Saturday, October 31, 2009

Eyes Wide Open

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Addy was eight-years-old when she became aware that others might be critical of her. It was hard for me to watch.

“First grade is when I started to care about what others thought,” my husband said when we discussed this. As a child I had a similar realization.

I think my awareness of external judgment started in second grade when it was clear that all the other children didn’t have as much arm hair as I did. I cried about it, and even asked my mother to take me to the doctor. The doctor said something like, “You need to dye and cut it regularly.” We tried the trimming thing for a while, but my arms always looked worse—gaps of hair missing were much more obvious than leaving it be.

I had been affected by the ‘good opinion of others’ through my young adulthood. It’s the approval issue. We come out of childhood craving it. We drown out our internal voices because we worry who we are will not match up to the expectations of others and we will be proven unlovable.

Through Addy and her friends, I have an opportunity to again look at these processes. Why do we feel the need to twist ourselves to be like everyone else?

Deb Dunham ( who also writes about and for tweens and teens wrote an article, I wanted to share with you.

The remaining column is a reprinting of an article posted by Deb on her blog.

Following a discussion about preteen stress, my 11-yr old daughter looked at her 5-year old sister and said, ‘I feel so bad that she’ll have to learn about grownup stuff some day. She’s so oblivious and happy now.’ My tween was reflecting on her own recent transition to a broader awareness.

When girls enter tweenhood, it’s as if their eyes are dilated and suddenly they see much more than they can absorb.

Tweens today are part of an information age that exposes them to mature concepts at an early age. But even with careful censoring of information, tweens become shockingly aware of the bigger world – thanks to their newly emerging self-consciousness.

They begin to see that the world has opinions of them; and they start to favor the judgment of others over their own self-assessment.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, many girls suffer a crisis of confidence between the ages of 11 and 13. This crisis follows them deep into their teen years as evidenced by reports that less than 1/3 of high school girls say they are happy with who they are.

Tweens are receptive to positive input. Parents can take advantage of this receptivity to bolster a tween’s confidence level.

1. Promote a sense of belonging and value. Involve your daughter in family plans. Ask for her opinion and allow her to orchestrate the details of an event.

2. Promote self-reliance and competence. Provide ample developmentally appropriate responsibilities and choices. Promote independent problem-solving. Remember most tweens are not necessarily asking for advice, but instead need to be heard.

3. Be a positive role model. Demonstrate respect by avoiding criticism of yourself and others. Most importantly, take ownership for your own choices by apologizing when necessary.

It’s natural for adolescents to suffer a decline in self-approval as they enter tweenhood. But it’s also possible for them to build confidence and self-love with careful guidance.

Tweens are resilient beings who can do more than survive the challenges of adolescence. Parents can acknowledge the hardships of a preteen and simultaneously expect them to thrive. Every child deserves to enjoy the benefits of self-acceptance. Every child can feel lovable, capable, and valuable.

Thanks Deb for your contribution!

Allyn Evans

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