There are many of us who are very grateful that our tween and teen years, with our changing bodies, erupting skin, social turbulence and poor decisions were in the time before anything could make its way onto social media.
The tween years are tricky ones. There is so much angsty stretching to be done – some of it very uncomfortable, messy yet necessary learning about life. While we’ve all been through those years, our tweens have a whole different dynamic to contend with in their growing up – the use of social media. All those messy moments can now be captured in their own and others’ pictures and words, building up a permanent digital footprint.
Let’s take a look at 3 big factors – those forming our tweens, the stormy turbulence of these years and acknowledge the normal need in these years to fit in even when standing out and how all of that plays out in their digital lives.
The greatest driver for most tween and teens is friendship. Building friendships is a huge part of the developing brain’s needs as these relationships are forming all sorts of templates that will go forward into adult life. Tween and teen friendships help a child to learn some big lessons; who are and aren’t their sort of people, who they can trust, how much to share… It’s essential that a child progresses through this life stage as so many of their adult relationships, including the intimate ones, will be based on this formative learning.
The ‘forming’ part of these years is often messy – and intense. Friendships are on again and off again. When it comes to a child being online during these years, they are often very vulnerable in the periods of time when they’re emotionally aroused about a failing friendship. Splashing big feelings out online can draw a host of unwanted attention.
Turbulent is a good word to describe these years. Hormones are raging. Attitudes are changing. Friends become the authority on all things. Thankfully, as the tween years give way to the teen years and then later teen years of early adulthood, this all settles but until it does, the storming will be a regular feature.
There are obvious dangers when it comes to the child making their way through these messy years online. With every keystroke and click of the button their digital footprint is getting deeper and deeper. Wanting peer acceptance can lead some children down some dangerous rabbit holes – ones that without significant education are very, very dangerous indeed. Image-based abuse is on the increase and the latest Australian statistics reveal that up to 25% of 12-14 year old girls have seen or sent a nude or semi-nude image.
Fitting in while standing out is such a very big part of the tween and teen years. Since the beginning of time, this age group of young people have been influenced by each other, by fashion, by what’s hot and what’s not. That’s called normal. It’s quite perplexing for many looking in on this stage at a tween wanting so badly to be like everyone else while at the same time being ferocious about growing their independence.
It just is. It’s a stage of enormous brain development and remodelling that’s readying the child for the adult years. A messy metamorphosis.
Of course, this poses problems for the tween and teen in the online space. The real need to belong can make likes and shares ridiculously important. It becomes a measure of acceptance and inclusion. A ‘Fear OF Missing Out’ or FOMO leads to lots of scanning and scrolling that often interrupts family life. So much of digital-life plays right into the needs and fears of this age group.
Our role, our responsibility
Whether educator, parent or grandparent, while the tween and teen is busy pushing us away, it is our job to lean in. The greatest protective factor we can offer our young people going through the messy metamorphosis of child to adult is our time. It’s a delicate balance – giving a tween enough space to grow and test their independent decision-making while making sure that what they’re doing in that space is safe enough and not leaving too big a digital footprint to cope with in their adult years.
So, that means talking early and often. Listening carefully. And giving big feelings, that are always part of the forming, storming and norming years, enough room to play out making sure that these don’t end up in online chats as much as possible. Make having access to a device and data contingent on being educated about their use. The awkward tween shunning a conversation about their developing bodies and sexuality still needs to have that conversation.
During this turbulent part of tween life, it is their right to be carefully educated on cyber issues in order to protect them and their future. And it is our collective responsibility to provide that education and protection.
DiGii Social is a carefully designed digital-life training platform just for tweens. It provides the opportunity to practise skills towards mastery before spending too much time on other social media platforms. DiGii Social is easy to use and available as a school subscription with a parent education channel included.