Ann-Louise T. Lockhart, PsyD, ABPP, is a board-certified pediatric psychologist, parent coach, author, speaker, and owner of A New Day Pediatric Psychology, PLLC.
Marley Hall is a writer and fact-checker who is certified in clinical and translational research. Her work has been published in medical journals in the field of surgery, and she has received numerous awards for publication in education.
The tween years represent an important transition between childhood and adolescence. It's not only an exciting time but also a complicated one, for both kids and parents. Tweens must confront puberty, acne, body image, friend drama, and academic pressures. It's no wonder they can be moody!
Even as they become more independent, tweens need your guidance to succeed in middle school and make smart decisions online. Learn tips and tools here for supporting your tween, so you can help them build the skills and self-esteem they need to flourish as young adults.
Tweens are 8- to 12-year-olds. They are in a unique stage of development—more mature and capable than children but not as independent as teenagers. A key part of the tween years is puberty when girls may develop breasts and start to get their periods, and boys' sexual organs can change and their voices deepen. Amid these rapid physical developments, tweens go through an important period of cognitive development, too, gradually becoming more socially aware and capable of reason.
Keep them safe but give them space. Tweens still need plenty of parental guidance. It's your job to ensure they eat well, mind their hygiene needs, and make safe choices online. At the same time, it's normal—healthy, even—for tweens to turn away from parents and toward friends. For their development and your relationship, give them some autonomy, whether it's letting them pick out their clothes or respecting a closed bedroom door. When you and your tween agree on healthy boundaries on both sides, you can avoid many conflicts.
Many tweens are busy with extracurricular activities outside of school. A 2015 survey found that 73% play sports, 60% participate in a church or youth group, and 54% take music, art, or dance lessons. It's also developmentally appropriate if your tween seems most interested in hanging out with friends. Connecting online via age-appropriate video games or social media platforms is typical for today's tweens, but you can help foster healthy friendships by inviting their pals over for some in-person movie nights, game nights, or just hang-out time.
Adolescence is typically thought of in three stages. Early adolescence (ages 10 to 13): Kids in these later tween years begin puberty, have concrete viewpoints, and grow more socially aware and self-conscious. Middle adolescence (ages 14 to 17): Girls usually finish puberty while boys continue it. Both may be interested in romantic relationships, resistant to parental input, and able to think logically but still lack impulse control. Late adolescence (ages 18 and up): These young adults have finished physical development and are developing better emotional regulation skills as well as a keener sense of self and values.
The tween years may be when you let your kid dictate their hairstyle. Some kids prefer close-cropped styles like crew cuts or undercuts (long on top, shaved on bottom), while others want to grow out longer locks or curls. Ask around for barbers and stylists that specialize in tween or teen hair because they will be clued into the latest looks.
It's natural for tweens to want to try makeup, and OK for you to establish healthy boundaries about it. Their makeup look should align with any school rules, be free of skin-irritating chemicals, and be washed off before bed to avoid acne. To protect against infections, teach tweens to avoid sharing products with friends and toss products that start to discolor or smell bad. Some starter makeup brands that tweens and parents love include Glossier and Love You First.
Tweens new to periods often start with menstrual pads since they are easy to use and change. Some sanitary product brands market pads for tweens that are slightly narrower and have fun designs. Tuck a box of pads in your child's bathroom when they first start showing signs of puberty and keep a healthy supply in the house at all times. Tweens and teens typically go through three to six pads a day.
While some tweens may start using tampons during their first period, others wait until they are a little older or never use them at all. You can help your tween learn how to use a tampon by buying a beginner-friendly product that's slender and has an applicator. Have them check out the visual diagram from the tampon box and try different positions for insertion (like sitting on the toilet or standing with one leg propped up). Teach them to protect themselves against toxic shock syndrome by changing tampons regularly and never leaving one in for more than six hours.
Child Mind Institute. Parenting tweens: What you should know.
Pew Research Center. Parenting in America.
American Academy of Pediatrics. Stages of adolescence.
Cleveland Clinic. 5 things to know about kids wearing makeup.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Menstruation in girls and adolescents: Using the menstrual cycle as a vital sign.
Cleveland Clinic. Time to have the tampon talk with your daughter? 5 tips for teaching her how to use one.
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