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“What grade will you start in the fall, Ryan?” the librarian asked my son.
The librarian replied, “Oh, then that means you’re in the tween program.”
After Ryan had signed up for the library’s summer reading program, he asked me what it meant to be a tween. I hadn’t planned on using that term to describe him now. Or possibly ever.
I told him, “It means you’re considered a ‘bigger kid’ since you’re going into the upper grades.” Ryan never mentioned the word again, but I can’t stop thinking about it.
When I was a kid, that’s what I was — a kid. I was a pre-teen when I was 12. A teenager when I turned 13. And an adult when I turned 18.
Sometime between then and now the terminology changed. I looked up “tween” on Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary and learned that the term is defined as a “blend of between and teenager.” Their definition for English Language Learners is “a boy or girl who is 11 or 12 years old.”
Neither of those definitions apply to Ryan. Or any nine-year-old child.
When Ryan was an infant, the labels came quickly. Independent sitter. Crawler. Walker. Potty-trained. Every month seemed to bring a new skill, and it was all apparent. Now it’s harder to spot. He looks taller. He wears glasses. But looking at Ryan, you can’t tell that he’s learned to write a paragraph, or divide with a remainder, or knows how to play chess. But he can do all those things because he’s nine now.
It’s the “between” part that most upsets me. He’s been “between” for years now. At times, he is still a little boy — sleeping with a favorite stuffed animal, leaving a tooth under his pillow, playing with his Buzz Lightyear and Woody toys. Other times, he’s a pre-teen boy — comparing his “non-fuzzy” body to his Daddy’s much fuzzier arms, legs, and chest. Other times Ryan is a teenager, asking me which way to move the car blinker to show I’m making a right or left turn, and offering to step on the brake while the car is parked so I can check the brake lights.
And then there are the times when my nine-year-old is a young adult — talking about saving for college, comparing the prices of apple juice at the market, asking me questions about an election and “practicing” his voting by bubbling in my sample ballot.
Kids today live in a different world than any prior generation. Ryan’s generation has grown up with smart phones — they are used for instant everything. There is no waiting and hoping that a radio station will play a new favorite song. No need to wait for a particular day and time to watch an episode of a favorite series. And there is no need to wait for someone to take you to the public library to research your science project.
But kids today are also living in a world that is scary and dangerous. Kids practice and utilize lockdown drills at school and hear about acts of terrorism happening on a much-too-regular-basis.
Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I think childhood should be a magical time. A time of endless possibilities, a time of hope, comfort and security, creativeness and play, and lots of laughter and love. Our children grow up faster than we did because the world has changed. I can’t stop that or change the world back.
But I don’t have to speed up the process by pushing my son into an age category he’s not ready for yet.
Ryan’s nine. He’s not a tween. He’s an upper-grade boy. Let’s leave it at that.