93.5% of parents I surveyed while writing TWEENS answered a big “YES” to being concerned about the upcoming teenage years. That’s a number you can’t ignore! One dad I interviewed joking said, ‘If this is any sign of what is to come, I’m moving out.’ Many parent’s expressed sentiments like, “If this is what 11 is like, what on earth am I in for at 14?”
In this blog I’d like to share ten insights that I have found particularly interesting when thinking about what tweens need now, before the teenage years. I hope each of these points encourage you to see the years between 9 and 12 as a transformative time, that can switch kids on to their potential and set them on the best possible path before adolescence.
1. Understand Development. The development taking place during the tween years is far bigger than most anticipate. Not only do tweens experience the obvious physical and biological changes associated with puberty, but a whole range of unique cognitive, social, sexual and emotional changes in the same life-altering way. These changes actually begin “under the bonnet” about 8 years old – long before they grow their first pubic hair. Although we don’t physically see these changes, they have a big impact on our kid’s feelings and behaviour.
2. Invest Time Intentionally. Most tweens are keen to embrace every ounce of time and energy parents have to offer. While tiring, I encourage you to prioritise special time with them, as their desire for it is unlikely to last forever. Be their sports coach, take them on special dates, teach them new skills and play with them! As your tween grows, these memories will become increasingly important. Beautifully, childhood memories tend to anchor them and lead them back to the people who love them.
3. Support Mental Health. Some of our kids will recall a slow slide into adolescence, and some will feel like childhood disappeared over night. Those who are most likely to struggle with their mental health are those who feel out of sync with peers. Research tells us that the timing and tempo of puberty are strongly linked to wellbeing. That’s why I want to highlight the importance of accessing additional support if your tween feels overwhelmed.
4. Big Issues, Little People. The world has changed since we were children. We are now talking about big issues like vaping, eating disorders, sexual activity, self-harm, gaming addictions and bullying being commonplace in primary school. That’s alarming. One idea I want to firmly reject is that tweens are the new teenagers. THEY ARE NOT. The big difference is that they still have childlike cognition, are open to absorbing your values and rely on you to lead them.
5. Don’t Minimise Challenges. Many of the comments left by tweens in my survey indicated that “life was harder for them than their parents’ realised”. Huge internal work is being undertaken to master the skills they need for life. It’s during these years that our kids develop more complex reasoning, problem-solving and deduction skills than they had as a child. Parents, please remember that what is easy in our world is hard in theirs.
6. Expect Meltdowns. Big, spill-over emotions, comparisons and sensitivity is typical of this age. One big reason is that they are developing the ability to perspective take (understanding the minds of others). Validating how big their feelings are while helping them find healthy ways to express them is essential. Interestingly, some parents have told me that it’s gotten easier as their kids have entered the teenage years, because they have developed a better understanding of their feelings.
7. Be the Source. Tween’s are curious humans. Their brains’ primary goal is to expand widely. Sadly, the online world gives them amply opportunity to channel their curiosity to unsafe people and places. I need you to be the source, knowing if you don’t, someone else will. Now is the time to open discussions about the big topics. I’d also like to challenge you with this thought – if they aren’t old enough to have a discussion about pornography, sexuality, unsafe people, bullying (or the like) then perhaps they aren’t old enough to spend time online unsupervised.
8. Keep Building Skills. In my survey tweens voiced a strong desire to be taken more seriously by the world around them, and not to be overlooked or dismissed because of their age. I noticed that they felt like they had significant ideas to share, while only being recognised as children. That’s quite a downgrade! Now is a great time to give them some more grown up responsibilities, ask their opinion about family matters and offer them choice in the interests they pursue.
9. Expect to Need to Change. Backchatting more than normal, idolising those older than they are, trading once loved hobbies for newfound interests and a greater appetite for risk tasking are all things you experience when parenting a tween. Once you start to notice these signs, things are on the move. Your tween will be more likely to grow into their own person safely and constructively when you back their journey.
10. Breathe – You’ve Got Time. The tween years are a low-stakes training ground to teach kids the key skills they’ll need in the future. The good news is that for a while longer they will only look towards adolescence in anticipation. You’ve got time to figure this out.
If you’d like to find out more about Michelle’s new book TWEENS: What kids need now, before the teenage years + her launch webinar, click here. You can also find it in all bookstores, and in audio book format.