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Welcoming in the New Year

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Being the parent of a tween is no easy task. The in between years are fraught with contradiction and compromise; too young to do this, too old to do that; not quite a teen but certainly no longer a child.

2012 is a year that has redefined the way we will parent. From Superstorm Sandy to the Sandusky trial; from the Colorado movie shootings, to Obamacare to the ‘Fierce Five’ gymnastic team taking Gold at The Olympics, to movies like The Hunger Games and social networking on Instagram and tumblr, 2012 was a year we learned to appreciate what we have while reaching out to our neighbors in need. The tragic shootings at Sandy Hook ended the year on a devastating note.

We were reminded to cherish our children and support our friends, family, and neighbors. We felt fragile and vulnerable at times when the unexpected began to feel like the norm. In many ways the end of 2012 is a relief. As we welcome in 2013 we are perhaps humbled. Although the world may seem like a more complicated place these days it is the simple things that matter the most.

So maybe in the aftermath of 2012 we will hold our children a little tighter, hug them a little longer, watch them a little closer, listen a little more carefully and talk to them a little quieter; we will appreciate what they have accomplished and emphasize the importance of kindness, caring and paying it forward.

In the end, it is not about where have come from but where we are headed. I don’t know about you but I am ready to say ‘out with the old and in with the new.’ May 2013 bring us the promise of hope, happiness, peace and joy especially for our tweens. After all, it is a tween’s life. 

Happy New Year!

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-Dr. JPL



Talking with Your Tweens in the Aftermath of the Sandy Hook Tragedy

NEWTOWN, CT - DECEMBER 14: A woman holds a child as people line up to enter the Newtown Methodist Church near the the scene of an elementary school shooting on December 14, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut. According to reports, there are about 27 dead, 18 children, after a gunman opened fire in at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. The shooter was also killed. (Photo by Douglas Healey/Getty Images)How does one even begin to process, let alone understand the events, which transpired at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT? As parents we not only acknowledge our responsibility, our duty to ensure our children’s safety and education, we embrace these opportunities.

In the days to come perhaps some of the rumors and misinformation regarding this tragic event will be put to rest. As we gear up to send our children back to school just days before their long awaited Holiday break we are faced with quite a task. We must put on our happy parent face and reassuringly send them back to school. We charged with not just telling them they will be safe but believing it enough ourselves to at least quell their suspicions.

The tweenage years represent an intense in-between time in our children’s lives. Development is truly individual, varying from child to child. Some children develop physically more rapidly than their peers while their emotional maturity may in comparison seem to lag behind. There are the children who have always seemed more intellectually mature and those that seem full of wisdom that goes far beyond the number of years they have been in our lives.

In the aftermath of this tragedy we will need to pay close attention to our diverse tweens. A focus on detail is not only suggested, but also recommended. Unlike the teens our tweens are slowly growing into, the majority of them still look to their parents first for guidance, support, and of course reassurance. What we say and do will be attended to with great detail.

How do we then ensure that in the aftermath of this tragedy we are prepared to offer the guidance and support they may seek? Here are a few points to ponder:

1.)  Listen before you speak. Your tweens may come to you with very mature and answerable questions. You may be bombarded with whys and hows to which you feel ill equipped to answer. Let your tween talk. He is at an age where many of his questions maybe more global and rhetorical. He may simply be looking for a sounding board, a way to let out what he is thinking and feeling.

2.)  If you don’t have the answers to her questions, tell her so. Encourage her to engage with you in an interactive discussion of her thoughts and feelings once it is clear she is looking for your input. Your acknowledgement that you too have many of the same thoughts and feelings will serve as a great relief and provide her much support.

3.)  Turn off the television, and radio. Hearing about these events over and over again can be traumatizing. If he however, wants to seek out more information by watching, listening or surfing the Internet, try to be there with him. Different people react different ways to things. He may find comfort in learning everything he can about the events.

4.)  You should provide the support and guidance your tweens requires but avoid seeking the same from her yourself. Even if she is mature for her age, you are her parent, not her friend.

5.)  Take care of yourself. Seek the support you need from friends and family. Having an appropriate outlet to manage your own thoughts and feelings will make you a more equipped parent.

6.)  If your tween does not want to talk about this tragedy, don’t push. Some tweens may even seem oblivious. Because the tween years range from around 8-12 as already mentioned you can expect varying reactions depending on your child’s development.

7.)  Be prepared. Once your tween returns to school it is likely that there will be talk about the events. While he may react immediately to the news, some kids take a while to process information. Don’t be surprised if seemingly out of blue he starts talking about the tragedy some day way off in the future.

8.)  Some fear and anxiety about returning back to school is normal after such horrific events. If however, your tween continues to have difficulty getting through the day (e.g. is unable to go to school; is experiencing restless nights and/or nightmares; etc.) it is time to seek the help of a professional counselor.

It is hard to know how your tween will react. Events such as this one are so rare and so incomprehensible that it is fair to say you should expect the unexpected.

Take time to be with your tweens. Right now we all need each other.


Life with Tweens: Capitalizing on Holiday Cheer

The holiday season offers a wonderful opportunity to bond with your tween. Of course I am not telling you something you do not already know. In many ways the tween years offer the ideal chance to spend quality time with your tween while getting some holiday help in the process. 

Your teens are old enough to do the holiday shopping on their own or with friends. While they enjoy the holiday season they are at an age when affirming their autonomy is far more important than helping you bake holiday cookies.

Your tween however, is a ready and willing participant. Now is the time to engage your tween. Acknowledge her higher level of maturity by asking her opinion. When you include her in the holiday tradition planning and tasks you empower her. Empowerment in turn leads to self-confidence, an  asset he can use while he negotiates these often awkward in-be-tween years!

‘What kind of cookies should we bake this year?; How should we decorate the house, the tree,; Any suggestions about what I should buy your father, your brother, your sister, your aunt, for the holiday; all questions to which your tween may have valuable input.

Don’t be surprised if your tween’s list of holiday presents is longer than ever. Marketers realize your tween represents a large market share. His increased awareness and cognitive abilities make him a prime target. Don’t get stressed out by the “I want, I want, I wants.”

Encourage your tween to spread holiday cheer to others in need. This is a great time for you and your tween to engage in a service project. You will teach your tween an important lesson about the magic of the holiday spirit while strengthen the bond between you. No gift is greater than the feeling of helping others.

It is true that life with your tween can sometimes be confusing and even frustrating. The holiday season signifies a time to spend with family. Capitalize on this opportunity by actively engaging your tween in the traditions of the season.; create new family traditions. When you make the holidays about a season instead of just a morning or night of receiving gifts you model the true meaning and spirit of the holidays. What better lesson to teach your tweens than how to spread holiday cheer and happiness?

Ho Ho Ho! Best wishes for a happy and healthy holiday season!


My Middle Schooler Still Believes in Santa-Should I Tell Him the Truth?

You feel the magic and wonder of the holiday season in the air. You have made your ‘to do’ list and you are ready to roll. You ask your tween what he would like for Christmas. You are a bit taken aback when she tells you he has written his letter to Santa already. You are not too shocked however as this has been a tradition you started when he was little. You ask him a few Santa related questions to try to get him to affirm that he knows he isn’t real. His answers however, reflect no indication that he possesses this knowledge. You wonder if he knows the truth but is going along with idea in the spirit of holiday tradition. A part of you senses that he truly believes that Santa exists.

What do you do? Should you just put it out there and make it clear that Santa is indeed a myth? Would this crush the magic of the holiday for him? Shouldn’t he know that Santa isn’t real? You find yourself in somewhat of a dilemma. You are pleased that he is still your little guy. The years are going by so quickly, he is growing up so fast, it is nice that he still possesses some childish naiveté

Technically speaking the ‘tween’ or pre-puberty years encompass the age range from around 8-12 with girls on average developing two years ahead of boys. Your decision about whether to dispel his belief then, may be age related. If he is a late maturer his propensity toward this magical thinking may not be so out of place. It is still surprising to you that in other areas of his life he seems so mature, maybe even beyond what his age would dictate.

As a parent of course, the choice is up to you. I he has older siblings your worried may be short lived as it is often the older brother or sister who set the younger child straight. Maybe however, he has come to you aghast when his older sibling suggested that Santa is not alive and well, that Santa does not exist. You are put on the spot by your kids who each look to you to settle their score. You could avoid the situation by saying something like “Santa lives in all of us, he represents the spirit of the gift giving season.” Chances are however that your savvy kids will not let you get away with such a vague answer.

In reality, you don’t have to dispel the myth entirely. You could say that you are not sure if Santa really exists but that you are the one who leaves the gifts under the tree on Christmas Eve.

What if however, your tween is an only child or has younger siblings? What if he truly does believe in the myth? To tell or not tell, that is the difficult question. Again your decision may be in great part based on his age. Is your tween 9 or 10 or 12? Is he in fifth or sixth grade or in eighth or ninth half way to entering high school next year? The truth is, unless your child is living in complete isolation, he is exposed to same aged kids on a regular basis. If you are too reticent about breaking the news to him yourself, chances are he will catch on when he interacts with other kids.

If however, you, or maybe your spouse has made the decision that it is time he knew the truth, delivery of the information is everything. Be gentle, be kind. Validate that you enjoy his investment in the magic of the season. You of course don’t want to embarrass or even shame him for not having figured it out already. Don’t be surprised if he tells you he already kind of knew. It may be that that he wanted to keep up the charade because it is clear that you get so much joy out of pretending. Engage your tween in 


A Tween Thanksgiving

One of my best memories of Thanksgiving is the mayhem that seemed to ensue at the adult table. While for years I couldn’t wait to graduate to the big people table, I realize in retrospect I was so much better off hanging with my cousins.

The heated arguments about politics and world affairs seemed scary sometimes. We were an international bunch. There were representatives from America, France, Israel, and Mexico. My grandmother, an elegant yet strong woman however, was quick to calm the crowd down. I miss her holiday cooking, the smell of her perfume, and of course her strong yet caring way.

I vividly recall Thanksgiving during my tween years. The years I felt caught between enjoying the time with my family, but longing to be with my friends. I could turn on the ‘tween tude’ with the best of them. I was a pro at eye rolling and annoyed looks.

Thanksgiving is yet another opportunity to spend some quality time with your tween. This is easier said then done of course. As your children grow into tweens you may notice some unpredictable reactions toward your invitations to them. One minute she is ready willing and able to help, the next she seems disinterested and yes, well maybe even annoyed that you would ask. 

So, how can you translate Thanksgiving (or any other holiday for that matter) into an opportune time to enjoy and bond with your tween? Here are just a few suggestions:

1.)  Ask him for your help ahead of time. It is not uncommon for parents to expect that their tween is readily available to them. Their age requires continued interdependence. Because you still mostly manage his schedule, you assume he is ready to help when you need him. Be mindful however, he may be physically present but to him texting his friends or working on his computer is an important activity. When you discuss in advance when you would like your tween to help you are acknowledging the value of his independent activities. You send the message that you respect his time. This approach will increase the chance that he will jump at the chance to help.

2.)  Capitalize on her interests. If your tween loves cooking or baking this is a great opportunity to work together. Be sure to ask for her input. What type of side dish does she think is best; what kind of dessert? Use her expertise. If she is like most tweens she is probably an expert at scouring the Internet, engage her to find the most scrumptious recipe. Want to make your Thanksgiving more meaningful? Ask her to put together some information about when, why, and how this truly American holiday began.

3.)  Assign him a role during the holiday. If Thanksgiving is at your home, you will certainly appreciate another set of helping hands. Ask him to help you serve or clear. Emphasize how grateful you are for his help. If he is relegated to the kid’s table with a bunch of younger children at your home or the home of a relative or friend, ask him to lead by example. Tweens often like watching over younger kids. It can build their self-esteem because it acknowledges that they are older and wiser.

Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks for all we have. By using the holiday as an opportunity to engage and bond with your tween, you encourage the kind of communicative relationship with your tween that you will continue to be thankful for in the years to come.

Here’s to a happy and healthy Thanksgiving. Enjoy!