If you asked your tween-age child what they want to you know about life as a tween, what would they say? Actually, they might already be telling you without you even asking. You have to “listen” closely to hear the message behind their words and emotional outbursts to hear the true message. When you do, you’ll hear at least two things that they really want you to know.
One message you may hear your tween telling you is: “Life as a tween is harder than you think.” You likely hear this message in phrases like, “You don’t understand…things are different than when you were a kid” or “You’re too old.” It is true. Life for a tween is filled with stress. They have to learn to navigate peer relationships and peer pressures. Their bodies are changing. They have to learn to manage their hormone infused, shape changing bodies as well as their changing emotions and attractions. They also face academic pressure, family pressures, and threats to their self-concept. Their world grows exponentially, causing them to question and reassess values they merely accepted as younger children.
As a parent, you can help your tween feel more understood by listening deeply. Invest in regular one-on-one times with your tween. Ask about their world, their friends, their concerns…and listen intently.
You can also help your tween manage the stress of the tween years by encouraging regular physical activity in their lives. Tweens who get an hour or more of exercise a day exhibit less physical reactivity when faced with a stressful task. Specifically, they produce less cortisol (stress hormone) in response to stressful situations. They manage stress more effectively.
A second message your Tween may tell you is: “I’m not a kid anymore.” You may have heard this statement directly or in comments like “Why do I still have to go to bed so early?” or “You don’t care what I think.” Our tween-age children want us to take them seriously, to recognize their growing knowledge and insights, to give genuine consideration to their input and ideas. They want to move from the “kids’ table” to find a seat with the adults.
In fact, our tweens can teach us a lot. They have a world of knowledge at their fingertips (their cell phones) and they’re not afraid to use it. They need the adults in their life to validate their growing knowledge and to provide some guidance in learning which sources of knowledge to trust and which to question. As a parent, we can validate their growing knowledge by listening and engaging them in conversation. We can allow them to teach us while we ask questions and further the discussion, guiding them and motivating them to discern the information they gather.
Parents can also involve their tweens in family decisions, like vacation planning or meal planning. They can involve their tween in discussions of current events. Our tweens also need us to provide them with opportunities to make meaningful contributions to the management of the household. They need us to trust them with significant household duties and personal responsibility.
These are two very important messages our tweens want their parents to hear…and parents really need to hear. Not only do we need to hear these messages, but we also need to implement them into our relationship with and our expectations of our tweens. Probably I should mention one more.
“I don’t like when you call us ‘tweens.’” Remember that one. No one likes to carry a label that leads to assumptions and preconceived ideas. Everyone is an individual with personal interests and ideas. So, call your child by their name or some endearing term and uplifting nickname. Explore their individuality and let them teach you about their personal interests and idiosyncrasies. It will be the beginning of a lifelong beautiful relationship.