Letting My Tween Be Selfish, Just A Little Bit Longer

Iz has fully embraced the tween battle cry "it's not FAIR!!"

It's galling; both Seymour and I would have been spanked for such sassing and shrieking, plus, frankly, she is one of the most fortunate kids I know -- but that's my yardstick, not hers. Iz is looking at the world with the blinders of tween materialism, and can only see the many electronic holiday gifts her friends got and she didn't (we declared an electronics-free Christmas), the extra lessons they get that she doesn't, and the clothes they have that she doesn't. All absurd complaints from such a well-dressed, -accessoried, and -instructed girl. Absurd, to us.

Her dissociation from reality can be jaw-dropping. Last week, over breakfast with Leelo's beloved Godmother Hayley and her fiance Pablo (we love him!), Iz started grumbling over all the attention her exuberant, extroverted younger sister was getting. She said that she felt like the older brother in Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, when his younger sibling goes on TV.

"Really?" I said, "I can totally understand. Because the Fourth Grade Nothing got the lead in his school play, too? And won the class spelling bee for the fourth year in a row? And got invited to join the winter select soccer team?"

She glared at me before laughing reluctantly, and that mostly for the benefit of our guests. A few minutes later she was mooning about a friend's iTouch.

I waffle between painting a scarlet "I" for "Ingrate" on her forehead, mild murmurs of understanding (I remember the all-consuming, illogical wanting of middle school), and strapping her in a Clockwork Orange-style chair until she finishes reading the Afghan Women's Writing Project's I'm For Sale; Who Will Buy Me? and watches this video about life in North Korea (via Laura Miller's Salon.com review of Barbara Demick's book "Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea"):

The only one I'll actually do is occasionally -- very occasionally -- commiserate with her, because the other two options wouldn't be, well, fair (though, hmm, if I photoshop the I onto her forehead and post it on Facebook, she'll never know...). I'll tell her about the Afghan woman's anonymous testimonial and see if she's interested, and let her watch the North Korea movie if she wants to (she was intrigued by Siam Riep's North Korean nightclubs, and the almost-exclusively South Korean clientele's obsession with forbidden North Korean contact). Otherwise, she's not mature enough to be hit upside the head with or absorb true injustice -- she emerged from her week in Cambodia thinking only of its beaches, temples, and foot massage parlors; the poverty, corruption, and minefields didn't register. At all.

I'll continue to remind her to think positively, to focus on all the things she does have, while firmly reminding her to treat people the way she wants to be treated, because neither her father nor I will tolerate being yelled at. I have faith in her; she's a passionate and empathetic kid underneath all the fabricated tween gloss, and she'll be able to grasp what unfair really means, only too soon. It's okay to let her be selfish for a little bit longer.


  1. Just a suggestion...she's old enough to read Diary of Anne Frank and maybe by the time she's 13 she could read Night by Elie Wiesel, or Number the Stars and The Devil's Arithmetic are both good too (sometimes the Holocaust is a good place to start for awareness, lessons can be learned but not close enough as to cause too much anxiety-in my middle school these are suggested summer readings for this age group) It is what got collegeman started on his quest to do good.
    In the meantime welcome to those wonderful teen years :)

  2. Hi Elise, I always appreciate your parent-of-older-children insights! She's read the diary of Anne Frank and Number the Stars, I'll cue up the other two. But they're very fictional to her. I think that's okay, developmentally, for now.

    To her credit, she saw the title of the post on my Facebook status update. She said, "Mommy, is that about me?" and I replied in the affirmative. She then looked me in the eye and deadpanned, "Let's talk about the iTouch I want for my birthday."

    Love her.

  3. She wants extra lessons? Ohohohoho. I'll give her extra lessons.

  4. Yes all the shiny, shiny things, but I'm inclined to agree with you.


Respectful disagreement encouraged.

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