Wednesday, July 25, 2018

No Longer Little: Parenting Tweens with Grace and Hope (Homeschool Review Crew)

No Longer Little: Parenting Tweens with Grace and Hope is the newest title from Great Waters Press.  I was definitely interested to read this one!

I laugh that when you first have your children, there are tons of books out there that tell you how to handle being pregnant, adjusting to a newborn, and parenting toddlers and even preschoolers.  However, it seems like once you get to elementary school, you're on your own until it's time for The Talk, but don't expect any help transitioning to adulthood.  (I'd have paid just about anything for a "What you need to do when your child becomes a legal adult" book -- I feel like the last two years with Luke have been "Oh yeah, we need to do this," or "Right, he needs to fill out that form..." It's a mad scramble.) Having raised two tweens and being in the thick of it with three more (my baby just turned eight!), it is a time that can be absolute chaos for kids and parents alike.

I think the hardest thing about parenting a "tween" is realizing that it's a huge age range.   "Tweens" are generally between the ages of 8 and 12, but authors Hal and Melanie young extend this to age 14.  I think this makes sense - yes, Celia is 14, but we haven't gotten really into the heavy "teen" stuff yet. I think it's quite logical to use "grade school graduation" as a transition mark.  When you have itty-bitties, your ages are relatively well defined: a baby is under a year, a toddler is one or two, and age 3 starts the preschool years. There is so much change in a short time!  However, the tween changes are more gradual, making this time even more frustrating.  I can guarantee you that while both may fit in that age bracket, Damien and Celia (and even Jude parked splat in the middle at 11) are nothing alike. What may be appropriate for her is not for Damien, and the "line in the sand" is constantly shifting.

I don't remember "tween years" as a big milestone age bracket.  I remember turning twelve, and my pediatrician announcing me "pre-pubescent." I admit to being quite pleased with the diagnosis; that well-child visit culminating in the privilege of being taught how to do his signature magic trick that he used for all little-kid immunizations. (Hey, thirty-odd years ago, a tongue depressor employed for "The Bug Trick" was a technological marvel.)  The Youngs start out by addressing the biggest elephant in the room, puberty, right in Chapter 1.

Most of us think of puberty as a linear type of thing. (And the books out there on that make it seem that way: first this, then that, then something else, and boom! Instant grown-up.) Having been through three rounds of it as a mother, I can tell you that while puberty itself may be, the two or three or five years of hormonal fits and spurts leading up to it are no cakewalk.  The child you kissed goodnight last night is NOT the child that woke up this morning, but hey, he might be back next Tuesday!  (Frankly, I think full-on, all-hormones, all-the-time is a relief, because you KNOW each morning is going to be a disaster.) The authors include this tidbit: "Researchers have found both sexes have hormonal surgest exceeding fifty times the normal, stable levels they have in adulthood." (p 7) With that in mind, no wonder it feels like I've lost mine!  (And God bless my parents.  There were three of us within three years...sure, they got the diaper phase over with fast, but it's no wonder my father's hair was turning white before I finished high school!)

Does it feel like they've lost their minds too? They probably have.  The Youngs address this "space cadet" phase with science -- as the brain matures, it dis- and then re-assembles. (p 31).  Once you realize that you are dealing with a person who truly doesn't know which end is up, and logic just no longer is logical, the easier it is. I think it's easy to get into the rut of, "He doesn't understand, I'll let it go..." which is, in my opinion, a bad parenting idea.  Because eventually, he WILL understand and has to possess the skills to navigate with good behavior skills. I think parenting tweens is like parenting toddlers - you know you're going to have to say "No, hands to ourselves" a thousand times before they learn not to poke everything they see.  With tweens, it's like saying, "This is what we expect, now do it," while feeling the wall listens better.  I think the biggest thing I've learned the hard way (and probably would have realized a kid or two sooner with a book like this) is that just because they're larger people doesn't mean they're more grown-up. Yes, Jude is capable of microwaving his own chicken nuggets, but he still needs reminders to put the ketchup away when he's done eating.  Understanding "his brain just isn't quite online" doesn't get him out of cleaning up after himself, but it does help ME be more patient when I'm saying, "Please put that away!" for the eleventy-billionth time.

I particularly appreciated the balanced approach they brought to media and discernment.  It's easy to say, "I survived all the way to 30 without Facebook!" but the reality is, we don't live in that world any longer.  I remember being tethered to one phone on my parent's kitchen wall to talk to my friends - my dad brought home a phone cord long enough that I could lay on the floor as I chattered away.  Celia now wanders the house, FaceTiming her BFF on her cell phone.  We had three network channels and three local ones on the TV; the cable package we have in order to have the internet tier we need for homeschooling streams close to a thousand. And the internet itself...Neal and I met via Temple University's student intranet. Talking online involved specific pages, commands, and dial-up internet, while now I can use Facebook Messenger to text Neal at the same time I'm writing this review and googling the answer to a random question another kid asks.  The authors note that it's important to prepare kids for the world they live in, not the one we wished had stayed.

That said, kids need to learn to discern the good from the bad, the treasures from the junk.  One line sticks with me: "There's not a straight line from the home video console to a police morgue.  The illustration is simply to point out that our young people will need guidance and supervision to keep them out of dangerous territory." (p104). I appreciate how they broke down "You're not old enough for that," into tangible topics of theme, character, and genre.   No "big kid" wants to hear, "You're too little!"  For me, this gives me ways to balance between concrete absolutes ("The rule is 13 and up, you're 8, so no, you're not getting an Instagram account.") and values ("Do you think what that person did in that movie was a good idea?") when guiding appropriate technological things. This old dog is grateful for a new trick that allows for a logical answer, and not "Because I said so." One other thing I have learned the hard way -- let it be a discussion, not a "Mom thinks," because 1) it keeps communication open and 2) sometimes, kid sees it in a different way and it challenges my thinking.

Included in the topics the Youngs discuss are learning how to meet them where they're at.  For example, by the tween years, kids have enough words that they don't always need their fists, but they don't yet realize that words can hurt as badly.  (And sometimes, there will still be fists involved, because those disassembled brains can't find the words.) And back to puberty, they address emerging sexual issues, pointing out that even if you're a Bible-reading-only family, your kid is going to learn about sex. NOW, even though they seem so little, is the time to start laying down your values - not necessarily shielding them from everything adult in nature (though there are the obvious avoids) but encouraging dialogue and explaining why you believe in a certain view, from general modesty to dating perspective.  The Youngs write from a Biblical-driven worldview, but frankly, any parenting viewpoint can benefit from their in-the-trenches perspective. Regardless of your views, their thoughts on behavior, increasing responsibilities, consumerism, and stewardship are well thought and balanced.

Their advice, Don't freak out, is probably the most overarching principle. Parents talk about the "terrible twos," and "teen angst." Nobody tells you the tween years are coming. It's quite a rude awakening when you hit the middle years and it's not the smooth-ish sailing you expect, but rather the water are more like choppy, outer bands of a hurricane. The early tween years are when you need to start laying in supplies, and the later ones, you learn to board the windows quickly - and evacuate when necessary. I will be honest -- it gets worse when you hit the teen years and all the new drama, but don't give up hope.  I can say with (relative) confidence that eventually, they do start to emerge into calmer seas with re-intact brains and civilized personalities -- or at least, my oldest has now that he's almost 20, and and I'm starting to see breaks in the clouds with the almost 17-year-old.  (Which is good - because teens and tweens will eat you out of house and home, and with a new tween in the house, we need more canned goods.)

I think the Youngs summarize the tween years quite well, right in the introduction:
This same child was prayed over from the womb. We read him the Bible...[he] pretended to be John the Baptist.

Then, at age nine, in traffic, he announced from the back of the van, "I think I'm an athiest."

Nobody told us this was coming.
Nobody tells you the tween years are coming, but with their newest book, No Longer Little: Parenting Tweens with Grace and Hope,  Hal and Melanie Young help prepare you for the "Lord, please don't let me drive into that ditch," moments.  (And for the record, the car and family survived, as did that young man's faith. That, friends, is grace, hope, and I'm sure a whole lot of repeating "Don't freak out.")

To read other Crew Reviews of this book and their other book, Love, Honor, and Virtue: Gaining or Regaining a Biblical Attitude Toward Sexuality for teen boys, click the banner below.

Love, Honor, and Virtue  AND No Longer Little {Great Waters Press Reviews}

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