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Just like their nickname implies, tweens are caught in a middle ground between childhood and adolescence. From ages 10 to 12, children are old enough to crave independence and privacy, and yet too young to make many important decisions on their own. As puberty hits, their bodies are in an in-between state, too.
Don't let their desire for distance fool you: During this time of tremendous growth and change, tweens need parents more than ever. From social challenges to dating, children may be facing brand-new challenges that require your guidance and understanding. Learn how to support your son or daughter during this challenging, dynamic stage.
In a word: change. Puberty, starting with the development of sex organs and pubic hair, begins as early as ages 10 to 12 for boys and ages 8 to 10 for girls. New hormones may come with roller-coaster moods. Their brains are undergoing a period of rapid maturation, too. Your tween may approach problems with more logic and start developing stronger opinions even as they sometimes act impulsively—the part of their brain governing self-control isn't fully formed until later.
Some tweens like sports, others appreciate the arts, but nearly all gravitate toward some form of digital entertainment. A recent survey found that tweens log an average of four-and-a-half hours per day watching videos, playing games, and interacting on social media. The impulse to be online is tied to their skyrocketing social awareness. Tweens crave connection with friends more and more, so it's good to give them plenty of opportunities to socialize, offline or on.
According to a Pew Research Center survey, 61% of tweens and teens feel pressure to get good grades. Meanwhile, 29% worry about their appearance and 28% are concerned about fitting in socially. Offering to talk to your tween about their worries will give them comfort, even if they don't always come to you with their problems.
Beat boredom by signing up your tween for one or more extracurricular activities, where they can follow budding passions in sports, dance, art, or music. Summer doldrums can be solved by a great overnight camp or enrichment program. But it's important not to overschedule your tween. Having free time to read, doodle, or— yes—even scroll on their phone can be good for their mental health.
Not every teen will go to a parent with their problems, so it's important to be on the lookout for signs of distress. One in five teens has a mental health challenge, according to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. Some signs that your teen may be troubled include being sad or withdrawn for more than two weeks, drastic swings in mood or behavior, substance abuse, or talk of self-harm.
It's normal for teens to push boundaries in a quest for independence, but frequently being disrespectful or displaying disruptive behavior is a different story. Some strategies to help difficult teens include praising what they're doing well, ignoring antagonistic behavior, and enforcing logical and natural consequences (taking away their phone if they have used it inappropriately, for instance).
Developmental milestones refer to the physical changes, cognitive leaps, and social skills that children typically acquire by a certain age. Pediatricians use milestones as one way to gauge whether your child's development is on track.
Puberty is an important stage when children become sexually mature through the growth of reproductive organs and other body parts and the development of certain hormones. Typically, girls go through puberty between ages 10 and 14 and boys go through puberty between ages 12 and 16.
A psychological term to help explain how people come to "find themselves," identity foreclosure is when children adopt certain qualities and traits without thinking deeply about their motivations to do so. Identity foreclosure is common in tweens, whereas identity achievement may come later in adolescence.
Sociometric status is a term researchers use to describe how kids are viewed by their peers. Tweens and teens often fall within one of five measures of sociometric status: rejected, neglected, average, popular, and controversial. Teaching kids healthy social skills may help them navigate painful periods or shifts when it comes to sociometric status.
Independence refers to the progressive freedom that children have to make decisions about the way they live their life and formulate their beliefs. Letting go of overparenting impulses so your child develops some measure of independence is an important step in their tween and teen years.
Social rejection happens when a child is actively disliked or excluded by their peers. Rejection can stem from your child having a developmental disability or being of a different race or background than most kids. It's important to send the message to socially rejected kids that no one deserves to be excluded and they have a lot to offer the world.
Nemours Foundation. Understanding puberty.
Cincinnati Children's Hospital. What is cognitive development?
Common Sense Media. Media use by tweens and teens.
Child Mind Institute. Parenting tweens: What you should know.
Pew Research Center. Most U.S. teens see anxiety and depression as a major problem among their peers.
National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. Mental health facts: Children and teens.
American Academy of Pediatrics. Independence, one step at a time.
American Academy of Pediatrics. Disciplining older children.
Kroger J. Identity development in adolescence and adulthood. Oxford Research Encyclopedias. 2017. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780190236557.013.54
Kulawiak P, Wilbert J. Introduction of a new method for representing the sociometric status within the peer group: The example of sociometrically neglected children. Int J Res Method Educ. 2020;43(2):127–145. doi:10.1080/1743727X.2019.1621830
Smart Richman L, Leary MR. Reactions to discrimination, stigmatization, ostracism, and other forms of interpersonal rejection: A multimotive model. Psychol Rev. 2009;116(2):365–383. doi:10.1037/a0015250
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