Raising Tweens

This month, Harper Bee is focusing on family. So, we thought we’d kick things off with one of the biggest learning curves a family will navigate – raising tweens. If you have a little miss or mister aged between 8 and 12 who you just can’t seem to figure out, buckle in for four(ish) years of giving, taking and wondering whether they’ll act like they’re three or 33 on any given day.

Caught between being a child and being a teen, the tween years are notoriously tricky to navigate. Throw in social media, busy parents and equally confused tween-age friends, and you might be able to picture a day in the life of your tween. And if you can’t, don’t fret. That’s what Madonna King, journalist and author of ‘Being 14’ and psychologist Jasmine Pang are here for.

Benchmark Psychology’s Jasmine Pang says it can be tough to even define when a child becomes a tween.

“The age range can vary for girls and boys,” she says. “Girls seem to mature a bit faster, while boys tend to enter ‘tweenhood’ around 11 or 12.”

According to Jasmine, while some girls are becoming more interested in fashion, music, boys and the world around them, boys will still be happy to play outside and get dirty. But what makes a tween a ‘tween’ can also vary based on the child’s involvement with social media. She says adolescents are maturing faster now than they have in the past as they have a lot more exposure to the world through the Internet.

“We are finding more children who are wise beyond their age, like 8 and 9-year-olds talking about makeup, which can be a scary thing for parents,” Jasmine says.

Brisbane journalist and author Madonna King agrees that the life of the modern tween is one of total connectivity – 24/7 contact with friends, Wi-Fi on demand, music in their pocket and instant gratification.

“A tween now would never have seen a dial-up telephone outside of an antique store. They have no time to be bored and that’s not a good thing!” Madonna says. “They can also be contacted 24/7 and that has led to a surge in bullying.”

One of the biggest challenges of raising a tween is figuring out how to give them an inch without them taking a mile. Jasmine says that, in her experience, one of the most important things for a parent to remember is to be sensible about how much they limit their tween.

“Don’t go the extreme and ban everything like Facebook and the Internet, because they’ll only go underground,” she says. “Set appropriate limits and make sure that they understand why this restriction is being implemented at this time so that they know that you aren’t being unreasonable.”

It all comes down to communication, communication, communication – even beyond setting limits. Jasmine says discussions should take place regularly and go both ways – talk about their interests and get to know what they like.

“It’s important to have an understanding of what is happening in their lives and how they’re feeling,” she says. “Know their world, at any age!”

While speaking to teens, counsellors, teachers and parents for her book, ‘Being 14’, Madonna found that tweens and teens, in particular, get a lot of benefit from simply talking to their parents.

“One counsellor told me the place that worked for her daughter was in the car after she’d picked her up for an extracurricular activity,” she says. “Now she makes sure she does pick her up as much as she can and she always stays in the car, in the garage, until her daughter gets out of the car first. She knows if her daughter wants to talk, that’s where she will open up.”

With our increasingly busy lives, it can be hard to remember to find the time for a simple chat, but Madonna found that it’s affecting our kids more than we know.

“The girls I spoke to said that one reason they often don’t talk to their parents is because their parents are just too busy, and they are not sure when or how to bring something up.”

It’s simply about being more engaged, says Madonna, rather than involved. We can spend hours fundraising, volunteering at tuckshop and helping at sport, but sometimes our tweens just prefer a cup of tea and the opportunity to chat, free from judgment.

If you’re a parent who hasn’t yet entered tween territory, there’s advice for you, too. Jasmine says that the foundations for a good relationship with your tween are laid in childhood, so invest in them from day dot.

“The thing about tweens is that we see a generation that is maturing faster than what they probably should be, and it can be a shock when your kids get into the tween years and start to not listen to you,” Jasmine says. “Just remember that the relationship will change, naturally, but you need the foundation in the first place to keep that line of communication open.”

While they might still feel like your little baby, your child is growing up – fast – and that can be a scary thought. It’s easy to get caught up in the trials and tribulations of their tween years and lose sight of the fact that we’re raising future adults.

“Parents are jumping in to ‘save’ their children from disappointment too quickly,” says Madonna. “When parents call a principal over an exam or confiscate their tween’s phone to protect them from online hate, they’re harming their child’s ability to make independent decisions and to develop resilience. Let them fall – but be there to pick them up.”

It’s all about balance; finding the harmony between letting them grow up and still taking care of the things they can’t quite do yet – like, being responsible for making sure they get enough sleep each night.

“A tween girl needs nine hours of sleep, minimum, each night,” says Madonna. “If she’s not getting that it is affecting her mood, her academic work and her concentration.”

The consequence of a bad sleep? Through her research, Madonna found that a 14-year-old with 30 minutes of missed sleep records a measurable IQ difference of up to 10 points. So, between social media, school, sport and even sleep, there’s a lot that tweens – and you, as their parent – have to keep up with. It can feel overwhelming at the best of times, but remember that it’s all about communication and a little bit of TLC. After interviewing more than 200 girls for her book, Madonna says that, in a nutshell, all our tween and teen kids want is for us to “stop, stay calm, and really hear what they are trying to tell us”.

Mental note taken.

For more on sleep, make sure you check out the following Harper Bee blog posts:

Surviving tween sleep struggles

Why do tweens struggle to sleep?

Queen Bee’s Corner // Bullying is keeping me awake

And, be sure to keep an eye out for our next family-themed blog post next Friday!