I have four children, two boys and two girls. Three have made it out of their tween years, two into teendom and one all the way into adulthood.
I view the tween years as key in developing a person’s moral compass and ethical decision making-skills. The vast majority of kids are tweens when they begin middle school. And they are faced very quickly with effectively managing their emotions and working through a plethora of decisions about peer relationships, substances, cheating, and more.
Hopefully tweens will freely share the decisions they wrestle with and the interactions they experience with their parents. But sometimes tweens are selective in what and how much they share with parents. Or they don’t share at all. How can parents meet the challenges that arise and support their tweens during these important middle years?
Be the proactive parent.
Parenting-tweens-groundwork needs to happen years earlier, long before the child becomes a tween. Create a family environment of openness and model trust, honesty, and respect. A large part of openness is good communication, which includes listening as well as talking. Ask your child what they feel and think, and why. This type of engagement helps the child feel valued and encourages further communication.
Build a library of knowledge and a create a parenting “toolbox.” You can add to it as you come across ideas that might help you with your tween. I discovered that one of the best ways to gain knowledge and add to my parenting toolbox was to develop a supportive network of parents with older kids. They knew the “ropes” – what worked, and what did not.
Become the plugged-in and educated parent.
My oldest was Mr. Inquisitive. My son taught me early about the importance of being proactive and staying on my toes. As my son’s world expanded during his tween years, his penchant for knowledge increased multi-fold. Nothing was off limits for discussion. Most of the comments, perspectives, and questions were about drugs, alcohol, differences (we’re a multi-racial family), and, of course, the titillating and delicious topic of sex.
I had two options: not to talk about the sometimes-uncomfortable subjects, or to open up, possibly researching more on topics where I had little knowledge or sharing true stories, to underscore the importance of the values and actions I wanted my son to uphold. I opted for the later, which helped me be even more open and prepared in advance of my younger children attaining tweenhood.
Build on your values and expectations.
I’m referring to the values and expectations you began instilling in your child from a very young age. The core values of responsibility, respect, honesty and trust, fairness, compassion, and grace. The expectations of how we treat another person and how we expect to be treated by others. Understanding what is right and what is wrong and why.
Tweens often need help understanding the nuances, the shades of gray between the black and white (wrong and right). My kids have questioned me when I’ve touted doing something one way (the right way, i.e. being the calm, courteous driver), only not to do it (the wrong way, i.e. yelling not nice things at the driver who almost hit me).
Remember, especially when your tween pushes you away, that you influence your child more than anyone else. This pushing away is known as individuation, a process through which your child separates from you. Your tween has been going through this process since he was an infant. Now is when it begins to ramp up. Your child still loves you; they just have lifework to do.
Judy M. Miller works with pre- and adoptive parents. She is the author of the internationally known parent guide, What To Expect from Your Adopted Tween.
Parenting Your Adopted Child: Tweens, Teens & Beyond.
Child Welfare Information Gateway
Books For Adoptive Parents
“The Connected Child,” by Karyn Purvis
“Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control,” by Heather Forbes