Let's Talk Tween

Information and insight about kids ages 8-12 (the "in between" years)

The Perils of Parenting a Tween

How developmental changes transform your child

Parenting a tween can be tough.

Parenting a tween can be tough.

Parenting a child aged between 8-12 may sound like a simple situation. Of course that's if you have either been there done that or perhaps if you have yet to arrive. What could be more difficult than trying to manage a toddler whose favorite word is "NO" or a teenager who is convinced he knows more than you do?

Well let's just say there is a reason the tween years may feel like they are sometimes synonymous with the ‘mean’ years.

Certainly there are many wonderful moments when you are raising a tween, you just may not be able to think of one right now. There is probably some solace in knowing theoretically we are only talking about a four-year span. Unfortunately in the midst of parenting a tween, four years can feel more like infinity.

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There is power in knowledge. Keeping this in mind, a better understanding about why your delicious daughter or spectacular son can suddenly seem demanding or spoiled should be helpful.

From a biological standpoint the tween years are all about changes. Some of these changes may of course seem less subtle than others. It is during the tween years that your girls and boys start the process that will make them look more like young women and men than children. Your daughters may develop budding breasts while your sons experience a cracking voice. Most girls and boys experience growth spurts during these years. It is interesting to note that girls typically enter the tween years about two years before boys. This explains why you may notice that your daughter seems to tower over the boys at the beginning of Middle School. By the time she enters high school however a majority of the boys will surpass your average sized daughter in height. It also helps explain the great difference that often exists between same aged boys and girls in the social, emotional, and cognitive realms.  

Emotionally tweens mature and change. Hormonal changes contribute to the mood swings and emotional sensitivity most parents describe during these years and into the early teens. One minute your tween is happy and laughing, the next she seems frustrated and upset. Just as you are preparing a response to her change in mood, she may be back to her happy self with seemingly no memory of her momentary flair up.

You may find yourself feeling as if you are trying to avoid land mines when pressed to predict your tween’s mood at any moment. Not all of his emotional sensitivity can be attributed to internal chemistry changes, some of it relates to the changes taking place outside in his social world.

As your tween’s brain grows and develops so does his awareness of the outside world as well as his place within it. It is during these years that kids start to look to their friends for suggestions and support. Individual tweens begin to branch out and form groups or cliques with others who they sense are similar to them.

The organization of middle school contributes to these social changes. Most schools divide the kids into individual classes. Your tweens are expected to become organized and more independent; they are no longer coddled by a single classroom teacher.

Perhaps one of the most important characteristics of the tween years is that rates of development vary greatly from tween to tween. One tween for example, may look physically more mature, but socially she may continue to seem more child than teen. Another tween may present as more cognitively aware; interested in the outside world and excel intellectually, however, he may lag behind in his ability to control his emotions. The result can cause confusion and frustration to parents. It is difficult to understand how your son can discuss world politics with you one moment and have a full blown tantrum the next because you won’t allow him to eat a candy bar so close to dinner. Perhaps your daughter seems socially savvy, a real social butterfly who deftly negotiates the intricacies of middle school social circles, “then why”, you wonder, “does she struggle to get her homework completed on time and/or organize her notebooks?”

The tween years are all about skill development. Because growth from child to child is so individual, your job as a parent is to figure out in which realms your child requires more support and guidance.

There are few stages of development barring infancy when you have the opportunity to watch your child grow and change before your eyes. The tween years are all about transition and transformation. Although as a parent of a tween you may find yourself negotiating choppy waters at times, enjoy the ride. Before you can bat an eyelash your son will be asking for the keys to the car and your daughter will be applying to college.

Jennifer Powell-Lunder, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist and parenting expert specializing in work with tweens, teens, young adults, and their families.

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