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Not Yet a Teen, But Not a Child : Understanding the “Tween” Years, Mastering the art of ‘gruntology’

By John McCarthy

I haven’t been able to find my 10-year-old daughter for about a month. Affectionate, sweet, and chipper, she energized our house with optimism and cheerfulness.

Then she seemed to disappear almost overnight.

Oh, now I remember what happened: she turned 11.

Our society talks about the “terrible 2’s.” My world has been jolted by “tweenitis,” where “lame” is every other word, friends have come to dominate life, and Einstein’s ideas would get an instant “duh.”

Smiling for pictures has become taboo. When it comes to music, the Beatles couldn’t possibly compare to Taylor Swift. Just check our shared iPod. And boys still have cooties. OK, so maybe there are advantages to this stage.

Fortunately, I’m not alone in my tweenitis angst. My professional colleagues around the globe are experiencing the same thing.

“The rules of the game have changed. It’s now me following him, and it’s all new territory to me,” said Ljiljana Mihic, a clinical psychologist at the University of Novi Sad in Serbia. Her son just turned 12. Tweenitis has set in.

Another colleague in Australia, a counselor who works in an all-male school, explained that mastering the communication pattern of tweens is critical for parents. “Part of parental coping is learning to hear and interpret the many nuances of the standard ‘grunt,’” said Adrian Hellwig. “Once one has mastered ‘gruntology,’ one can see that there are indeed things still going on in the mind of the teenage male.”

At age 2, “E” was for elephant when watching Sesame Street. Now, nearly a decade later, it’s for “embarrassment.” Anything can trigger it, but parents’ physical affection seems to be a cardinal violation.

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