Have a tween? If you have a child of the ages from 9-12 in your home, you have one! Congratulations! This is officially the bridge “beTWEEN” Childhood and the Teen years – so you can now understand where the name came from. This is typically the ages where parents feel most disconnected and confused about what they’re seeing in the children they knew and loved just a little while ago. So let’s dive in!
What is a Tween?
So, a tween is a season of life where children are clearly not little kids, but they aren’t exactly teens either. It’s an awkward time where hormones are just at the start of revving up, and where emotions can run very high, (or very low). In general, it’s an unpredictable season of life because the tweens don’t really understand where they fit either. They don’t want the 8pm bedtime yet, but they aren’t able to stay up until 11:30pm either. They want to push back on rules, but sorta kinda don’t mean it – just testing the waters. For many moms, it can be a bit heartbreaking because “childhood” is over. They don’t want to be cuddled anymore, or “babied”. This is where they begin to not want to be seen with mom or dad in public. Or, a host of other pre-teen actions that really begin to define the years where they grow into their own person.
The official start of a “tween” can be as early as age 9 for girls, but often parents notice a shift around the age of 10.
For boys, by age 10, most are testing limits, talking back and finding a shift from being a “boy” to the next stage.
In the States, middle schoolers (grades 6-8), right before the final four years of high school, puts kids in this zone of being in between. As a group, middle schoolers often struggle with peer groups, bullying, standing up to bullies, forming a few close friendships, and navigating the online social media world. In general, teachers who work in middle schools are experts at giving more freedoms than when they were in elementary school, yet keeping boundaries and consequences in place. They also know how to ask for more responsibility from the students, as they can now navigate remembering homework, studying for tests, and participating in classes more than they did in elementary school. This is also when kids start to rotate classes instead of staying in one class the whole time as happens in the younger grades.
Tweenager: How to Love Them
Parents of tweenagers need to remember that they are setting strong ground work for the teenage years. Here are some things to consider and look for as you parent this age.
- Does your “yes” really mean yes? Do your “no” ‘s hold?
- If they don’t want to hug you anymore, can you ask them about it and respect that request?
- If they don’t want to be seen in public with you, can you honor it without making fun of them? We have tons of videos where parents embarrass their kids over not wanting to be seen in public with them. But you know what happens when kids’ wishes are respected? Connection that lasts into the teen years. That’s far more valuable than a moment of joking.
- Begin to look for ways where they can make some decisions
- Begin to lay strong guidelines for screens, social media and phone use
In this season of life, tween boys need to know both parents are there for them. Dads become role models (as they always have been) but now, in a more subtle way. Boys are watching but maybe not engaging as much. That’s ok. Unless they’ve been diagnosed with depression or have special needs, let sons pace the relationship. In general, dads often feel disrespected, and need to find ways to explaining what’s acceptable and what isn’t as the young man starts to push back against parents.
Moms of tween boys may find that they aren’t showering as much as they need to, or they have a girlfriend – or they don’t yet. They may be asked to not hug or kiss their sons goodnight anymore. Moms may feel pushed away from their lives, and this is intentional. Boys are trying to begin to create distance and space. But don’t worry! Think of this season as a caterpillar eating and eating and eating because they’re getting ready to go into the cocoon of the teen years. If we look at it that way, we won’t get offended as if it’s personal against us as parents. We’ll realize it’s just part of the process of growing up, and we can find ways to support and love them through it, while maintaining important rules and consequences in the house.
It was during this season of life that my son and I had a little meeting of the minds. He had just finished 5th grade and was squarely in the beginning of disrespecting me at every turn. Like, unusually rude. So I thought about how I could channel his emerging boldness… and what kind of teen I wanted to live with in a few short years.
So, I sat him down and literally said, “I want you to get your way. Not just with me, but with others as you get older. I want you to learn how to communicate your thoughts, and wants, so you can be heard. Not because you’re the rudest or loudest but because you have great points and deserve to be listened to. But what you are doing is repelling me – which doesn’t work because you need me to negotiate with you.”
And we agreed on and began a series of exercises that took about a month for him to understand. From there, he learned how to identify what he wanted, how to ask for it respectfully, how to negotiate so it was more likely a “yes”, and how to handle a “no”. He is now 20 years old and is one of the strongest communicators I know… but he’s been practicing since 5th grade. 😉
At this stage, tween girls are often misunderstood. They also are walking a child/teen line and trying to figure out social structures in school, who they are academically, who they can trust and so much more. If I could give you a secret magic wand to use with nearly every girl ages 9-12 it’s this: listen to them without judgement.
Look in their eyes as they’re talking – for as long as they talk.
Tell them they’re smart.
Ask them questions about what they just told you- get them to think and let them know you’re listening.
And above all, don’t say “That’s dumb” or “Why would you say that?”. No judgements.
In the tween years, good parenting can really boil down to a few critical things. Sometimes, it’s listening. Other times it’s holding the boundaries you’ve established. Other times, it’s letting them go as babies, knowing that a new exciting season is starting. But in all cases, it’s about being very mindful that the precedents you allow now, will carry over into the teen years. Allow a diva in your house at 10? You’ll have an out of control diva at 14. Allow a rude 12 year old boy? He’ll be even moreso at 16 when he doesn’t get his way.
In my book, Momifesto, I talk about having a vision for our kids. It’s all about thinking and imagining what’s possible with our kids – now and in a few years from now.
“A mom with a vision is a world changer, a game changer, a visionary. She completely upheaves the status quo of the culture in her home. She carves, completes and has reasons why she did something, instead of excuses why she didn’t.” pg. 89, Momifesto: 9 Practices for Phenomenal Moms.
So, dream. Although the tween years are hard and challenging, dream. You’re saying goodbye to the years where they can be taken care of, and kept safe. It requires a different parenting style, and one that honors where growing children are heading.
“A mom with a vision believes in things bigger than her fear – love, faith, legacy and family. She dares to dream, to put one foot into the future. This is truly a phenomenal mom. Not that she forces it all to happen, but that she listens for the little spark of the dream in her heart.” pg. 94, Momifesto.
Yes, these tween years are challenging. But you have everything this takes, mom and dad to love with intention and an eye on the teen years. You can hold steady in the midst of changing grades, social circles, and hormones. And you will set a foundation for an amazing family in the teen years.
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