Let's Talk Tween

Information and insight about kids ages 8-12 (the "in between" years)

Why Your Success May Anger and/or Embarrass Your Tween

How the tween brain affects their perceptions

Nothing makes you prouder than the achievements made by your child. Sometimes the pride and joy you feel about your kid’s accomplishments can surpass the accolades you offer yourself when you reach a goal or achieve a sought after success.

Of course it is realistic to assume that your child, especially your tween, may not respond to your achievements with the same vehemence and enthusiasm you do when he shines. It may however, be surprising and disappointing if your tween actually answers your achievements with apathy, disdain, annoyance, or even embarrassment.

A lack of reaction, or even worse, a negative reaction from your tween may leave you feeling upset and deflated. There is however, a rational explanation. During the tween year’s kids are emotionally sensitive and often feel socially vulnerable. With eyes wide open, tweens begin to understand and acknowledge that there is a big world out there that they are required to negotiate. As kids become aware that they live in a universe far bigger than their immediate environment, they begin to understand that they are a part of something big. Brain development ensures that your tween is egocentric by nature. This egocentrism leads to beliefs and feelings that the world is always watching what your tween does and feels. You are an extension of your tween; at least this is how your tween perceives things.

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It is natural for a parent to identify her child as an extension of self. Your tween however, has a very different view. The way your tween sees it, you are a reflection of her. Everything you do and say is always being judged by the outside world in the same way she believes she is always ‘on stage.’

Keeping this in mind however, you may wonder why your tween then is not ecstatic over your accomplishments. Your tween may be jockeying for a position in her social world. Unsure, and unclear about where she sits in the pecking order of life, her natural defense may be to lay low until she can get it all figured out. This may result in her inclination to avoid receiving any attention from the outside world.

If your achievements are out there in the public eye, your tween may be beside herself. She feels enough pressure trying to make her way in her own world without you calling attention to her. Remember, she sees you as a reflection of her. Even if her friends and acquaintances think you are the coolest, the stress she may feel because she perceives that the whole world is now focused on her because of you, may feel too overwhelming.

To recap then, your tween perceives your public success as a reason for the world to focus on her and this makes her uncomfortable.

There is another reason why your tween may be less than pleased by your personal accomplishments. As mentioned before, your tween has a tendency to be egocentric. As he is beginning the journey to establish his identity, he requires a lot of validation and acknowledgement. He does not like when anything or anyone stands in the way of the consistent boosts to his self-esteem in which he seems to revel. Through his eyes, your success and accomplishments may make him feel overshadowed. Hence he may respond with annoyance or even anger. The classic eye rolling and crossing of the arms along with a pouty look on his face are all typical signs that he is having trouble tolerating the situation. Put simply, it’s not supposed to be about you, it is supposed to be all about him.

Let’s be clear that the information presented here may be a huge exaggeration in your particular circumstance. As your tween probably realizes, a little emphasis and drama can certainly help to hit a point home.

If you happen to have a tween who beams with pride and joy regarding your success, more power to you. In reality, it is most likely that your tween vacillates between positively acknowledging your accomplishments and apathetically ignoring them. If your success has been achieved in a realm somewhat foreign to your tween such as work, your tween may not even really understand the impact if your achievement does not influence his world in an immediate or obvious way. A promotion for example, may mean more money and affluence, but unless you go out and make a big box purchase (which is not necessarily being recommended) your tween may not see how your success will improve his life in the long run. If your success is a more public thing, something that receives some media attention (e.g. an article in your local paper) he may be embarrassed if his friends acknowledge this. He is just learning how to negotiate the world at large; any unusual interruptions in this process can feel off putting.

Your role as a parent is clear regarding your tween’s accomplishments. You are and will continue to be her biggest fan. In a perfect world perhaps you would receive the same acknowledgement from your tween. Growing up is never easy, knowledge is however power. If you sense that your tween is having a negative reaction or perhaps no reaction, remember, you are your tween’s most important role model. While many of the lessons you teach may be unspoken, your accomplishments impact your tween far more than you may realize in the moment. Kudos to you.

Jennifer Powell-Lunder, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist and parenting expert specializing in work with tweens, teens, young adults, and their families.

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