What happened to middle childhood? You thought you would have a few more years before your child became a teenager. But suddenly your nine or ten year old is dressing like Miley Cyrus or wants Justin Bieber’s hair cut and is giving you “attitude” about everything. You hear your child talking about things you probably didn’t even learn about until you were much older. You have a TWEEN.
A TWEEN is a child between the ages of nine and thirteen. They are half child and half teenager. Very inbeTWEEN the age groups developmentally. It used to be a time when kids were just still kids and the real teen years didn’t start until age thirteen or even fourteen. But today our society is putting a lot of pressure on this age group to grow up quickly. Just look at the advertisements, the TV shows and movies, and the music aimed at this age group. Then add the internet, social media, You Tube, sexting, and cyberbullying. This list increases daily of how your child’s world can be invaded and their “childhood” prematurely ended. Your child is experiencing pressures that previous generations did not have.
But the truth is your child is really not ready for all of this. So it’s important for you to understand what is happening to your child now and how you can help him or her to cope with all of these pressures.
What is happening to your tween?
PHYSICAL CHANGES: Normal puberty can begin any time after age nine. Most tweens will have some pubertal changes in the years between 9-12, but this will vary depending on your family history.
But there may be hormonal changes before the physical changes. This accounts for some of the mood swings and even some of the “attitude” you may suddenly be experiencing.
PSYCHOLOGICAL CHANGES: Tweens are still very concrete thinkers, and not very analytical. They see the world in black and white. It is difficult for them to change their opinions. They will often read something and believe it and they will tend to believe peers over adults.
EMOTIONAL CHANGES: Tweens are beginning the stage of separation and individuation and are frustrated by their dependence on you. If this sounds familiar, remember the terrible two’s. This is a return of the negativity that you experienced many years ago as your toddler tried to do everything by him or herself.
What pressures are affecting your tween?
PUBERTY: Tweens experience a great deal of anxiety about the physical and emotional changes they are experiencing. and they are confused about sex and sexual issues. They may be concerned about developing too early or too late.
PEERS: Within their peer group they may be having trouble with friends who may shift alliances, cliques that threaten exclusion, teasing and meanness, and at the same time they may be having their first “crush”.
SCHOOL AND EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITES: Some kids are feeling pressure about college or careers at a much younger age. At the same time schoolwork is suddenly more demanding. Add to this pressure from extracurricular activities, and intense sports or artistic training, after school jobs or volunteer work.
FAMILY: family responsibilities, relationships with siblings, struggles over privacy and the inner struggle with their own feelings of dependence and independence.
MEDIA: Now add a media and advertising world that is aimed at their insecurities, and packaged for their “concrete ” thinking. Make no mistake about it. Your children are the target of a sophisticated industry that understands your TWEEN psychologically and emotionally better than most parents and teachers. And the media now invades in subtle and not so subtle ways using social media and technology that reaches right into your child’s cell phone.
What can you help your TWEEN survive these pressures?
First try to understand the physical, emotional, and psychological place your child is in at the moment. Since puberty happens at different ages for different kids, early or late puberty can be a source of concern. Your pediatrician should speak to your child and answer any questions they have about what is happening to his or her body.
Be sensitive to your child’s stress level. Try to tease out what are the greatest sources of stress for your child at this time and see if you can relieve some of this pressure or at least let them know you understand.
Don’t have unrealistic expectations. Expect your child to be civil, but not always pleasant. Don’t expect them to be present for “every” family event.
Allow for mood swings Don’t overreact- the storm will blow over quickly and then your child will not understand why you are still upset about something that happened thirty minutes ago.
Expect the “Push- Pull” :Push you away then need a hug. There will be dependency swings- “I can live on my own” to “You never do anything for me”
What’s the best way to talk to your TWEEN?
Have a family meeting to discuss your expectations about behavior For example they can say that they are angry but they cannot smash a wall.
Talking back with disrespect. Describe how that makes you feel when they do that. Make sure that they know respect is a two ways street Describe consequences for truly mean or disrespectful comments.
When you talk with your child use open -ended questions. Use car time (they can’t escape). Remember they are anxious about: growing up and the physical changes, peer relationships, expectations that everyone has for them (parents teachers, peers) sexual activity and even their own sexuality. If your tween will not talk to you about these issues, make sure your pediatrician or family physician will bring up these issued at the next check up.