Relating to a Tween

eyerollingMany of the behaviors that we associate with teenagers actually begin to emerge in the younger years between the ages of 9 and 12, affectionately known as the “tween” years. In addition to the fact that children seem to be entering puberty at earlier ages, tweens face a number of changes in their young lives. Here are some of those changes:

Desire for More Privacy

You might notice your tween withdrawing from their family or desiring more privacy. This is a normal part of growing up and becoming independent, so don’t take it personally. Granting privacy builds a tween’s self-confidence. Balancing that privacy with knowing what your teen is doing is a fine line that parents must constantly manage. While you should encourage your tween’s independence, respect their privacy, and allow them to spend time with friends, you still need to stay in close contact with your tween. That means finding special time every week to spend with your tween doing something he or she likes to do, keeping communication open, and getting to know your tween’s friends. One way to protect your bond, while learning more about your tween and their friends, is to occasionally include their friends in family activities or host sleepovers.

Increased Stress

Nowadays, tweens are facing a great deal more stress in the form of increased homework, friend difficulties, puberty, lack of sleep, and hectic schedules. This is the time for parents to begin teaching effective stress management techniques, such as deep breathing, yoga, organization skills, and/or finding a stress-reducing activity such as taking a walk, reading a book, listening to music, or journaling. You should step in when you think life’s demands are becoming too much for him or her. Insist that: your child’s schedule includes free time (and if it doesn’t, cut back on activities); your child gets enough sleep (experts recommend that preteens get at least nine hours of sleep a night); your child eats nutritiously; and your child gets exercise. Finally, be on the watch for social stressors. Peer pressure and bullying rear their ugly heads in middle school. Forty-eight percent of tweens say they have been bullied. You can learn more about bullying from our previous blogs.

More Uncertainty and Anxiety

Change inevitably makes everyone a little anxious. Middle schoolers are facing so much change, they are bound to feel uncertain. For example, everyone always talks about entering high school as a big transition, but really transitioning from elementary school to middle school is a much bigger change. (Fortunately, there are a lot of ways parents can prepare their tweens for middle school, and we will be highlighting those in a future blog this summer.) Another example of big changes sure to make your tween anxious is dating. A recent study from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Blue Shield of California found that 75% of middle school students had already had a boyfriend or girlfriend. Entering the dating world will bring a whole new list of anxieties your child has never faced before. You can learn more about middle school dating in our previous blog.

Mood Swings

Your child’s developing mind, newly surging hormones, and changing sense of self all create emotional changes. Expect your tween to scroll through emotions frequently and suddenly. They tend to feel things intensely and have magnified emotional responses. Additionally, your tween’s tastes may change day-to-day. Don’t be surprised if your tween suddenly announces that she’s becoming a vegetarian, or he is no longer interested in basketball. This is all a part of the self-discovery process for tweens.

Parents find it difficult to keep up with their tweens’ quickly changing highs and lows. Parents should try to be patient with their child; however, they should not allow their child to treat them disrespectfully. Also, parents should pay attention for signs that their child is facing more than just moodiness. It is possible for children as young as 9 to suffer from depression. Be watchful for signs of depression.

Embracing Technology

Ninety percent of tweens are online. There’s never been a group of children who know more about computers and technology. Computers and personal devices (such as cell phones and tablets) are a major part of their lives. Be understanding that they communicate differently with their friends than you remember doing when you were their age, but establish house rules about their use.

Easily Embarrassed

Tweens are easily embarrassed… about everything!  This age group suffers from extreme self-consciousness due to a combination of hormones, bodily changes of puberty, increased social pressure and awareness, and their own insecurity. They tend to be insecure at this age as they feel the first pulls to be independent, but are too young to know who they are or want to be.

At this age, tweens become hyper-sensitive to what people think of them. They think that everything they say, do and wear is being judged by everyone around them, and correspondingly, that what their parents say, do and wear reflects on them as well. Don’t take it personally, but your tween probably doesn’t think you’re as perfect as he once did. Tweens view their parents as “old” and generally not trendy. Regardless of how stylish you truly are, your tween’s perspective is that you are not. Don’t try to explain yourself or prove yourself as “cool”. It is not worth it and remember it is likely not about anything specific you are doing. It is simply a phase that children go through.

Parents should do a reality check and make sure that they are not actually doing anything to embarrass their tween in front of their friends. This will ruin your relationship. It may seem funny to share embarrassing stories with their friends, but to an insecure tween who works tirelessly to build up an image, it can feel devastating. Besides, in this age of technology, there is a real possibility that embarrassing stories will spread like wildfire through social media. Be kind to your tween and avoid actions that will denigrate their image in front of others, which simply causes a tween a lot of unnecessary stress.

Final thoughts…

Parents of tweens can be just as confused about what is happening to their children as the tweens are themselves. Try to remember the awkwardness you felt as a tween, and be patient. Try to counter their moodiness or self-criticism with positive remarks and offer praise for their strengths. Regardless of how grown up your tween seems or wants to be, he or she still needs your guidance to make good decisions and develop values. Tweens need a stable, reliable person in their life who loves them no matter what. Be that person even when their overwhelmed feelings create unappealing behavior.

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