I've been a parent for 11 1/2 years now, which hardly qualifies me as an expert; although it does afford me certain smug moments, like when my tween daughter brings home straight A's, or does well at a swim meet, or is nice to her brother without me asking. It's during those times when I think, 'Hey, I've actually got this parenting thing down! I know EXACTLY what makes my daughter tick.'
It's easy to get on Parenting Autopilot when your kids are behaving like you'd expect. But if you've spent 5 minutes in Tween World, you'd know that your parenting skills need constant sharpening if you're going to be effective.
That said, as summer draws to a close, here are a few lessons I've learned about parenting a tween. Do they sound familiar?
1. Force her to get some sunshine -- Not long ago, summers meant riding bikes, drawing chalk on the driveway, or playing tag with friends. This year, my tween preferred the company of a book, in her room. Too old to play with toys outdoors, but too young to get a job, she was lost in no-man's Summer Boredom land, and was perfectly happy about it. It took creative thinking -- and a few threats -- on my part to get her outdoors, and moving, so she didn't turn into a recluse.
2. But keep an eye on her whereabouts -- My daughter just checked in from her friend's house. That's good. She and the friend, and a guy friend, were having sodas and messing around on YouTube. The parents weren't home. That's bad. I'm all for hanging out with friends, but it's not OK at this age to be unsupervised. She can be social, but a parent better be nearby. I don't want to learn the hard way on this one.
3. Don't buy the 'Can I have my own cell phone?' plea -- I let my tween borrow my phone (she does not have her own) when she walked to our neighborhood pool one day. Two hours later, she had racked up 50 texts with her bestie. That told me all I needed to know about her ability to control her texting impulses. A phone? I don't think so.
4. Realize she is fully capable of doing my job -- A few weeks ago, I needed to get dinner started, but wasn't home. I called my daughter, walked her through a recipe, and was able to enjoy a delicious Baked Ziti an hour later. For a first-timer, I was pretty impressed.
5. Don't be swayed by wishy-washy feelings -- My daughter this summer seemed to change her mind daily on her likes and dislikes, from friends to activities. That's normal for this age. What I needed to realize was to not give in to her "feelings of the day," because they'd likely change. So when she wanted to quit swim team -- something she had enjoyed and was good at -- I said no, even though I almost gave in. Two weeks later, she was back to having a ball with it, and pretty happy she didn't quit.
Good parenting isn't rocket science; all it takes, really, is staying on top of your game and learning from your mistakes, during the tween years, and beyond.