So you keep hearing the word tween but you’re not even sure who it applies to?
Tween is short for “Tweenager” – a made up word really for that “in-between” stage from early childhood to hitting puberty and becoming a teenager. The moniker “tween” is believed to date back to the 1980s.
There is no strict definition of age, but generally, it’s accepted to mean kids that fall in the 9 to 12 year-old age group (though there are plenty of definitions that describe it as 10 to 14 years of age, others say it start as young as eight).
Whilst the teenage years are most commonly associated with grow spurts, mood swings, attitude changes and of course puberty, tweens have their fair share of physical and more importantly emotional development needs that need to be met too.
Pre-teens, pre-adolescents, call them as you will; some kids will glide slowly and gracefully through this childhood phase with few changes in their demeanor, others will confront the tween years front on and with full abandon.
Tween developments and changes
It can certainly catch us parents off guard when habits and moods in our little child suddenly start to change. Some of these changes may include:
Mentally – During the tween years, our children’s brains are going through a period of fairly rapid growth and development. Far more capable than their younger peers of reasoning, problem solving and anticipating consequences, but often still in a self-centered way.
Socially – Where parents/care givers and sibling are very much the center of their world in the early years up to about 7 or 8 years old, tweens will start to gravitate more towards their peers. The need to ‘fit in’ will become far more prevalent and friendship dynamics can change.
Physically – Toward the later part of the tween years don’t be surprised by sudden growth spurts, endless eating, increased sleep, weight gain and changes in physical appearance. Not to mention hair growing in funny places, growing genitals and the onset of menstruation in girls.
Independence – When once they would immediately turn to a parent or adult for help, there is a far greater desire to ‘work it out’ for themselves, even embarrassment if you try to interject – or stand to close to them in public.
Responsibility – Along with this independence is the granting of responsibility; perhaps to look out for their siblings for short periods, to run an errand for you or to clean their own room. It will vary vastly by child but most will have the CAPABILITY if not the desire to be seen as responsible.
Whilst most of us probably read endless books and articles on the early childhood years, once our kids are happily off to school we tend to put down the parenting manuals and rely to a much greater extent on our parenting intuition.
Its fair to say you may require a small (or big!) change in your approach or parenting style once you hit the tweenage years. There’s a fine balancing act between keeping your kids close whilst giving them the independence and responsibility they need to thoroughly prepare them for adolescence.
Here are just a few pointers for parenting tweens to consider:
- Pushing the boundaries – Be ready to set limits and stick with it, but include your tween in the reasoning process or it will just feel like rules for rules sake. Explain why a rule needs to be put in place and let them contribute to where a boundary should be set.
- A united front – This is also the age where children realize that they can quite consciously pick one parent over the other to raise their issues or get things their way. Whether parents are living together or not, it helps to decide the important matters together.
- Pick your battles – Oh how many times have you heard this! Just when you thought it was over letting your toddler wear his Batman costume for thee days straight, you need to take the same approach with your tween too. Set the rules in a firm and fair way, but decide which ones really matter when they’re broken.
- Perplexing personalities – Budding football star one day, fashionista the next. They are truly working out their place in the world and what was ‘cool’ one day will make them a laughing stock the next. Be prepared for these rapid changes in interests, be supportive and go with the flow.
- Give them room to expand new hobbies- Be it sports or a new computer game they want to try – but connect with them about it too. Offer to come and watch their games, ask how they felt they played that day, or what did they enjoy today about that online game (I have a far more intimate knowledge of Minecaft than one ever would have thought is necessary for a grown adult that’s never played the game!)
- Don’t dish out on their modern role models – Sure we’ve got no idea who that YouTube star is or can’t stand that song they keep on playing but it’s THEIR interests forming part of their personality. Be involved, question, guide on what’s appropriate but don’t pay out or be overly judgmental when it isn’t needed.
- Affection deflection – Cuddles and kisses may not come so quick and easy once they hit the tween years. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you just the same, or get some pure joy still out of those deep warm mama hugs, it just means there’s a time and a place for it.
- Personal space – On the same lines, there will be an increased need for their own time and space, as well as some privacy. Make sure family timetables aren’t so packed they don’t get any of that ‘me time’ they might crave and they have somewhere at home to call their own.
- Increased workload – Expectations don’t just change at home when it comes to chores and pulling their weight, but at school too; subjects become more challenging, homework expectations change. This can add to their overall mental load and they may need help in how to organize competing demands from home, school and friends.
- Be puberty prepared – Although we may think of puberty being a teen parent issue, tween girls especially can hit puberty early. Don’t assume they will learn everything they need to from school, or heaven forbid TikTok, guide them to accurate and reliable resources if they are too embarrassed to ask their questions directly (We have a good guide to online parental and tween health resources here).
- Role model good behavior – Basically practice what you preach; if it’s healthy to get exercise and fresh air every day and not be stuck on a screen, all of you should do it! And life doesn’t have to always be serious, show them you can still muck around and goof off in fun and respectable ways – growing up doesn’t need to be boring!
Whilst the tween years may not seem like the most stressful compared to all the other ages and stages a child goes through, they’re certainly the most formative of their childhood. It’s where personalities develop, where habits become set and views on the world around them are formed.
It can be a roller coaster but a fun and amazing one if you’re prepared to jump aboard and enjoy all those ups and downs!
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In our little corner here of the internet tweenparent.com hopes to arm parents with the confidence they need to get them through the tween years. From helpful resources to gift shopping guides, a little spot on the internet dedicated to the pre-teen years and preparing you for the teen years ahead.
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