So, your "five years away from teddy bears, five years away from college" tween is developing a sense of identity and independence, eh? Unfortunately, the hours after school can be pretty precarious. Your tween is less likely to be supervised and more likely to be exposed to something unpleasant -- like drinking, drug abuse or even criminal activity.
Keeping your tween involved in after school programs, however -- whether they're highly or loosely structured -- will help reduce risky behaviors and can enrich his or her life.
Let's take a look at some of the things tweens actually want to do after school -- or at least will do without so much whining!
Hang Out With Friends
"Hanging out" might not sound like much of an activity to you, but social interaction is paramount to tween development. Tweens are developing their personalities at this stage of life and want to be accepted by their peers. So, friendships should be cultivated and encouraged. Of course, we're not talking about just hanging out on a street corner. Set up tween "play dates" -- let your tween have a friend over after school, and get to know the friend's parents so they can reciprocate.
If your tween seems to have trouble making friends, help her or him find a club or after school activity to join. This will give your tween something to share with others and also provide some structured social time.
Join a Club
Because social interaction is so crucial to a tween's emotional development, joining a club gives your child many benefits. Clubs provide structured play or study, as well as the opportunity to make friends with other like-minded tweens. And they also give tweens a sense of belonging and a way to focus their attention and energy.
Today, there are clubs for just about any interest -- and if your tween can't find one that he or she likes, encourage him or her to start one! Here are some clubs that seem to resonate with tweens:
- Book clubs
- Crafting clubs
- Running clubs
- Go-kart clubs
- Fan clubs
- Community service clubs
- Photography clubs
- Gaming clubs
- Comic book clubs
"Shopping!?!" you think. "I'm not made of money!" That's OK -- nobody is. But, hear us out.
Shopping isn't all bad if you look at it as an exercise in responsible spending. Does your child have an allowance, or earn his or her own money? Then shopping is an excellent opportunity for him or her to learn about saving, spending and managing money. Let your tween decide what her or she wants to purchase, and work together to make a plan on how to achieve it.
Unless you live under a rock, you're well aware of the rising rate of obesity among America's youth. Besides the obvious physical risks that come with obesity -- diabetes and heart disease, to name a couple -- your tween can suffer emotional risks as well. Low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy and social discrimination are only a few examples.
Helping your tween get involved in sports, or any physical activity, offers so many benefits. Think about it. Experts say that children who are involved in sports learn:
- Team work
- Creative thinking
And, as with any shared activity, your tween will have the opportunity to make new friends. Emotional and physical health -- you can't do any better for your child than that!
As we said earlier when we discussed shopping, tweens and money go together like peanut butter and jelly. Merchandise is heavily targeted at tweens, and tweens want the same things their friends have. You can't teach a tween to manage money unless that tween has the opportunity to earn money first.
Tweens aren't old enough to go out and get a regular job, but there are plenty of ways for them to make a little bit of cash here and there. Having a job teaches your child about responsibility and also gives her or him a sense of accomplishment. Here are some great ways for your child to earn money and keep busy at the same time:
- Cutting lawns or raking leaves
- Dog walker
- Cat sitter
- Birthday party assistant
- Washing cars
Help your tween make flyers or even business cards to advertise as a "tween for hire." Be creative!
Have a Snack
OK, we admit this sounds a little silly -- what tween doesn't want to have a snack after school? But even an event as mundane as snack time can have an effect on your tween. Even though the human brain is about 95 percent developed by the age of six, that other small percent is still developing through the teen years. Healthy eating leads to a healthy body and a healthy brain, so you should be keeping a watchful eye on your tween's eating habits.
Most tweens are pretty hungry after a long day at school. Turn after school snack time into fun time with your tween. Take this opportunity to teach your tween how to use the kitchen -- how to prepare easy and healthy snacks and how to be creative with food. Check out our article 5 Healthy Foods That are Fun to Make for some neat ideas.
Get in Some "Screen Time"
We don't know any kid, tween or not, who isn't itching for screen time. By that we mean the computer, television, hand-held gaming devices, DVD players and video games. Many parents prefer to keep their tween's screen time monitored and limited.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends seven to 14 hours of screen time per week. However, tweens spend an average of 37 hours per week in front of a screen. So how do you help your tween make the most of screen time? Try implementing these tips:
- Limit your tween's amount of daily screen time.
- Watch television along with your tween.
- Preview or research any video games before your tween plays them.
- Keep your tween's TV or computer in a common area.
- Become computer literate so you're aware of your child's computer usage.
- Use television shows as jumping-off points for family talks.
Yep, that's right -- we said "nothing." With all our adult responsibilities, sometimes we forget that being a kid is hard work. Every now and then, your tween just needs to have some alone time to decompress from a long and tiring day of learning and navigating the emotional minefield of school.
Tweens need a place to call their own. If your tween has her own room, make sure she has a comfortable area where she can just relax and read, nap, or simply think. If your tween shares a room, work with his siblings to ensure that he has some privacy from time to time.
In the same way that some of us need to sit quietly after work with a glass of wine and unwind, your kids might also need to sit quietly with music and headphones and mentally work through their day. Let them do that.
Visit the Community Center
If you're lucky enough to have a community center in town, take advantage of it! It's one of the best resources you have for your tween for the after school hours. Community centers are public places where kids and teens can gather for supervised play and activities. Sometimes they're faith-based -- run by a church or synagogue -- and sometimes the town runs them, public to all.
You can find many tween-friendly activities at a local community center:
- Supervised homework sessions
- Video games
- Computer access
- Volunteer opportunities
- Arts and crafts
Your tween might bring his or her own friends along to the community center, or he or she might use the center to make new friends. Either way, it's a great place for your tween to socialize and stay engaged in the community at the same time.
Spend Quality Time With Mom or Dad ... Really!
The tween years mark the end of your baby's childhood. You'll notice your child is forging an identity and life that's independent of you -- but this is normal. The bad news? Some days you'll be public enemy No. 1 in your tween's eyes. The good news? The very next day, your tween will want to snuggle up with you on the couch and watch a movie.
Take advantage of those warmer moments. To foster an open relationship with your tween that will carry on through the teen years and beyond, spend quality time with your child as much as you can. Do what your tween likes to do -- download music, dance or play a game together -- and you're giving your tween the message that you're on his or her side. You might just find your tween wanting to spend time with you without you having to ask for it. What a reward!
For more on tweens and family, check out the links on the next page.
Forts are fun for kids and adults. See 10 forts to build with kids to create the ultimate play experience.
- 10 Creative After-school Programs for Kids
- 10 Great After-school Activities for Tweens
- 10 Things Tweens Actually *Like* to Do After School
- After-school Fun: Making the Most of Your Kid's Time
- How to Get Kids Excited for After-school Tutoring
- How to Make a Schedule for Kids After School
- How to Stay Involved with Your Tween Without Hovering
- What are some good after-school jobs for tweens?
- "Afterschool Programs." EducationBug.com. 2011. (Jan. 8, 2011)http://www.educationbug.org/a/after-school-programs.html
- Dakss, Brian. "Marketing to 'Tweens' Going Too Far?" The Early Show. May 14, 2007. (Jan. 8, 2011) http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/05/14/earlyshow/living/parenting/main2798400.shtml
- "Encourage Team Sports for Tweens." TweenParent.com. 2011. (Jan. 8, 2011) http://www.tweenparent.com/articles/view/184
- Gavin, Mary L. "Healthy Habits for TV, Video Games, and the Internet." KidsHealth.com. April 2008. (Jan. 8, 2011) http://kidshealth.org/parent/positive/family/tv_habits.html
- Krotz, Joanna L. "Tap Into the Lucrative Tween Market." Fox Small Business Center. Dec. 8, 2010. (Jan. 8, 2011) http://www.foxsmallbusinesscenter.com/sbc/2010/12/08/tap-lucrative-tween-market/
- McCready, Amy. "Top three parenting mistakes with tweens and teens." Today Moms. Oct. 13, 2010. (Jan. 8, 2011) http://moms.today.com/_news/2010/10/13/5283798-top-three-parenting-mistakes-with-tweens-and-teens
- Mersch, John. "Tween: Child Development (9-11 Years Old)." MedicineNet.com. Dec. 3, 2009. (Jan. 8, 2011) http://www.medicinenet.com/tween_child_development/article.htm
- "Read TWEEN the Lines: Tween Friendships." The University of Alabama. July 24, 2009. (Jan. 8, 2011) http://www.newswise.com/articles/read-tween-the-lines-tween-friendships
- Scherer, Marge. "Which Way, the Middle?" ASCD. April 2006. (Jan. 8, 2011) http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/apr06/vol63/num07/Which-Way,-the-Middle%C2%A2.aspx
- "The Teen Brain is a Work in Progress." Frontline. 2011. (Jan. 8, 2011) http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/teenbrain/work/
- "Does your tween need help managing screen time?" TweenParent.com. 2011. (Jan. 8, 2011) http://www.tweenparent.com/articles/view/117
- "Weight can Damage Self-Esteem." KidsGrowth.com. 2011. (Jan. 8, 2011) http://www.kidsgrowth.com/resources/articledetail.cfm?id=82