a peek inside the fishbowl

02 Apr, 2012

The trouble with tweens

Posted by andrea tomkins in: parenting

My head is practically hurting from all the things I want to write about. So I will start with this one even though I know it’s going to come out in a big jumble.

A few things inspired me to jot my thoughts down on the topic of tweens today, one of which was a blog post called Ten Things I Want to Tell Teenage girls. The other is a YouTube video that just plain breaks my heart. You can watch the video and read a great article about it here. Lastly, I was invited to a media preview of the new Marshall’s store at Trainyards. They have a tween section that I’m pretty sure my girls will love.

Shopping can be at the centre of so many issues for women, especially tweens: body issues, beauty issues, confidence issues, social issues etc etc. It is a minefield. It’s tough to be a girl – there’s no doubt about it – and raising girls, that’s a whole other kettle of fish.

Our daughters both have a birthday coming up, and they are getting to be biggies: 11 and 13. How can I possibly be the mother of children who are this old?

I have had a lot of time to adjust to tweenland and I think I’m keeping my head above water. We were at Carlingwood the other day and we spent a solid 45 minutes in Claire’s or Ardene or one of those stores, searching the racks of earrings and headbands. I bought one for myself that features a cascade of orange feathers (which I may or may not be brave enough to wear in public), and you know what, it was fun.

Afterwards we poked our heads into Garage. The oldest girl likes that store, but my youngest is disturbed by the larger-than life photography. I’ll have to ask her about it, but I think the photos make her feel small and insecure.

Last year the eldest girl wanted an off-the-shoulder top. I relented, but with the stipulation that she had to wear something underneath, but it was – mentally – a bit of a slog to go through and I had to let go of a few things before I decided I would let her wear it.

Sidebar: she also wants to wear makeup but I don’t want her covering up her beautiful face just yet. I want to see this sparkling lovely face a tiny bit longer:


Tweens want to wear makeup to look older, whereas I wear makeup to make me look younger and less tired. Ironic, isn’t it?

A few years ago we were scoping out Joe Fresh for clothing she could bring to summer camp. We found a good pair of shorts – lightweight, dark tan colour – perfect for camping and summertime fun. I’d already chosen a size and was holding them in my hands as I looked at the t-shirts.

A fellow mom and her similarly-aged daughter came strolling up behind us. Her daughter saw our shorts on the rack: “Look mom!” she said, pointing. “How about these?”

The mother looked at them and sniffed. “They’re way too short,” she proclaimed. And THAT was when she noticed I was holding the exact same shorts in my hand. I stared at her, dumbly. She stared right back, realizing that she pretty much insulted my clothing taste and parenting skills in one fell swoop.

I bought the shorts, I mean, fer chrissakes it’s not like there were CHEEKS spilling out of them or anything. They were just plain, nice, shorts, much like these ones from the GAP.

Dressing tween girls is so difficult. On one hand you want them to be able to express themselves, but on the other hand you don’t want them to be dressed too provocatively. There is power in sex appeal, and judgement, and 13 is too young for all off this. I won’t be the kind of mom who buys my tween a thong, but I also don’t want to be prudish. As much as I want them to accept themselves for who they are, beauty on the inside etc etc., there is only one time in their lives that they’ll be realistically able to wear sh0rt shorts. And that time starts very shortly. (Ha. No pun intended.) Be honest, wouldn’t you wear sh0rter shorts if you had legs like these? I would.

My girls are gorgeous, and I want them to love themselves and be comfortable in their own bodies. This is also why I think it’s ok for them to wear modest 2-piece bathing suits whereas I know many moms wouldn’t let them. I tell them they’re beautiful and smart and kind when they do beautiful smart and kind things because I love them and want the very best for them, and I don’t want to ever see them on YouTube seeking validation by asking millions of strangers if they are pretty.

But back to the clothing issue. I control the purse strings, so that helps immensely. I have final veto and won’t buy anything I don’t like. We shop together – and they both love clothes – so this makes it a lot easier for me.

Added complications to the tween dressing dilemma is that we tell the girls not to judge people by their appearance but the reality is that people DO judge other people by their appearance. Gah. It’s best to look neat and smart and above all, be yourself. Our other issue is that our girls are tall, and the added height often results in mistaken age. As a 13/14 year old I was constantly mistaken for high school age. Ack.

Anyway, I think I’ve hit upon some ground rules that seem to be working so far.

1) Girls, you can wear something revealing (i.e. like that off-the-shoulder shirt) on the top, OR on the bottom, but not both at the same time.
2) Your clothes need to be clean.
3) If I buy something you are committing to wearing it.
4) Be yourself at all times!

As for me:

5) I will tolerate your fashion choices as much as possible and keep an open mind. (I’d rather they express themselves with wild fashion than head-to-toe tattooing!)
6) If/when you desire something really expensive, say a pair of designer jeans, I will contribute the cash for a “regular” pair of jeans but you must earn the difference.

I adored the end of the post I linked to above:

“You were created for a purpose, exactly so. You have innate value. You are loved more than you could ever comprehend; it is mind-boggling how much you are adored. There has never been, and there will never be another you. Therefore, you have unique thoughts to offer the world. They are only yours, and we all lose out if you are too fearful to share them.

You are beautiful. You are valuable. You are enough.”

Oh man. I think I need a cup of tea.

21 Responses to "The trouble with tweens"

1 | angela ( angfromthedock )

April 2nd, 2012 at 1:06 pm


oh, we could chat about this all day:). my girl is turning 13 this summer and we have had many discussions over the years ( and only a few shortlived battles). i am not sure about your girls, but i also have a girl who looks like a woman now – she is 5’7 and already, well, been visited by the bobie fairy ( my sister put it a little less delicately last weekend after not having seen my daughter for a few months;)), and this makes the discussion of appropriateness even more dire when your kid looks 16.

my girl still has no desire to wear make up but she is a serious fashionista – more gwen stefani than jersey shore – but there are styles that somehow fall in between that require editing. i agree with all your rules, we follow similar ones.

yes you may wear off the shoulder, but you must have a long tank underneath.

yes, leggings are the best thing ever, but they never, ever are a substitute for pants. ever. even when you go downtown to see one direction with your cutie patootie friends ( a recent battle;)).

it is not that hard to remain on top of things. i love clothing, she loves clothing, we almost always come to a good understanding of how you can express yourself and your individuality while not crossing any lines that she really is too young to cross.

the judgement thing is interesting…some of her friends dress in a way i would never allow. these are amazing, bright, smart girls…but you would never know it when mixed with a crop top and boys. i have a hard time keeping my mouth closed…my daughter knows our expectations but i have to remember that not all parents have the same concern. still frustrates me;). ESPECIALLY at this young age.

my beautiful daughter is confident and creative and stylish and appropriate. i am proud of her and her choices and am happy to share this whole stage with her:)

2 | andrea

April 2nd, 2012 at 1:25 pm


Body image is such a huge issue, and I think a lot of how daughters perceive their bodies comes from the mom.

I am pretty happy with my own body despite my jiggly bits. They have never heard me talk about my fat days, or how I need to go on a diet etc. I don’t think they’ve even seen me step on the scale.

The lady and the Joe Fresh shorts makes me wonder why our society is so obsessed with covering up (little girls can’t wear shorter shorts, women must cover up while breastfeeding, no topless sunbathing!). When I was a kid we used to toddle around nekkid at the beach (I’m of Eastern Euro descent). Why can’t we love our bodies a little more and teach our children to do the same?

3 | andrea

April 2nd, 2012 at 1:26 pm


And yes, angela, LEGGINGS ARE NOT PANTS! :)

4 | Giulia

April 2nd, 2012 at 1:34 pm


My girl is nowhere near to being a teenager, but I wonder why we judge according to attire? Angela says above ‘ these are amazing, bright, smart girls…but you would never know it when mixed with a crop top and boys’ – why do we assume they are not bright because they wear short shorts, why is a girl that wears librarian cardigans smarter than a girl in hot pants? Why is boy in a sweater seemingly more correct than a boy with a backward facing ball cap and pants that show his boxers?
I see myself judging because a woman has a deep V-neck and I often wonder why? It’s her choice, I cover mine, she doesn’t. I know I’ll be battling this sooner than I’ll be ready for it ;)

5 | Giulia

April 2nd, 2012 at 1:35 pm


ha…I guess you’d be judging me – 37 years old and yes, I do wear leggings sometimes as pants ;)

6 | karen

April 2nd, 2012 at 1:48 pm


I allow my 13 year old daughter to wear short shorts. She looks beautiful in them. It isn’t as though her butt is hanging out of them or anything.

I haven’t had to enforce any sort of tank top rule for when she is wearing a more revealing top. She does that on her own because as she puts it her boobs are still “pointy” and she is not comfortable showing that to the world.

She also wears 2 piece swim wear. Why? Because I was never comfortable enough to show my body enough to ever own one and I don’t want that for her. She thinks she looks great in them and so do I.

Oh yes, you said that when you buy something your girls are committed to wearing it. How do you make that work. My daughter asks, begs, pleads for somethings and she then does not wear them. I have told her I won’t replace them, but we both know it is impossible not to. She keeps getting taller so I have no choice but to buy new clothes for her.

My daughter is also very tall, and I want her to be proud of her long legs. She thinks of herself as a giant when she compares herself to her shorter friends. So I make a point of telling her she has beautiful long legs. I secrectly wish they were mine:)

I actually have a bigger problem with some of the mothers of teens and tweens. Why they insist on dressing like their daughters is beyond me. I don’t mean to be crass but in many cases short shorts should be left to the young.

7 | meg

April 2nd, 2012 at 2:36 pm


My biggest issue with girls clothes is the lack of range in styles and sizes.

Girls – even tweens – sometimes want to play and just be kids. Some of the clothes available to them, is not comfortable for the monkey bars, playing sports or just running around. Lowrise jeans are no fun when you feel overly exposed when you sit on the ground. Tops that ride up or won’t stay in place just cause you to worry and fidget trying to keep covered up.

The size range of clothes is also an issue. Often heavier girls are stuck with either unattractive choices or forced to squeeze into too small clothes, just so they can wear the trendy outfits.

It often seems the options for young women are either sexy or impractical and not a lot left inbetween. I’d rather we encourage girls to be busy doing and being and thinking and not worrying about how their clothes are fitting.

8 | andrea

April 2nd, 2012 at 2:44 pm


Good point meg. Children’s Place sells something really neat to address this… they’re called cartwheel shorts, and they’re perfect for wearing under pretty skirts. I love Children’s Place! They have great stuff there.

9 | meg

April 2nd, 2012 at 2:51 pm


I still wear shorts under my skirts :)

You never know when you might want to jump on a bike, play with the kids, sit on the ground or walk down a windy street. Some things don’t change, even when you’re a grown-up. I never let my clothes dictate my behaviour ;)

10 | andrea

April 2nd, 2012 at 2:52 pm


Giulia: people judge each other, end of story. It’s not fair but it’s true. And I for one would only wear leggings under a long sweater, shirt, or a dress. :)

11 | coffeewithjulie

April 2nd, 2012 at 3:45 pm


It would make you sick to see how many times people come to my site using the search term “young girls in short shorts.” (I did a rant on short-shorts a while ago.) Creepy!

12 | Lorrie Douthwright

April 2nd, 2012 at 5:16 pm


I remember being soooooo self-conscious! I was all legs and boobs. (I think I was visited by the boobie fairy 3 or 4 times.)

I hated my choices in clothing because I either was wearing clothing that fit my chest and was matronly, or fit the rest of my body and was way too tight for my chest. I remember being judged pretty harshly (and even called those awful names) by mothers. I actually remember crying because I had attention that I didn’t want from EVERYBODY!

My daughter is little (4) but has personality and then some. I think when it comes time to make the hard clothing choices my own experiences will certainly come into play.

The choices girls have now should make them feel like they don’t have to compromise. BTW Andrea, I see you and your ladies out regularly & you all seem to have some great style!

13 | Shawna

April 2nd, 2012 at 8:47 pm


I buy my 6-year-old 2-piece bathing suits – she grows out of 1-pieces far too quickly! But I also let her wear just trunks or the bottoms only of hers in our pool at home, and my 3-year-old boy is allowed to paddle naked at the beach as well as at home.

I figure, they’re still young and will have to cover up soon enough.

As for clothes when we leave the house, I am maintaining a veto power and occasionally exercise it. But that’s because my mother never, ever said no to what my sister wanted to wear and she dressed like a hooker as a teenager.

Right now I don’t have to worry about her clothes being too small – she’d wear nothing buy boy clothes most of the time if she had her way. I don’t want her totally ostracized – as it is I have classmates of hers asking why she’s a girl if she likes boy things – so we mix up her style a bit during school days: sometimes she can wear her baggy cargoes and spiderman shirts, others she wears more feminine (though not frilly or too girly) choices.

14 | Nadine

April 2nd, 2012 at 10:40 pm


I too have no issues with my daughter wearing very short shorts or bikinis at 11 , she loves fashion and shopping for clothes and everything looks great on her, so what better time to experiment with cool young fashion than the tween and teenage years? Her school does have certain length regulations (probably the same ones across the Board) , other than that she gets to wear pretty much anything that she likes. Her style is very trendy/ivy-league preppy so I have never had any problem with her choice of clothing, whatever she wears always looks adorable and stylish on her. What we both find though , is the rather slim selection of her favourite stores : Abercrombie, Hollister, JCrew and Zara (just to name a few) are not available here in Ottawa yet most of her friends and many kids love these stores… Usually we must buy online (not always great if you are unsure of a certain fit) we also buy when visiting TO , Montreal or the US but that is only 2-3 times a year. Thankfully she can always rely on Tommy H. or Lacoste but the Ralph Lauren department at the Bay is such a joke and has absolutely nothing for tweens! So if I had anything negative to say about tween fashion it’s the lack of great stores.
BTW if you were wondering about her rather “pricey” preference of store ;she does pay for a good part of her clothes with her own savings and Christmas and birthday gifts as well. We get her the essential “yearly” wardrobe and some extra stuff as well from time to time, the rest is her business !

15 | Misty Pratt

April 3rd, 2012 at 12:25 pm


What? Leggings aren’t pants? This is news to me – I wear them with long sweaters all the time! :) However, I am SO not into fashion and never know what looks good with what. I’m worried for my little girl, as I’ll never be able to provide her with good fashion advice. Hopefully one of her “aunties” (my friends) will be able to help her out – just like they always need to help me out!

16 | andrea

April 3rd, 2012 at 1:26 pm


Re: leggings as pants.
I am an advocate of wearing them under a dress, skirt, or long shirt or sweater… but not as you would jeans. You know what I mean? :)

17 | Lorrie Douthwright

April 3rd, 2012 at 3:21 pm


It helps to think leggings are just thick pantyhose & wear them as such. But it does beg the question…Why are yoga pants ok to be worn more like jeans?


18 | Sara

April 3rd, 2012 at 8:34 pm


I have nothing useful or insightful to contribute to this post but it made me grateful that all I worry about with the boys clothes right now is holes in knees and what shirt belongs to who.

19 | Ms. Double Decker

April 3rd, 2012 at 10:20 pm


My twins just went from tweens to teens. They turned 13 two weeks ago. They are now taller than I am. We get the full experience of both the boy and the girl challenges. I struggle with the same daughter issues as you discuss here. I discuss them on my blog at http://www.doubledeckersandwich.wordpress.com.

20 | makeupbymerry1

March 28th, 2013 at 7:50 am


I am also facing the problem with teens because my teens want to do makeup at just 13 & 11 of age. So its very difficult for me to convince them. Any ways your article was really nice I like your article.

21 | Will

October 18th, 2022 at 12:28 am


Don’t be afraid to be a prude. The world needs more prudes, not less. Don’t let others shake you for caring about how your children dress and what they’re saying about themselves with how they dress.

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human offspring: Emma (23) and Sarah (21). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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