How to Parent a Tween

By Jane Highley

Just kidding! I’m NOT the person who should be writing anything with this title. In fact, I should be the one consuming all the books, blogs, and any other resource available with the words “how” and “tween” in the title. In the short time span as a mom of a 10-year-old tween, what I know is based on the mistakes I’ve made. So therefore, I am going to share how NOT to parent a tween. If your child is approaching the ages of 9-12, perhaps the following guidelines will spare you some of the tumultuous, emotional fallout (mostly mine) for not having known better. With profound ignorance and severe lack of experience, I advise you to NOT do the following.

1. Don’t purge away all their toys, even if they insist they they aren’t playing with them. The reality is – they still do. This short transitional stage of being a tween is not too different from a kind of social, emotional, and mental purgatory in that tweens have one foot still in childhood and one foot just barely approaching (not even touching) adolescence. As much as they talk about being more grown up and doing grown-up things (like using hair products), their behaviors don’t always match up. I actually believed her when my tween said that she didn’t want to play with dolls anymore. So as any good clutter-destroying parent would do, I gave them away. That was NOT what she had meant.  She simply meant that they didn’t need to be out with the other toys in the plastic jungle that is our family room. She may be too young for boys, but definitely not too old for toys.

2. Don’t assume that your hugs and kisses are gross to them, and therefore, you should kick such habits. Let me back up here. The first rule of life as an adult––parent or not––should be “don’t assume.” My tween is not as welcoming with my fierce hugs of adoration as she used to be, or as eager for them as her younger siblings.   My tween may not be asking for a tickling wrestling match after school, or cuddling with me every night to read aloud a Judy Blume book. Despite her “coolness”, I am learning that my tween craves as much attention as a toddler. Just as a toddler thinks he’s independent in his newly minted walker, a tween assumes that she’s all grown up now that she’s hit double digits. Yet my tween still wants and seeks those hugs and kisses, just not all the time.

3. Don’t take it (too) personally when they shut you out all of a sudden. After school, my tween is bouncing off the walls for my attention, and after dinner that same night, she closes herself off and growls at anyone who comes near. After many futile and clumsy attempts to investigate, I stopped demanding to know what’s wrong. Sometimes, nothing is. I have to tell myself that––on most occasions–– it’s her, not me. Prematurely prying out her thoughts or feelings can be harmful. She needs space and time, and the unconditional assurance that she can come to me (or TJ) for anything and everything. And I need the patience to wait with the kind of long-suffering love that Jesus shows me all the time, everyday. I bet during those quiet, alone times, my tween is also trying to make sense of what is changing in her life with the sticky situations at home and at school.

For you veteran parents with more experience navigating this profoundly awkward stage, please share with us novices your survivor tricks, tips, and hacks. But most vital of all, remind us again that, even in the trenches of the tween years, God is with us and He is good.