Why Your Tween Just Isn't That Into You

Relationships Between Parents and Tweens
Your tween might want a little more space.
Your tween might want a little more space.

Developmental changes force tweens out of childhood -- sometimes unwillingly. In struggling to sculpt a new person from their old selves, tweens become a little self-centered. They constantly monitor their appearance and thoughts. They go over events again and again, wondering: "Should I have said this or done that?" The way friends and peers think about them -- or at least they way they think friends think about them -- becomes more pressing than their relationship with you.

Do you do things that embarrass or alienate your tween? Maybe. But remember, your tween's having an identity crisis. While emotions rule their brains, for instance, tweens frequently misinterpret facial expressions. You show fear or surprise -- they see anger. As a consequence, tweens think parents are always mad at them. Keep that in mind when your tween melts down during a conversation, and you're standing there wondering: "What just happened?"

To complicate communication further, your tween's evolving brain works differently than your mature brain. You approach issues logically, while your child grapples with them emotionally. Rational thoughts grate on tweens, often prompting the "You just don't understand!" wail.

When your tween tells you he or she needs "space," don't take it personally. Tweens learn at rocket speed. Their thinking shifts from concrete absolutes to abstract concepts. They really do need time alone to absorb new thoughts, ideas and feelings. Separateness also protects their emergent identity. They need time to learn to live with this new person.

Remember that while adolescence is a growth and development phase with room for some changes, tweens still need limits. Adolescents might scoff at limits, but they're necessary for security and comfort. Your job now is to monitor your tween's expanding maturity and gradually ease limits as he or she grows toward independence.

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  • Feinstein, Sheryl. Inside the Teenage Brain: Parenting a Work in Progress. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Education, a division of Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2009.
  • Kastner, Laura S., Ph.D, and Jennifer Wyatt, Ph.D. Getting to Calm: Cool-headed Strategies for Parenting Tween & Teens. Seattle, WA: ParentMap, 2009.
  • Lippincott, Jennifer Marshall and Robin M. Deutsch, Ph.D. 7 Things Your Teenager Won't Tell You and How to Talk About Them Anyway. New York: Ballantine Books, 2005.
  • "Teenage Brain: A work in progress (Fact Sheet)." National Institute of Mental Health. NIH Publication No. 01-4929. Last reviewed September 10, 2010. (Accessed 01/09/2010).http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/teenage-brain-a-work-in-progress-fact-sheet/index.shtml