3 Bumps in the Road Tweens Face – and How We Can Help Them
Charlene Giannetti and Margaret Sagarese, authors of The Roller-Coaster Years, pinpoint three of the issues of which I hear so many parents struggling with their tweens and young teenagers.
This three ring circus, as described by Giannetti and Sagarese, is a sensory overload for even the most grounded, secure, and mature tween. The sights, sounds, smells, and feelings are inundating our kids before they have quite developed the skills needed to navigate through all of the issues they face. Then on top of that they have to deal with surges in hormones, growth spurts (and patiently waiting for growth spurts), increased academic responsibilities, and emerging complications and changes in relationships. It is no wonder they might be feeling distracted, disorganized, and disinterested.
You might notice your tween shifting from daydreaming to fidgeting and back again. Not only are tweens distracted by the new and sometimes confusing ideas and opportunities, but this generation of tweens has grown up distracted by technology. They are used to drowning out the white noise. Unfortunately, that sometimes means that we as parents are considered the white noise. There are several steps we can take to make sure our kids are exposed to distraction-free times, and to make sure that there isn’t more to the story.
Don’t dismiss the distraction as only an “age thing” that they will outgrow. Distractions in academics at this age can signal learning issues that were overlooked during the early years. Giannetti and Sagarese give great descriptions of roadblocks that might be impeding your teen’s academic progress.
- Language difficulties – This is the age when you might see subtle differences between understanding oral and written directions.
- Spatial orientation – Some tweens just don’t process well the things that are presented visually, and these struggles can lead to challenges with writing, reading, and spelling.
- Memory – Retrieval skills become more important in academics during the tween years, and kids who struggle with memory issues are more likely to find themselves failing a test, even though they studied for hours.
- Fine motor control – Handwriting and artwork, along with other fine motor skills, are required more and more of tweens.
- Sequencing – Our tweens are moving into environments where more is expected of them in terms of attention to details and longer instructions. Tweens who struggle with sequencing and adequately estimating time concepts are prone to distracted behaviors.
Tweens who show any signs of the above 5 roadblocks don’t necessarily have a learning or behavior problem, but if we can pinpoint more precisely what their roadblocks are, we are more likely to be able to successfully help them build better skills in these areas.
Tweens and young teenagers have more on their plates than ever, and you might be noticing signs of disorganization.
- Consistently forgetting things
- Consistently losing things
- Underestimating the time needed to complete a task
- Seemingly unaware of time concepts in relations to deadlines and expectations
These signs might translate into lost homework assignments, messy rooms, and tardiness for lessons or classes. There are several things we can do to help our tweens become more organized.
- Give them a comfortable, quiet, and distraction free zone for homework and other tasks that require concentration.
- Help them learn to make lists. Teach your child to make a list the night before for things that need to be accomplished the next day.
- Teach them to use visual clues. We use a dry erase board in a prominent location where anyone in the family can leave reminders or notes.
- Slow them down with questions. What did you remember to pack in your backpack? What is your plan for after school today? (Avoid questions that can be answered with yes/no because they don’t have to stop and think about their answers.)
- Use timers. This is a huge help in my home where I have one child who seems to be rewriting the concept of time. Instead of a kitchen timer that loudly seems to click “I’m counting and you’re running out of time!”, I invested in one of these funky timers that are visually interesting, but not intimidating.
- Teach your child to prioritize. Academics are obvious areas that benefit from prioritizing, but don’t forget about how this skill relates to chores at home and even time spent on leisure activities.
- Build in buffer zones. If you know that by Thursday there will be a missing homework assignment and daily chores haven’t been done since Monday, set aside specific time each week at regular intervals, before the disorganization hits overload. Check in with your kids, have a family meeting, and even just have your child clean out her backpack.
The tween years can be the time in a child’s life when you see him appear to lose interest in things that he once loved. This can very well be true – his tastes, abilities, and interests are going to change. But how do you know if the disinterest is age related and not enthusiasm for life related?
- Trust your instincts. If you think that your tween is too withdrawn from family or friends, perhaps spending way too much time online, don’t turn a deaf ear to what your instincts are telling you.
- Give your tweens opportunities to spark new interests. Tweens and young teenagers might be reluctant to try new things because they are going through periods of insecurity, but offering and encouraging new opportunities is important to keep your child enthused about life.
- Find new role models. The tween years are also a time when you might notice your tween pulling back from you as she seeks her independence. That is OK – and normal. Just help her find great role models she can turn to when she feels the need for space from you.
- Have your tween teach something new to you. Interest sometimes fades when we don’t think we have anything else to offer. Remind your tween of how much he has to give to his community, friends, and family by encouraging him to take on the role of teacher.
The tweenage years are full of excitement and anticipation, but they can also be full of anxiety, insecurity, and overwhelming changes. These things are true for both our children and for us as parents. Giannetti and Sagarese describe this as a roller-coaster – and I couldn’t agree more. Put your hands in the air, scream into the wind when you feel the need, and enjoy the ride (even if you get a little motion sickness like I do).