My daughter is in 6th grade. Most nights at bedtime I lay in her bed and we talk a little. But now she wants to tell me about what every girl wore, said, didn’t say and each facial expression of every conversation. It could take hours if I let it. She is hurt or confused or ecstatic and I can barely keep up. Then SHE falls calmly to sleep and I’M a wreck! I find myself trying to avoid this time with her, which I don’t want to do. Help!
Amy in Greensboro, NC
A: Amy, you are not alone! Many Moms experience this second-hand social roller coaster in the tween years. The good news is, you must be a great mom. Your daughter feels comfortable telling you secrets, and trusts you to care about her and keep her confidences. She values your judgment.
Here is more good news: you do not have to ride this roller coaster with your daughter. You probably will not succeed in getting her off the ride. However, you can watch safely from the ground, or even (taking the amusement park analogy a little further) go get some cotton candy and meet her at the exit.
Your daughter is processing big ideas and strange customs. If readers don’t believe this, I dare them to volunteer in the local middle school for lunch room duty. It’s more fascinating than any zoo membership.
Kids this age also have trouble moderating their reaction to emotional experiences. In medicine we ask patients to rate pain on a scale from 1-10. “1” is stubbed your toe, “10” is the worst pain you can imagine. For kids entering puberty, everything feels like a 10. Some of this is personality, some is hormonal and developmental, and some is a lack of life experience to compare.
Tweens need compassion, but they also need perspective. When your daughter brings you a problem, she is telling you her reaction but also watching for yours. If she tells you a “10” story and you give her a “3” reaction, she may say, “You don’t understand!” but she thinks, “Oh! This wasn’t as bad as I thought.” Also, she can handle some boundaries about when to tell you these stories, and how long they can be.
What does this all mean for bedtime at your house? One suggestion is to set aside a different time for social story-telling, and reserve bedtime for other topics. Go ahead and give her a time frame before the stories start. “We have 10 minutes for you to give me today’s Friend Highlights. Take it away!” Lastly, try to think of it as a soap opera that you enjoy. Keep track of the storylines and the characters but remember that it will all change by next week. You should not put more emotional energy into this than the actors do.*
*Of course if you are worried about something serious, like bullying or substance use then you need to address it differently. That is a different question.