When you become a parent, you become very familiar with all the different stages of childhood and development your kids will go through. The baby stage, toddler stage, preschool and school-age stage. Each of these stages comes with its own set of challenges and is pretty amazing in its own way. But as our kids get older, the stages get a little harder to define. Sure, we all know when the teenage years start (it's right there in the name, after all). But what about that weird in-between stage, toward the end of elementary school but before our kids are officially teenagers? Those are known as the tween years, although it can be tricky to understand when the tween stage officially starts! Let's break down what ages are considered tweens, and how to manage this oftentimes difficult stage.
What ages are tweens?
Technically, the word 'tween' is used to describe kids who are in between - hence the name! Tweens are not really children, but are also not yet teenagers. The ages this stage cover are between 9 and 12 years old. It seems crazy to think that 9 year olds fall into the tween category, because they can still seem so much like kids. And they are! But this is what makes the tween stage so hard to navigate. The ages may also vary a bit, depending on the child. Some parents begin to notice changes associated with the tween years as young as 8, while other kids may not fully enter this stage until they're closer to 10 or 11.
What is going on in your child's life during the tween years?
As parents, we sort of expect the teen years to be ... difficult. And by the time our kids reach the tween years, we're used to the various emotional and physical changes they're going through. But then the tween years hit and it's like, what is happening?! Our normally sweet, mild-mannered kids are suddenly sullen pre-teens, but without the independence and maturity that comes with age.
Your tween is going through a lot of changes, that's for sure. They're moving from elementary school, where they've been for several years, to junior high. For some kids, that means going to an entirely new school, leaving behind friends, and going way outside of their comfort zone! With that transition comes new challenges. For example, they'll likely have an increase in academic responsibilities and demands, like more homework or more difficult subject matter. The tween years is also when a lot of kids get more involved in extracurricular activities, which adds another layer of responsibility. Additionally, the tween years is when many kids are exposed to more negative influences or dangerous behaviors, like social media or drug and alcohol use. Peer pressure really starts to ramp up in the tween years, which can have a negative affect in kids.
What sort of changes is your tween going through?
The tween years are leading up to the Big P - puberty! You may notice your tween beginning to exhibit many of the physical changes associated with puberty, like developing breasts, growing body hair, or changes to their voice and skin. Many tween girls will get their period around the age of 12 (although it can be later, and even earlier, for some girls, puberty usually kicks in around 8 or 9). Boys typically enter puberty around the age of 11.
Aside from all the physical changes, tweens are going through quite a bit of mental and emotional development, too. They're trying on new identities, figuring out where they fit in and navigating a new social landscape. People go through a lot of transition before becoming who they are going to be, and a lot of that growth and change starts in the tween years.
How can you support your tween through this stage?
The tween years are a great training period for parenting a teen. A lot of how you talk to and relate to your kid is going to evolve in the tween years; they're not a child anymore, but not yet a teen or adult. However, you might find that they bristle against being treated like a "kid". It's totally OK to give them a bit more independence in these years, but remember - their mental and emotional maturity hasn't quite evolved enough to give them too much. Stay involved in their lives, know who their friends are, monitor their social media. Give them room to grow, but make sure they know you're always right there with them.