The Wonder of the Tween Years
On April 29, my firstborn turns ten. Aged 8-12, tweens face significant psychosocial and physical changes. The space between childhood and adolescence is exhilarating, exhausting and best navigated as a team. Tweens demand independence, but parent and child need each other.
Dana and Carter Andersen, parents to Abby (28), Madeline (26), Carter (22), Bennett (20) and Wilson (14), are five-time tween-years survivors. Take in Dana’s insights so you can open heartedly let go of your babies.
TBPM: Finish the statement: the thing about parenting a tween is…
DA: Prioritizing and communicating your family values. Then, walk the talk and spend time together.
TBPM: Should parents be involved with tweens’ friend groups?
DA: It’s challenging because they care more about what friends think—part of development. Still, tweens can’t handle total freedom about with whom they spend time. We didn’t value popularity—hard when they were excluded because we weren’t comfortable with a situation. We value meaningful friendships and getting to know friends’ parents. It’s a selfless life and limits our personal time. Based on extracurriculars, we encourage numerous friend circles. Belonging to various groups is part of life.
Phones support increased independence because tweens who’ve earned parents’ trust can communicate at designated times. We try graduated levels of independence.
TBPM: What helped navigate increased independence?
DA: Conceptualizing parenting as a letting go process. We’re continually letting go of life’s most important piece—our children.
Nurture trust by allowing calculated risks, which builds confidence. Failure happens. Prompt intervention is key and is possible because tweens are gradually released into decreased supervision.
TBPM: What about disciplining tweens?
DA: Address situations immediately and lovingly. Make disrespect intolerable. Hold tweens accountable so they hold themselves accountable. Solid foundations limit high school issues.
When disciplinary concerns occur, reassess commitments. Sometimes, insufficient sleep is involved. Sometimes, seek professional help. Society’s focus on perfectionism results in hiding or disregarding the need for licensed mental health professionals.
Let tweens know you’re a team. No shortcoming is earth shattering. Then, when there is trouble, they’ll seek you. Nonthreatening conversations support honesty and remorse—key in all healthy relationships.
TBPM: What about tweens and bullying?
DA: It’s one of the most challenging things I dealt with. It broke my heart. Helping tweens manage unkindness is part of parenting; they must also learn self-advocacy.
We placed a premium on sibling relationships. Learning accountability and apology at home may decrease bullying. Parents owe teaching about unkind words’ negative impact to kids’ future friends and family.
Recognize when intervention is necessary. Start at the school level; teachers and counselors have professional experience. Parents aren’t supposed to know everything.
TBPM: Do you have a stance on monitoring cell phone activity?
DA: It’s our phone; we can check it. Phone use reflects our values and we don’t prioritize social media. Role modeling, I don’t use filters. Social media apps are damaging to tweens’ mental health but cutting them off from it is a type of social isolation because it’s their communication. So, we talk—about nudity, perfectionism and comparison.
Sports kept our kids off their phones and opened opportunities for connections grounded in shared interests, not looks.
TBPM: Suggestions for conversations about gender roles?
DA: Focus on intrinsic qualities. Compliment tweens’ choices and courage. Physical changes are hard, and they’ll put weight on what others say about appearance.
TBPM: Thoughts on teaching work/life balance?
DA: Set boundaries. Say no. Some things, like church and academics, are nonnegotiable. Let tweens choose things like mass time. Unstructured time is important for restoration.
TBPM: What are some favorite tween years memories?
DA: Cuddling. Talking. Knowing they need us. Time with tweens is a privilege—an opportunity to show we care. Tween years are gifts—setting the precedence for high school and college. I don’t regret a minute spent with my kids.
TBPM: If you could go back to your oldest child’s tween years, knowing what you know now, what would you say to yourself?
DA: Good job. Listen more. Worry less. Ask for help. Don’t take it personally when they pull away. Choose your battles. Enjoy, and keep connecting with your kids.
*Originally published in the April 2022 issue of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.