Ask any adult whether they have an opinion and you’re sure to hear, “Naturally. I’m no spineless worm!” On the other hand, we grow up hearing,
“Don’t do that, it’s not nice! Everyone’s looking at you.”
“Don’t laugh so loud. Don’t yell. What’ll people think of you?”
“What do you mean wearing a skirt that short? It’s indecent. What’ll Mrs. Jones say?”
Do you really think that you’ve grown out of all that ages ago? You still don’t dare to introduce your latest boyfriend to you mom. What if she doesn’t like him and starts talking about weddings and children so the poor guy would quietly disappear in the vast faraway?
Are you sure you have learned not to keep looking over your shoulder at other people’s opinions? Yet, you buy a really fancy dress for your class reunion and ask your ex to go with you so no one would think you’re not married yet. Then you practice your “new and improved” life story for the hundredth time.
Have you been deciding on your own what’s better for you for a long time now? Only you ask a friend to go to the store with you to help you choose a new outfit. You call another friend before you brace yourself to take out a credit line. You can’t even change your hairstyle without calling in a council.
If everything in your mind works out right, the worry over what your mom, dad or your friends would say stays in the teenage years. At least, that’s what psychology books say.
Then why does the opinion of others makes you change your mind? Why does someone’s inappropriate criticism leave you sleepless and with no appetite? Why is it so hard to say “no” to your parents and do things your way?
Arms, legs… your head is the important one
It happens sometimes that a child’s body grows and changes while their psyche does not catch up or stops at a certain stage altogether.
The periods of “Infant” (up to 1) and “Child” (ages 1 to 7) are usually passed by people with no problem, although the latter is characterized by inability to control emotions, which is sometimes carried into adulthood.
The psychological age of “Tween” (pre-teen years) is where people sometimes get stuck for a long time. Sometimes they never grow out of it.
Between the ages of 7 and 14 people learn to adhere to rules and standards. Among their peers, they realize that they have to conform to the opinion of the group and have the approval of its leaders. The parents know just how dangerous that period of time is precisely because the most important thing to a tween is the opinion of their friends.
Children are ready to do anything just to be accepted. At best, they will simply mess around and play harmless pranks. At worst, they can get involved in crime just, so to say, to stay “in”.
If everything goes well, the children go through this period quickly. However, statistics show that over half the population retains the tween insecurities and touchiness.
How would you recognize an “eternal tween?”
Typical tween behavior is the wish to “fit in” for all they’re worth, the wish to earn respect or, better yet, praise from the group leader and never, under any circumstances, to go against the flow, which would mean good-bye to any respect.
Instead of acting as they want to, a “psychological tween” tries to “fit in”. That is why they force themselves to do what is expected of them instead of what they want, expected of them by their parents, spouse, boss or friends. There’s always someone to expect things of them. Yes, a 30-year-old “tween” will be annoyed, will grumble and gripe, but they will still do anything to fit in, to fulfill expectations.
— They’ll go to take care of their parents’ back yard over the week-end instead of going on a picnic with their friends.
— They’ll give up their career in a good company or education at a prestigious university just because their parents have a fit and claim to be abandoned.
— They’ll break up with a good and worthy man (woman) just because mom talks their ears off about him/her being a “wrong ‘un and only wanting her/him for her/his (money, body, apartment, car, whatever…).”
Following are the typical characteristics of a “psychological tween”:
- Others’ opinion is a priority. Their approval is the measure of one’s worth. If a leader has noticed them and praised them – life is worth living. Right now they may not turn to crime in order to get that approval, but they will make any decision with a careful eye to the preferences, tastes and opinions of those around them.
- Absence of personal opinion. Most psychological tweens will disagree with this statement because they are sure that they have their own opinion in any situation. However, their words are clichés and stereotypes forced on them by their clique. Their opinion is not usually supported by their own experience or reflection.
- Fear governs actions. The most common fear is of not coping, of making an ass of themselves in front of their friends. Hence, there are insecurities. Tweens are afraid of changes, criticism, loneliness; they are afraid to stand out or attract attention by unusual actions. It is easier for them to move along the beaten tracks.
- The main goal is to feel safe. Not in a confined space, however, but among people. They are safe right in the middle of the gray mass. Where no one will notice them. And that means, where no one will hurt them or criticize them.
There is a small percentage of psychological tweens, however, who do not fit that picture. Their main goal is not to be lost, but on the contrary, to be the toughest one around.
They want to be the richest in town or to buy the fastest car or to marry Miss Universe, etc. I am sure you are familiar with such individuals. They choose not because “they need it”, but because “if everyone needs it, I’ll have it.”
You can test yourself and your family or friends according to these characteristics. Such “tweens” may be 30, 40 or 60 years old biologically.
It is precisely why our parents have such a hard time accepting changes, why it is so hard to accept non-standard behavior or thinking of their children.
I’m surrounded by tweens… What can I do?
It may turn out that your parents, your husband and the vast majority of your friends are still 12 years old. What can you do? Why do you think you should know the psychological age of both yourself and your family and friends?
— To annoy them, if occasion arises, “You’re still a teenager! You’ll never grow up!”
— To feel that you don’t have it quite as bad as your friend Lilly?
— To have an excuse for being so timid and touchy?
Of course, not.
Realization of the real psychological age helps to deal with “tweens” easier and more appropriately.
- Not to expect the tween to be as confident as a grown-up or to make business decisions instantaneously.
- To make allowances for their need not to stand out or to be the toughest egg in the basket.
- To take into account their fear of change and to be more patient.
- Not to create conflicts, but to foresee them and to work around them.
On the other hand, realization that you yourself have not grown out of tween insecurities or touchiness is that very “magic kick.” You can start small: track your feelings and motives. Learn to notice your fears and insecurities. You can deliberately grow up if you nurture your intellect and personality and learn to solve your problems on your own.