With kids either back in school or getting ready to head back, I wanted to write about what’s important to consider when sending tween girls off to the trenches. There are lots of great posts about being organized, kindness, empathy, and other great topics to start the year off right – heck, you’ll even find some of those in earlier posts here on my blog. Those are great reads and I hope you find some of those to read as well. Because the traditional concerns of back to school are more heavily covered, I came up with my less traditional top three back to school tips that you may not be seeing elsewhere.
I told my daughter long ago that anytime someone dares you to do something, it is probably not a good idea, and it’s best to err on the side of caution and say no. After all, no one ever dares you to ace that test, to be respectful to that teacher, or to be kind to the new girl. Dares at this age start to involve risk, questionable decisions, and sneakiness. Pointing this out to your daughter serves two purposes. First, anytime she hears a dare, the hairs on the back of her neck will stand up and she’ll learn to either avoid the situation or at least think more critically of it. Second, it keeps you from having to try to keep up with every possible thing that comes up – remember the cinnamon challenge? There are so many things that kids come up with that we couldn’t possibly prepare for in advance. This is a pre-emptive strike that the dare itself doesn’t matter, the fact that it is a dare will.
The Three Question Rule
Have you ever listened to a conversation between tweens? It’s pretty brutal. Imagine one talking about the trip they took over the summer. Instead of listening, the other tween is waiting for an opening to say that she’s been to that same place, only they did something cooler. A lot of this is age-appropriate, but this is a great time to begin to improve social skills and relationship building skills.
The simplest way to get this ball rolling is by starting the three question rule. Explain to your tween that when someone tells her something in a conversation, she needs to ask that person three questions about what they said. Brainstorm with her what that would look like. Using the ‘I took a trip’ example, when Olivia says that her family went on vacation over the summer, she could be asked what her favorite activity there was, what the food was like, what the weather was like, what she would do again if she went back, if she took a lot of pictures, etc. Throw out some practice topics to get some practice, and ask her to do this with friends, peers, and the adults in her life. It’s a great way to get her out of her own head and teach her to be curious and interested in others.
Don’t Video Troublesome Events
I feel so strongly about this one, to me this is the type of morals and values lesson that is so simple but can have such a big impact. During middle school, my daughter told me that there was apparently a fight between two girls after school (she was not there, she had only heard about it). They were fighting over a boy, and one girl followed the other girl after school and assaulted her in front of a crowd of maybe 20 other kids. Not long after word of the fight got out, a video clip of the attack starting making the rounds on Twitter, with kids re-tweeting it so that in a matter of minutes, just about the entire school could see what happened. It made me sick.
It bothered me that no one broke up the fight or got help, and it bothered me that kids were re-tweeting and sharing the video. But what bothered me the most was how many bystanders were seen in the video taking videos of their own on their phones. I can’t even imagine seeing any kind of altercation and thinking that instead of taking action I should just stand there and video it. And I decided that I don’t want to raise a daughter who would ever do that either. I certainly don’t think that every kid who stood there with their phone out is a bad kid. They see other kids doing it and think that must be normal (and sadly, it seems to be). I also know that it’s hard to stand up and do the right thing when no one else is.
The best results come from starting from a place of understanding, and then being abundantly clear: Explain that you understand that drama can be exciting, and in this day and age, exciting usually requires video documentation. The truth is that it does feel cool to be a part of something that will be the talk of the school, validating that helps your tween know that you understand. And you do understand, but you won’t tolerate bystander behavior, and worse, videotaping something that shouldn’t be happening in the first place. With my daughter, I told her that if I ever found out that she videotaped such an event, whether or not she shared it, she would not see her phone for the foreseeable future. As a side note, I also tell her constantly that being a bystander is never okay – never stand and watch something that you know shouldn’t be happening. And if they have access to what someone else taped, they should not be sharing or forwarding that content either. The truth is that at this age, they may not yet understand why this is a big deal. But they will, and you’ll have laid the groundwork for this important digital lesson.
Well, I promised that I had three back to school suggestions that you probably haven’t seen this year, and I’m hoping I delivered. Here’s to a great school year filled with good choices and good fun!