Around 9 to 12 years old, your child will enter their “tween” years. Also called pre-teenagers, tweens are at the age where they’re leaving childhood and entering adolescence.
With the onset of puberty during this stage, your child will experience a great number of changes and perhaps you as well as a parent.
You may already know your child has transitioned into tweenhood based on their physical and behavioral changes.
It may be bittersweet as a parent to see your young one officially exits childhood. However, your tween now needs you more than ever as they navigate through these changes before they transition into their teenage years.
Here’s what you need to know about this important stage of life to help you better support your tween as they make the transition.
A tween (pre-teen) is a child who’s between the stages of childhood and adolescence. It’s this “in-between” stage that the name “tween” is derived from. The term was first coined in the late 1980s.
Children enter their tween years somewhere around ages 9 to 12 years old. The exact range can vary, with some children exhibiting signs as early as 8 years of age. Some tweens may be in this stage until they’re 13 years old.
Regardless of the exact age, tweens all have one thing in common at this stage of life: they experience significant changes as they approach puberty.
Tweens not only experience physical changes, but they will also have noticeable mental and emotional changes during this transition, too.
Increased independence is a hallmark of the tween years. Your child will start trying out new things to help them figure out their identity.
While they might still enjoy family time, you may also notice a deliberate attempt on the part of your tween to establish unique interests of their own. Friend groups also take a newfound precedence during this time.
You might notice the following behavioral changes in your tween:
- increased risk-taking behaviors
- a more rebellious nature or perhaps an interest in “bending the rules”
- sudden disinterest in hobbies they once loved, where they trade them for newfound interests
- an attempt at trying multiple types of sports, arts, and other activities until they’ve found the right “fit”
- increased need for sleep, especially on weekends and during school breaks
- stress over the need to “fit in” with their peers
- increased fears of feeling “embarrassed” in front of others
- more emotional ups and downs due to hormone fluctuations in puberty
- increased attention over body weight and physical appearance
Your tween may also start spending more time on technology by watching videos, playing games, or perhaps engaging with their peers on social media.
As a result, you may notice your child has an increased awareness about sex and relationships, as well as drugs and alcohol.
Aside from emotional and mental changes, tweens also transform physically as they hit puberty. This can result in the following physical changes your tween may ask you about:
- increased body hair
- rapid growth spurt
- larger feet and hands
- more “baby teeth” falling out
- the development of acne
- development of breasts and the onset of menstruation in girls
- larger genitals in boys
Here are some suggestions regarding things you can do to help your tween with this transition:
Practice empathy and understanding
The key to parenting a tween is a combination of empathy and understanding while also setting healthy boundaries.
Help guide decision-making: evaluating pros and cons
While tweens exhibit a lot more independence at this age, the fact is, they still need parents to help guide them into making good decisions.
They’ll need advice on friend groups, personal style, hobbies, class selections, and more. Teach them how to evaluate pros and cons as an effective decision-making process.
Be a good role model
Your tween will also continue to look up to you as a role model, even if they’re trying to find separate interests.
Modeling good behaviors, such as getting regular exercise, eating healthy meals, and expressing your emotions in a healthy manner can all set an example for your tween to look up to.
Teach your tween about healthy lifestyle habits to help prevent the development of unhealthy behaviors like obsessing over their body weight.
Have conversations about sex, drugs, and alcohol
The increased need to fit in may make tweens more susceptible to peer pressure.
It’s important to have honest conversations about sex, drugs, and alcohol early on before your child is exposed to information from their peers. This can open the door for your tween to come to you with questions.
Never intentionally embarrass your tween in front of their peers
Also, if your tween expresses fears of embarrassment, listen to their worries without judgment. Tweens may take risks at this stage, but they’ll likely not want to risk embarrassment in front of their peers.
It’s important to never purposely shame your tween in front of their peers. Shaming will not teach any lessons, but it could instead make them lose trust in you as a confidant.
Monitor use of technology and social media
It’s important to monitor your tween’s use of technology at this stage while also teaching them internet safety. Talk to them about inappropriate content and what to do if they encounter or witness cyberbullying.
Your child’s pediatrician is the first resource you can turn to for questions specific to your tween’s development. Additionally, check out these resources that can help you and your tween navigate these years:
- HealthyChildren.org, which the American Academy of Pediatrics operates
- National Institute of Mental Health
- National Institute on Alcohol and Abuse and Alcoholism
- Nemours Foundation, which has separate websites dedicated to parents, children, and teens
The tween (pre-teen) years mark significant milestones in your child’s development.
However, while your young one is officially exiting childhood, they’re not yet a teenager and still need your help and guidance to help them make healthy decisions.
Communication and setting a good example are two key ways you can help guide your tween through these transformative years.
If you need help based on your child’s mental or physical well-being, contact their pediatrician for further advice.