are due and when becomes a tween’s responsibility. He now has the task of keeping track of when tests are and he needs to be prepared. Now he will have six to seven different teachers all with different schedules. I tell my son he is in charge and he needs to stay organized. He can use a planner if needed. He should not be shy because he is his own advocate so he must talk to the teacher when he has a question or problem.
Be Swift Between Classes
There are mere minutes between classes so it shouldn’t be a social time, save that for lunch. He should head staight to his locker, grab the necesssary stuff and head off to the next class without delay. Don’t putz about talking to other kids.
Visit the School During Open House
We will learn where his classes are by visiting the school during the open house before school starts. We will walk the schedule so that it is familiary to him on the first day. My older son figured out his schedule after a few days and it became second nature. It tell my son going into middle school not to worry because he will pick up his schedule and class location within the first few days. It will become easy by the end of the first week.
Ending With the Positives: Lunch, Friendships, New Experiences & Learning
There are many positive aspects of starting middle school. I tell my son he will learn new things and have new experiences, plus lunch is awesome! The choices for lunch blossom in middle school and kids suddenly have so many choices to choose from every day including ordering as many cookies as they want. However, I tell him new freedoms come with new responsibilities to the pocketbook and to his own health.
New friendships will happen and that is wonderful! When several elementary schools combine together at the middle school level, there are suddenly many kids together who have never met each other. This makes possibilities for new awesome friendships to develop.
New Experiences & Learning
I tell my son it will be a whole new world with switching classes and having multiple teachers, and sometimes change can be a good thing.
I tell him to be open to trying new things because there are so many new fun and exciting new experiences at middle school.
Middle school is a challenge and it has new hardships, but it can also be exciting as they learn new things and new life skills. They may get to learn a new language or a musical instrument. The options for after school clubs are enormous compared the choices I had as a tween.
I tell my son with these positives about middle school he is lucky to be a tween, and I’m lucky to be the mom of a tween because I get to ride along the journey with him.
If you liked this post about tweens, you might also like my post about easy meals they can make on their own: