The tween years are an exciting and challenging time for your child -- and for you. This stage in your child's life occurs in that brief, eruptive time between (thus the name "tween") early childhood and the teenage years. No longer is your little princess playing make-believe in the confines of your backyard; she's now roaming shopping malls with her friends. And your darling baby boy may be thinking less about his toy T-Rex and more about s-e-x. Tweenhood is a game-changer for all involved.
So if your child is between the ages of 8 and 12, throw out all of your old parenting books -- you'll need a new set of guidelines for the years ahead. In this article, we'll give you the top 10 tips you'll need for parenting your tween.
Go Ahead and Grieve the Passing of the Early Childhood Years
Your child is still a child. He or she hasn't yet reached adolescence, but is quickly leaving the early childhood years behind. The years that, for you, were filled with touching, adorable firsts -- the first time she said "Mama, I love you," or the first time he made a card for you. As a parent, you're always going to think your child is growing up too fast, and you'll likely always look back on the sweet early years with longing. But don't look at the tween years as the death of childhood; look at them as another stage in your child's metamorphosis. Yes, you'll miss the blanket forts and games of hide-and-seek. And there's nothing wrong with fondly reminiscing about those years -- just remember that the tween years will have many firsts of their own.
Advantages of Parenting a Tween
- You no longer have to directly control your child's every action.
- Your child is old enough to help out with household chores.
- You can have deeper, more meaningful conversations with your older child.
Independence or Boundaries: Walk the Line
Next to drugs and sex, independence for your child is probably one of the things you fear most as a parent. It means your child, whose safety and well-being mean everything to you, is suddenly out in the world (or even sometimes at home) learning to make decisions on his or her own. It's tricky. You must learn how to go against your instincts and encourage this newfound independence. And to top it off, you must still enforce boundaries for tweens, who suddenly know it all and can do it all. It's a fine line, but learning to walk it will benefit your child's self-esteem and your sanity.
Setting (and Moving) Boundaries
- When allowing your tweens out on their own, start with test runs.
- Make sure you always know where they are and who they're with.
- Make sure you are consistent in applying boundaries but can be flexible enough to adjust them.
- Accept that tweens can get angry when their boundaries are restricted.
Protect Privacy, but Squash Secrecy
The closer your tween gets to the teenage years, the greater his or her need will be for privacy. He'll be less open about his day at school, or she'll spend more time behind closed doors chatting with her friends. In day-to-day life, staying abreast of your tween's life means communicating effectively -- which, of course, is one of those things that is never as easy as it sounds. In her book "Tweens," Andrea Clifford-Poston suggests you do this by relating stories (realistic and maybe even embarrassing) of your own tweenhood, simply pointing out that you've noticed something has been troubling him or her, or suggesting they talk to another trusted adult (your sister always wants to pull the cool aunt card, so don't be afraid to put her to work on this).
Brush up on Your Computer Skills
The current tween generation, iGeneration, is often defined by massive communication consumption and technological multi-tasking -- Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, instant messaging, text messaging, MP3 downloads and more. On one hand, you must ensure their safety and help them manage their time; on the other, you want them to enjoy social acceptance within their peer group. As a parent, you must decide what this balance will be. And you must also be prepared to monitor online activities. Just know that your tech-savvy tween, who speaks technology as a second language, may be able to quickly outsmart your monitoring techniques. So it won't hurt to brush up on your own online media and social networking skills.
Learn How to Deal with Bullies -- and the Bullied
Bullying is not a new phenomenon -- just watch an episode of "Leave it to Beaver" or "Father Knows Best." In those shows, the child was usually encouraged to call the bully's bluff in a showdown after school. The bully would turn out to be a coward and the main character gained confidence. Too bad dealing with bullying in the real world these days isn't as simple. Bullies have more outlets -- such as online social networking sites -- to intimidate their victims. So, dealing with these tormenters often takes subtle and creative action. Tell your child to always stick with friends, and enlist the help of older siblings or cousins. Also, teach him or her to control anger around bullies, and remove any bully incentives, like lunch money. It also wouldn't hurt to contact a teacher at your tween's school.
Know Your Tween's Friends ... and Frenemies
Tween friendships can be intense. One day your daughter is making a friendship bracelet for her BFF, the next day they aren't speaking. Or your son and his buddy were inseparable until one joined the basketball team and the other the science club. As your tween grows, he or she will use friendships to gauge his or her place in the world. But just know you may have to deal with possible bad influences. So, try to get to know your tween's friends. Invite them over and get to know their families. Just know that who's who in your child's circle can change at a moment's notice.
Battle Body Image Blues
One of the realities of tweenhood is that a child's body image -- and self-esteem -- can take a real beating during these years. For a boy, this may mean anxiety about being smaller and less developed than others in his peer group. Girls can sometimes obsess over their bodies and go to extremes to emulate what they see as ideal in other girls their age. If it goes unchecked, this can lead to depression and eating disorders.
So what can you do to help encourage a healthy body image for your tween? For starters, you can make sure you avoid making critical comments about your child's appearance -- or your own. Also, University of Minnesota research showed that family activities, like regularly having dinner together, go a long way toward improving tween self-esteem and reducing the likelihood of eating disorders, proving that sometimes the simplest approaches work best.
Don't Make the Sex Talk a One-time Thing
The sex talk. Admit it, just thinking about it makes you wince. And your tween is even less eager to talk to you about it. Yet, it has to be done. You may think your child is too young for such a discussion, but you only have to turn on MTV or eavesdrop on a group of middle-schoolers to learn that it's a hot topic in the tween world.
As they approach and enter puberty, tweens' curiosity about sex will naturally grow. Add to that a sex-obsessed pop culture, and you have a dangerous combination. That's why, rather than just having a one-time sex talk with your child, you should instead have an open dialogue that allows either of you to bring the topic up at any time.
Pursue Pop Culture Connections
If you know who Demi Lovato, Justin Bieber, Nick Jonas and Selena Gomez are, you're probably either a tween or the parent of a tween. And while the specific celebrities and fads worthy of teenybopper worship may change from year to year, pop culture fascination persists. This presents a great way for you to bond with your tween: Get to know his or her celebrity crushes, sports heroes and favorite fashion trends. Take your tween and his or her friends to see the hottest new tween flick on opening day, or take them on a shopping trip to pick out room décor in their favorite new trend. Be warned, though, you run the risk of being lame rather than cool if your pop culture knowledge is painfully out of date.
Stay in the Know
How do you keep up with what's hot and what's not?
- Your best source is your own tween and his or her friends.
- If the last time you picked up a teen magazine was 1986, you might want to buy a new one.
- Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel usually have their fingers on the tween pulse.
Prepare for All of This to Get Tougher
If you think your child's tween years are challenging, just wait until the teen years. Fortunately, you can use these middle years to pave the way for junior high and beyond. In her tween parenting book "How to Hug a Porcupine," Julie A. Ross points out a key advantage the tween years have over early childhood years: the chance to build, strengthen and fortify your relationship with your child. During this time, you'll be in between directly controlling your child's behavior (early childhood) and having little control at all (teen years). How you're able to influence and teach your child in the coming years will, in part, be based on the sturdiness of your relationship now.
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- Clifford-Poston, Andrea. "Tweens: What to Expect from -- and How to Survive -- Your Child's Pre-Teen Years." Oneworld Publications. 2005.
- Chadwick, Dara. "Girls and Body Image: The Importance of Staying Connected." Psychology Today. July 31, 2009. (May 7, 2010)http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/youd-be-so-pretty-if/200907/girls-and-body-image-the-importance-staying-connected
- Estes, Kim. "Tweens and Independence: Keeping Them Safe." TweenParent.com.http://www.tweenparent.com/articles/view/222
- KidsHealth.org. "Helping Kids Deal with Bullies." June 2007. (May 7, 2010)http://kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/behavior/bullies.html#
- Leonard, Bill. "After Generations X and Y Comes Generation I - Internet generation." HR Magazine. January 2000. (May 7, 2010)http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m3495/is_1_45/ai_59283651/
- Rosen, Larry, PhD. "We Didn't Start the Fire: Why kids consume massive amounts of media and multitask all day (and night) long." Psychology Today. May 3, 2010. (May 7, 2010)http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/rewired-the-psychology-technology/201005/we-didnt-start-the-fire-why-kids-consume-massive-amoun
- Ross, Julie A., MA. "How to Hug a Porcupine: Negotiating the Prickly Points of the Tween Years." McGraw-Hill. 2008.