5 Things I learned after talking to 4,700 tween girls
"So, what do you do?" I was asked the other day by a mom of a tween girl (her daughter's a friend of my Julia, age 10). "I talk to tween girls all day!" I said, which is mostly true.
The whole truth is that I talk to a lot of tween girls all day. I'm the founder of Tia Girl Club, which teaches tween girls self-empowerment and introduces them to positive female role models ("TIA" stands for "Today I Am"). And part of my job is to manage the conversation with 4,700+ tween girls who are following Tia Girl Club on Instagram.
"Please, tell me what you’ve learned!" she said, grabbing my arm. I understood her intense curiosity. I mean, I remember thinking, "What are they doing? What are they talking about?" when my daughter would be typing on her phone or she and a friend would go up to her room and — gasp — shut the door.
So, here are five things I’ve learned from my nearly 5,000 Tia Girls on Instagram:
1. Friends are everything
It’s not enough to say a tween girl loves her friends. Her feelings for her friends are super strong. So strong, in fact, there should be another word that is the combination of "intense," "love" and "protective" ("inlovtective"??) to describe the way tween girls adore each other. It's all heart, like being in love for the first time.
How do I know this? Numerous posts each day tell how a tween girl will "break your face" if you mess with her friends. I know it sounds a little scary, but it’s that intense.
Oh, and in tween speak, a tween’s best friend is called a "Bae." It means "before anyone else." And her group of friends? Her "Squad." I see hundreds of posts a day by tween girls "tagging their squad," or putting a link to friends’ Instagram pages on the post. Click on the links, and you are connected to your girl's Squad.
My point? When there’s a crisis involving your daughter and her Bae, please take it seriously. To your daughter, it’s a big deal.
2. Tween girls talk about their parents (nicely!)
I’m serious. I’ve been witness to thousands (yes, thousands!) of tween girls posting the most amazing posts to their moms and dads. And they did so knowing most of their parents wouldn’t even see their posts (most of you are not on Instagram — that should change). Just so you know, their comments to you are full of love and adoration. "You’re the Best Mom Ever!" "Dad, I don’t know what I’d do without you!" It happens mostly on your birthday, and Mother's and Father's Day. Tween girls love telling the world how awesome you are.
I understand this may come as a shock to some parents of tweens, with the beginning of eye-rolling and sarcastic remarks. The point is to know deep down that they love you, and want to spend time with you. Invite them to be with you as much as you can right now. Family movie nights. Dinner out. Time spent watching your favorite TV show together. They may say they don't want to join you, but know they do. Keep asking.
3. Starbucks and Converse are to a tween girl what diamonds and a spa day are to Mom
Often, the brand choices girls make connect her Squad… and tween girls post picture after picture of Converse shoes and Starbucks drinks. Why am I telling you this? So you know that it's all about being a part of a community. Tween girls love to belong. They want to know they are a part of something. They crave it. And right now, the brands of choice are Starbucks and Converse. I’ll let you know if that changes.
4. It can get rough out there
Yes, it happens. Not as much as you may think, but it does happen. Tween girls call other tween girls nasty names, and even tween boys will leave mean comments on tween girls’ pictures (and vice versa).
Being the recipient of mean comments makes a girl feel alone and scared. As her parent, the best thing you can do is empathize. Just say, "Honey, that stinks. Stay with your true friends." And again (this is really important): If you are not already on Instagram, get an account and follow your kids! Know who your tween’s Squad is, who her Bae is. Is your tween "taken" (that’s what they say when they are dating someone)? If she is, it will say so in her bio (with the date it happened).
The more involved you are, the better for you and your tween girl. Believe me when I say, your tween girl actually wants you to be involved (see above), because as much as they SAY they are fine, sometimes that’s not the case.
5. Tween girls want to be seen for who they are
I often see tween girls posting the "I’m Fine" post (there are variations of this post, but they all convey the same message of "I need help"!). The big word "Fine" is formed by a bunch of smaller words, like "sad, overwhelmed, depressed, stressed."
The "I'm Fine" post is a mirror of what tweens are going through. They know what they are supposed to say (the big word "fine"), but they desperately want their authentic voices to be heard (those are the little words). They want to express their feelings and know what they say matters.
It’s during these critical developmental years tween girls either keep their authentic voices, or lose them to what they think others want to hear. And if they lose their voice, psychologists will say most girls won’t recover them for three decades. Educator and psychologist Dr. JoAnn Deak calls this the "30-year-power outage." Giving your tween girl an outlet to be able to express her true, individual spirit is essential. Let her know you care, and listen to what she has to say. Be there.
So, yes. I have the privilege of speaking with our tween girls every day on Instagram and I love it. I adore seeing our tween girls love their Bae, drink their Starbucks, play their sports, and take pictures of their adorable pets (did I mention the sports and pet obsession?).
I also see them get bullied. I see them go through tragedy sometimes, and cry with them when they lose a parent or a sister. I cheer them on as they fight cancer. I celebrate birthdays (yours and theirs!). And always, through Tia Girl Club, I encourage them to stay true to their dreams and to speak their minds. I have the best job in the world.