“That story is SOOO boring!”
– 11 year old
Who Are They?
‘Tweens (ages ten through twelve) are, of course, the in-betweeners, sandwiched in an awkward space between elementary-age children and the youth of adolescence. I call them targets, because advertising and the media focus a huge amount of attention on kids this age. They are indeed targets. Why? Because they are moving rapidly into a stage in which they are developing their identity, deciding who they are or at least how they would like to be perceived.
‘Tweens are becoming body-conscious. It’s all about image. And advertisers are hired to make consumers believe they must purchase and use certain products to enhance their image. They know parents spend more on ‘tweens than on any other age group. “I’m a Pepsi guy.” “I’m a (fill-in-the-blank with the popular brand) girl.” Advertisers hope their products become part of the young person’s identity.
I’ve called this an awkward stage, because ‘tweens see-saw between being children and being youth. They have a foot in each world. Some ‘tweens are most definitely still in the childhood stage. Others seem already to be very much like teenagers. Yet the bulk of them vascillate between child and teen, which is why you will see some of the previous stage reflected in the information below as well as previews of the coming adolescent stage.
As in the earlier stage, there’s a great deal of difference between the younger and older ends of this group. Again, Chip Wood in Yardsticks gives a good look at each age specifically. In general, here are some characteristics:
-relatively calm, cooperative, content
-quick to anger, but quick to forgive
-moody, sensitive, and self-absorbed
-more reasonable and self-aware
-energetic and enthusiastic
Perhaps the biggest leap is between ten and eleven. Parents usually experience the transition as a decrease in communication. The door to the ‘tween’s bedroom, which was always open before, is now closed and may have a sign on it: “Private.” Or “Knock Before Entering.” Or even “Keep Out.” Boys become more restless. Girls become moody. Many girls begin menstruating, and moving into the world of emotional weather-patterns we might call “hormonal disturbances.” This is another factor in making this an awkward stage, because boys usually enter puberty later than girls. Social groupings reveal this awkwardness. In previous stages, boys and girls generally mixed spontaneously during activities, but now they tend to gather in separate groups, and girls begin forming cliques.
The Task and the Strength
As in the previous stage, ‘tweens have the task of continuing to develop a sense of INDUSTRY, but we can add the task of IDENTITY FORMATION. As we saw in the last chapter, developing a sense of industry involves the child discovering his skills and abilities. This discovery becomes a foundation for the ‘tween’s growing search for identity, which will continue through the teen years. This search for identity is obvious in the popularity of “My Space” and “Facebook,” which allow for ‘tweens and teens to craft an identity for themselves. It’s also obvious in the brand-consciousness exploited by advertisers. “Brands are about giving you value, giving you self-esteem,” says Juliet Schor in her book Born to Buy. (2)
The negative side of the equation is the sense of INFERIORITY discussed in the previous chapter. We can take that further now, adding the growing self-consciousness of the ‘tween: How do I stack up in their eyes? What do they perceive about my image? The negative of IDENTITY FORMATION is IDENTITY CONFUSION, which will be discussed in more detail in the next chapter. For now, we can note that if a ‘tween is developing a sense of industry and identity, the strength of COMPETENCE should begin emerging. FIDELITY (faithfulness) is the strength that grows out of identity formation, but we’ll look at that in the next chapter, since adolescence is the time in which the process of identity formation reaches its peak.
Faith in ‘Tweens
‘Tweens are still sensing their need for God and still have the story-centered faith of the previous stage. They are greatly influenced by:
-the stories of their faith community
(Who are we as a church? Do we send out lots of missionaries? Do we take part in evangelistic crusades? Do we focus on helping single-parent homes? Do we build houses with Habitat for Humanity?)
-the stories told in word and deed by the significant adults in their lives
(Why are my parents and extended family Christians, or why are they not? Do they do what they teach? What are their values as shown by the story of their lives? Whose stories do they listen to?)
-their own stories as they share them with each other
(Do the adults in my life care to hear what I have to say? Are they interested in the stories of my life? Will they respond over-the-top emotionally, or will they listen?)
Juliet Schor points out another type of story that all stages have to deal with, but one that seems all-pervasive in thie Target stage. That’s the stories told by our consumer culture. She says corporations have become “our children’s ‘story-tellers’ and the dominant transmitters of culture” through the media and advertising.
Another cultural factor is pluralism. A pluralistic society is one in which each different ethnic, racial, religious, and social group keeps its own identity and culture within a common civilization. That describes our society today. ‘Tweens now measure their beliefs against the beliefs of others. They may wonder how their Buddhist or Hindu or Muslim friend at school can be such a good person when that friend doesn’t believe in Jesus. They may express amazement that their friends of different religions are just as committed and passionate about their beliefs as Christians at church are about their own faith. In addition, ‘tweens see our inconsistencies, have lots of important questions, and may begin challenging, perhaps even arguing with, the beliefs they have been taught and have, until now, taken for granted. This may make us feel uncomfortable, but it is completely normal at this stage in the faith development process, and it leads logically into the next stage of faith, as we will see.
What’s Going On In the Minds of ‘Tweens
The ‘tween stage is the second fastest time of brain growth and capacity (infancy to age five is the fastest). (5) This marks the transition into the stage that Piaget calls “formal operational,” which starts around the age of twelve. With formal operations, teens begin to be able to reason logically and more like adults. We’ll talk more about this in the next chapter. One of the welcome benefits of this brain growth is that ‘tweens can concentrate longer than children in earlier stages can.
Another factor of brain growth has to do with being able to process reality maturely. The good news is that this brain growth is a signal that maturity is coming. The bad news is that it doesn’t happen overnight. It develops over time. A fairly long time. Psychologist Daniel Golman says, “The prefrontal-limbic neural circuitry crucial to the acquisition of social and emotional abilities is the last part of the human brain to become anatomically mature, a developmental task not completed until the mid-twenties.”
When we looked at the stage of early childhood, we noted that children are not able consistently to tell the difference between fantasy and reality until they are about five years old. But there is a type of fantasy that continues through the ‘tween and even teen years. We might call it “wishful thinking.” It goes something like this: “Me? I can drink beer and not get drunk.” “I won’t get pregnant.” “I can drive without a license and not get caught.” “I won’t get an STD.” Those things may happen to other people, but not to ME. For girls, this type of fantasy lasts until around the ages of sixteen or seventeen. For boys, it lasts into their early twenties. So here, again, when we discuss ‘tweens, we find ourselves flowing right into the next stage.
Where are ‘tweens morally? Again, we can look at both the previous stage as well as the stage to come. ‘Tweens still have the rule-oriented, fairness-focused, double-standard morality that characterizes younger kids. But they are beginning to challenge boundaries that seem arbitrary to them.
Because of their maturing mental capacities, ‘tweens can be good at thinking through social issues and suggesting solutions. They can also do a better job of gauging right and wrong, but they may act or speak impulsively without thinking about the consequences. They tend to test the limits as they grow through this stage and begin thinking more about teen dilemmas. The biggest influences on their values are television, peers, school, parents, internet, and magazines (7), and they tend to conform to the wishes of the significant people in their lives, the people who spend time with them, work and play with them, and really listen to them when they have something to say.
Before we end our look at ‘tweens, let’s hear from two teachers who love this sandwiched, targeted group. The first is Jennifer Weinblatt, who says kids at this stage defy definition.
“. . . Every year in my classroom there are small, skinny boys with big ears and knobby knees who like board games and computers. Sitting beside them are boys whose growth spurts have already begun, who hang out in skate boarding parks and idolize Jimi Hendrix.
“And the girls . . . the girls are everywhere: quiet, flat chested and bespetacled; bosom-sprouting and brassiered; mall crazy and sports crazy and boy crazy and boy fearful. They are dressed in tight jeans and cropped tops or warm-ups and baggy T-shirts, toting YM Magazine and lip gloss or Hello Kitty purses and stuffed bunnies.
“Sixth grade is characterized by contradiction; that is what I love about it.”
The second is Ann Parr, a good friend of mine, who teaches writing to kids. Ann describes the ‘tweens she works with as open and able to ask for what they need. “Don’t believe all the media tells you about these kids,” she says. “They’re communicators, resilient and expressive. If they don’t like it, they’ll say so, or walk out if they can. But they give me hope. They are so fun and funny. Many of them have lived through divorce and abuse, and they’ve come out without much fear.” In the ‘tweens Ann works with, she’s seen politeness, genuine expressions of gratitude, and concern for others.
Do you know kids who are in the age range of ten through twelve? What are they “into?” What do they like to do? What do they enjoy? What music do they like to listen to? What games do they like to play? What do they talk about? Add your answers to the information you learned in this chapter. Your challenge is to communicate God to them through what they are “into,” through what they enjoy. How can you make God and His word relevant to their world?
–from Child Sensitive Teaching, by Karyn Henley, Chapter 8
© Karyn Henley. All rights reserved. Exclusively administered by Child Sensitive Communication, LLC.
child photo courtesy pixabay.com