Understanding Tweens - Fast or Slow, Nobody Knows (Part 1)

My basketball career began in the spring of 1979.  I started out playing point guard for Burger Chef, one of the local fast food joints that sponsored a team in my little home-town.   Every Saturday morning, my family piled into our big Oldsmobile to watch me play games at the old elementary school gymnasium.  If the truth be told, they really came to watch me warm the bench for three quarters, and if we were ahead by more than twenty points, I’d get to play ten minutes or so of the last quarter.  I was the smallest boy on the team, and it would be safe to say I wasn’t a strong contributor. 

I would sit on the bench beside my 9-12 year old teammates, many of who had banged down the door of puberty with force and fury.  I, on the other hand, was showing no indicators of the onset of puberty.   I was small and scrawny.  My legs would swing back and forth never touching the gym floor.  Most of my teammates were tall and gangly, with hairy legs and the beginning scents of adolescence.  Seated next to them, they smelled of repressed emotion, surges of testosterone, anger and attitude.  I still smelled of Lego’s and innocence.  

In case you’re wondering, I didn’t go on to play college ball or enter the NBA. I did, however, grow to be just shy of six feet tall – something I would have never imagined would have happened as the shortest member of my team.  My story of being a late bloomer belongs to many pre-adolescent boys and girls.  One of my friends was, interestingly enough, the tallest, heaviest boy in our class.  I’m sure we were quite a spectacle sharing conversation over lunch.  He towered over me and every other boy in the grade.  I doubt he felt any more comfortable in his skin than I did at the time.  We represented the many kids who fall outside the “average” range.  I was in the lower percentile of growth; my friend was in the highest bracket.  The tween years, like all stages of development, reveal evidence of kids stretched out across the developmental spectrum. I simply wasn’t aware at 11 months of age that other boys were in the 10th percentile for height and weight.  By 11 years of age, I was very aware of the differences that existed.  That awareness can drive confusion, fear, anxiety, or insecurity.  The awareness our kids are experiencing and the emotions that go with it can stir a variety of emotions and responses for us as adults as well.  

Here are some ways to support tweens throughout this stage.

  1. Study development.  We serve our kids well when we have a working understanding of what’s normal and what’s not.  We may be able to head off some of their confusion and insecurity (as well as our own) when we study and share valuable information about their growing hearts, minds and bodies.
  2. Tell stories.  One of my sons appears to be a late bloomer as well.  This isn’t surprising, as he carries my genetic ingredients.  He has seen a photograph of my basketball team and the obvious differences that existed.  In sharing my story, I hope to communicate that I understand some of the feelings that accompanied growing at a different pace from my peers. Our kids stand to benefit from hearing our stories. 
  3. Create opportunity.  It’s vital that these developing young beings have a context to experience value, purpose and meaning.  When tweens have an opportunity to serve and give, they become more focused on what they have to offer than how they measure up to others.  Furthermore, these experiences create an opportunity for us to call out who God has made them to be.  
  4. Keep talking.  Kids need us to begin and continue an ongoing dialogue about their growth.  Each time we take our kids for a well visit with the pediatrician, use that as a springboard to have more conversation around their growing minds and bodies.  If your child has concerns about growth trends –whether he/she is behind or ahead, help him/her voice those openly with your pediatrician.   It’s important for tweens to hear from another adult voice that everyone grows at a different pace, and to identify how he/she is developing at a rate that is within their growth trends.  

Next time, we’ll recommend some resources for parents to dive deeper into this complicated, confusing stage of development.