Defining the Tween Years for Parents

Girls laughing with ice pops in hand

Karan Kapoor / Taxi / Getty Images

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

The word "tween" is often used to describe an age group of children that are in between being a child and a teenager. These kids are often in middle school and are quickly approaching puberty and all the challenges that come with adolescence.

The tween years are a time of transition and change. A tween is maturing into a teenager physically, emotionally, and socially and they are learning to take on new responsibilities at school and home.

Parents of tweens notice a lot of changes in their children over these few years. They are no longer your little girl or boy, but they still need you. While your tween may be showing increased independence and skill-building, they rely on you to help them with all of the new challenges they face.

What Is a Tween?

A tween is a child between the ages of 9 and 12. A tween is no longer a little child, but not quite a teenager. They are in between the two age groups and their behavior and emotions reflect that.

The word '"tween" has become very popular in recent years. Other names for kids of this age group include preteens, middle schoolers, and tweeny (or tweenies). While a tween is not yet in the midst of adolescence, he or she will face a variety of obstacles in the next few years:

  • Approaching puberty: Big changes are going to start or have already begun to happen to a tween's body.
  • Exposure to dangerous behaviors: Tweens face new pressures from peers including drugs, sex, alcohol, and more. Kids are curious and peer pressure is strong among tweens. At this age, tweens start learning about the dangers of the world. Many myths circulate in middle school hallways.
  • Increasing amounts of homework: The homework load alone can be a big change for tweens and parents should be ready to help if needed. Good study habits now can last a lifetime.
  • Increasing responsibilities: Tweens are often more involved in extra-curricular activities and can take on more chores and responsibilities at home.
  • Transitioning from elementary to middle school: The change in school curriculum and structure can be more difficult for some children than others.

Tweens can be a challenge to parents and teachers. One minute they can be sweet and loving, the next they can be moody and difficult.

Changes During the Tween Years

Dramatic physical, mental, and social changes take place during the tween years:

Tweens' Changing Identities

The tween years are also when kids begin to develop a true sense of self. They may go through many phases before they get to be the person they will be as an adult and it all begins as a tween.

Tweens will often begin to explore new interests and passions. A boy may have enjoyed soccer as a child, but find basketball to be his sport in middle school. He may even give up sports entirely and choose to build robots. A girl may learn that she's more creative after a summer art class and ask for paints one week or join the drama club the next.

These interests often change over the next few years. Tweens are influenced by their friends or activities their family is involved with. Along with this, your tween may change styles in clothing or taste in music. It's hard for parents to keep up with the latest fads.

It's important for parents to give tweens a certain sense of freedom as they go through these phases. They are discovering their individual personality and exploring all of their options.

As long as they are not harming themselves or others or behaving badly, this time and experience is important in their development and will influence who they become. It's likely to change tomorrow or next year and the teen years are filled with change, so get used to it!

The Influence of Tweens

Tweens have enormous spending power in the United States and are the target of marketers for their money (and influence over their parent's buying power). It was the tween market that made Hannah Montana, the Jonas Brothers, and Harry Potter household names.

Many parenting experts believe today's tweens are growing up too fast. They note that tweens are exposed to unhealthy doses of violence, sex, drugs, and other behaviors through television, video games, the internet, social media, and books.

Parents can help influence their tween and counteract negative influences. Your family values will go a long way to helping your tween navigate these tricky times.

6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Child development. Middle childhood (9-11 years).

  2. Mah VK, Ford-Jones EL. Spotlight on middle childhood: Rejuvenating the 'forgotten years'Paediatr Child Health. 2012;17(2):81‐83. doi:10.1093/pch/17.2.81

  3. The Nemours Foundation. Understanding puberty.

  4. American Academy of Pediatrics. Physical development in girls: What to expect during puberty.

  5. Hicks J, Jennings L, Jennings S, Berry S, Green D. Middle school bullying: Student reported perceptions and prevalence. J Child Adolesc Couns. 2018;4(3):195-208. doi:10.1080/23727810.2017.1422645

  6. Comulada WS, Rotheram-Borus MJ, Carey G, Poris M, Lord LR, Mayfield Arnold E. Adjustment of trendy, gaming and less assimilated tweens in the United StatesVulnerable Child Youth Stud. 2011;6(3):263‐275. doi:10.1080/17450128.2011.597794

By Jennifer O'Donnell
Jennifer O'Donnell holds a BA in English and has training in specific areas regarding tweens, covering parenting for over 8 years.