The “tween” years have unique issues, as children ricochet between early childhood and beckoning adolescence. But with empathy and open communication, the relationship between parent and child doesn’t have to be a constant struggle.
by Shannon Philipott
The tween years can be an exciting yet a treacherous time for both 8- to 12-year-olds and their parents. Developing children are experiencing newfound freedoms pushing them into the world of adolescence, and at the same time they are holding on to life as little tots. For parents and their tweens, it is a time that will test the patience and strength of all. It doesn’t, though, have to evolve into a competition or a game of survival of the fittest.
The key to parenting children in their tweens and building a stronger relationship is to understand the struggles they are facing.
Problematic issues for tweens
Elizabeth Hartley-Brewer, author of Talking to Tweens and the mother of tweens, has identified four key problematic issues for tweens.
1. Finding and keeping friends while coping with peer pressure. Tweens are at a stage where they crave security from friends, yet ironically, this is the stage where friendships change, diminish, and blossom all at the same time.
“For tweens, the important thing about friends is choice and autonomy. Precisely because they begin to use friends to strengthen their sense of self, they must choose their own,” Hartley-Brewer said. “They are no longer happy to be forced to play with the children of our best friends or those of close neighbors.”
2. Learning how to flourish as a unique individual. Just as teenagers do, tweens are questioning identity, all while trying to follow fashion, look good, and gain popularity. The challenge for parents is to maintain authority while fostering individuality.
“The confidence they gain through knowing you love and enjoy them will help them through many challenges,” Hartley-Brewer said. “In particular, show faith in your tween’s ability to succeed and do well in a variety of tasks, which means not too much pressure.”
3. Managing school pressures. While school brings about both positive and negative changes for many tweens, it is a consistent environment, one that provides security for most students. “School forms a big portion of any child’s life, and parents need to understand children’s good and bad experiences there to be able to offer constructive, relevant and sensitive support,” Hartley-Brewer said.
Dana Jaenke, mother of a 10-year old daughter, said that addressing school pressures at home is a priority in her household. “When it is clear that my daughter has had a rough day at school, whether academically or socially, we sit down as a family and discuss her options,” Jaenke said. “We talk about alternative ways to handle each situation in and out of classroom.”
4. Enjoying risk and conquering fears…safely. The old saying of “with freedom comes responsibility” does not always sit well with tweens.
“Children have an unrelenting fascination with the forbidden. It is always there but it becomes more evident at key stages in their development when children get fresh yearnings to be more independent,” Hartley-Brewer said. “Their interest in probing the prohibited relates in large part to self-respect. It is more a statement of their autonomy than a wish to outrage or confront.”
However, real dangers exist for this age group as exposure to alcohol, cigarettes, solvents and illegal drugs is more prevalent. “The challenge for parents in this area is to encourage only natural and healthy adventure and exploration that contributes to development and is therefore acceptable,” Hartley-Brewer said.
Communication is key
Through all of the problematic challenges facing tweens, ultimately they look to their parents for guidance, regardless of whether or not they will admit that they need them.
As tools for working through these issues, Hartley-Brewer notes that “communication helps because they can’t know it all. By discussing matters, you can broaden their understanding about commercial marketing, health issues, or friendship patterns. And of course, when you talk to your child with understanding and warmth, you deepen your relationship and your child can see that you care.”
According to Jaenke, she makes sure that her daughter knows she can openly communicate about issues that bother her. “We don’t give her the option to slam the door; we always keep the door open.”
More from Hartley-Brewer:
In addition to Talking to Tweens, Elizabeth Hartley-Brewer is the author of seven other books, all published by DaCapo Press, including the best-selling Raising Confident Boys and Raising Confident Girls.
Shannon Philpott is a writer/reporter with 10-plus years of experience, and a college journalism instructor. She maintains a blog about writing, reflecting, and teaching at shannonphilpott.com.© Photo by Gavril Bernad | Dreamstime.com