I’m not sure where I first heard the phrase “tween years,” but I soon learned that it referred to the in-between years of elementary and high school. Not yet teens, but much “more mature than the toddlers and little kids,” one of my tweens informed me.
I guess kids in the middle school years need their own label. Technology and culture are vastly different than the (dare I say) innocent eighties. What the typical 9-12 year old has been exposed to, regardless of how protective, sheltered or hoovering you’ve been as a parent, borders on what I learned as a young married adult.
With three adult daughters and two teen boys, I’ve had many years parenting the ups and downs along with the joys and griefs of this peculiar age. With a little insight, parents have an amazing opportunity to guide their child into the teen years and to adulthood through responsibilities, autonomy, and compassion.
We all want our children to grow up and become responsible. The commercials of twenty something year olds living on the basement couch gaming all day reiterates the imperative to parent well.
During the elementary years, kids tend to be enthusiastic about helping out around the house and showing the world they are “big kids.” Tweens, however, find themselves vacillating between the desires to show the world they are grown up and struggling with childish tendencies of wanting everything done for them.
It’s during these years that parents should focus strongly on teaching responsibilities. The best strategy is finding a balance. Neither demanding nor enabling, require kids to take responsibility for things they should be able to do on their own without oversight. Upon a child demonstrating his/her abilities to handle the task, patiently and carefully add additional responsibilities.
Be careful of hoovering, which often leads to becoming an enabling parent; but at the same time, be careful of demanding. These are still kids and need a delicate balance of responsibilities adequate to their age.
Slowly and consistently, with adequate rewards, you will begin to see the childish things fall away as confidence and maturity take hold.
Before hitting the tween years, we train and expect our children to obey. If we ask them to clean their room or help with a chore around the house, we expect compliance. However, in the tween years, the frontal lobe has kicked into high gear and reasoning begins taking hold. No longer do you hear a simple, “Yes, ma’am!” Instead, you find negotiations and justifications.
The tween years are when children begin discovering autonomy. They begin to recognize they are a separate individual from the family. Interestingly enough, for the first time, they see choices and decisions parents make as right or wrong. They also see very little gray, with concrete black and white thinking.
This is a delicate time, because the parenting choices we make for our children during this time of awareness have lifelong effects. If we allow our children the room to stand up for themselves, explain, and ask questions, we will help them develop the ability to reason, receive wisdom, and mature. Remember, it takes a great deal of patience and conversation to introduce the gray into their black and white thinking.
However, if a parent is bent on hovering and having control, the tween year will be disastrous. As tweens try to exert their independence and autonomy, strife and conflict ensue. Instead of young people who learn to reason, these kids learn that lies and manipulation are often the only way they get their way.
More detrimental is when Christianity is mingled in with this scenario. It leads kids to have an unhealthy view of the gospel and the authority of Christ while questioning the love of a heavenly Father.
Don’t misunderstand me; as parents, we still maintain solid healthy boundaries for our kids, regardless of the negotiations and pleas. There will be times when the conversations get a bit loud and you have to firmly plant your feet on an issue. But, if you notice a majority of the interactions with your tween result in conflict, be humble enough to step back and make sure you’re being the example of wisdom, maturity and the ability to reason.
Not only do tweens want to grow up fast as their brains are changing rapidly, they are also developing emotionally and physically. Moods can change like a roller coaster while they also require additional sleep each night.
During this phase, it takes time and perception to parent well. Take the opportunities to have conversations about their friend groups and their thoughts on different issues while checking in with them on how they feel. This can help you understand the mood swing and how to schedule their day.
With my kids, I had some that required much more sleep while others exerted more energy through activities in order to handle the hormonal changes. Meanwhile, physical affection is as distinct as their physical features. Some kids want to cuddle on the couch, while others cringe at the thought of a parent displaying public affection.
The key to parenting tweens is knowing your child and reading the signals. Sometimes it’s a hug, sometimes it’s a milkshake, and other times it’s just leaving them to be alone. Parenting tweens keeps you on your toes and on your knees.