TEENS & TWEENS
By CHARIS PATRICK
Last week, your tween laughed at your jokes, asked your opinion on what to wear, and didn’t mind kissing you goodbye before school every morning. But today, every comment you throw his way elicits, at best, a one-word response accompanied by plenty of eye rolls. A simple question about his weekend plans can send him into a total meltdown. What happened to the warm, loving connection you had just last week?
We have to first understand the tween brain. The brain develops from back to front, which means the part of the brain that helps tweens reason, plan ahead, and manage impulses (the prefrontal cortex) is one of the last areas to mature. It doesn’t happen until around age 25!
An adult brain processes verbal cues – tone of voice, facial expression, gestures – in the prefrontal cortex, but tweens process these cues in the anger centre of the brain, or amygdala. In addition, the part of the brain that manages emotional urges is under construction.
This explains why tweens may interpret a parent’s normal tone of voice as yelling.
Many parents of tweens have problems talking to their children, giving them advice, knowing their true feelings, or explaining things to them. On the other hand, children may have difficulty talking to their parents, expressing opinions, discussing things that bother them, or relating their experiences.
A parent might say:
> Every time I try to explain something to my daughter or give her advice, she gets upset and storms out of the room. I never know how she is feeling. She keeps everything to herself.
> If I ask my son a simple question like, “How was your day?” he gets irritated and gives me a rude answer. I can’t even talk to him about simple things like his daily activities.
On the other hand, the tween might say:
> My mother is always talking and I can’t get a word in. She will ask me a question and then give me the answer.
> The only time my father talks to me is when I do something wrong or when he’s trying to point out what I should do. Every time I ask my parents something, I get a lecture.
> It seems as though every time I tell my parents what my opinion is or how I feel, they will tell me how wrong I am or why I shouldn’t feel that way.
Because communication between parents and children begins to decrease during the tween years, much of the verbal interaction that we do have with the youngsters is designed to get a point across, teach them something, get them to see the situation from a different angle, change their attitude, tell them what they are doing wrong, show them how to do it correctly, or convince them of the importance of certain activities.
In other words, when we talk to them, we are trying to accomplish something more than a simple, enjoyable conversation. If this is the majority of communication that we have with our tweens, their willingness to talk to us will certainly decrease.
Here are three practical tips to help:
Seize your moment
After school, at bedtime and in the car are great times to engage your tween, because these opportunities allow for less intense, more relaxed connection. To tweens, it is the doing that matters. Engaging in fun activities together is another great opportunity to talk. Go for a walk or bike ride together after dinner, go bowling, or plan a weekend movie. The key is to create plenty of one-on-one situations to connect with your tween.
Watch your tone
Avoid using an impatient tone to try to cut through the dazed state that is a hallmark of the tween years. Even when your words and meaning don’t register, your frustrated tone may get through loud and clear. Tweens often appear not to have heard, but they take in a lot unconsciously. They may respond a week or a month later as if you had just finished speaking a moment ago.
In truth, it is hard to predict what your tween will hear and impossible to fathom how he will process what you say. To facilitate communication, respond positively when your tween does speak by empathising, sharing your own experiences, and simply listening.
Make it happen
The tendency of tweens not to share much makes it easy for parents to lose track of them amidst a busy family schedule, especially if more talkative, demanding siblings usurp the conversation. Set aside a few minutes each day to be alone with your tween. Spend the time talking a little and listening a lot.
An important goal in conversing with your tweens is to just talk with them, without trying to accomplish anything other than talking. Indeed, in conversing with your tweens, you may discover great value in “talking about nothing!”
Charis Patrick is a trainer and family life educator who is married with four children.