Cracking The Tween Code
If you have a little miss or mister aged between 8 and 12 who you just can’t seem to figure out, listen up – you’ve got yourself a ‘tween’. Buckle in for four(ish) years of giving, taking and wondering whether they’ll act like they’re three or 33 on any given day. With the help of a psychologist, an author and a mum who’s seen it all before (twice), haven if lifting the lid on all things tween.
Caught between being a child and being a teen, the tween years are notoriously tricky to navigate. Throw in social media, busy parents and equally confused tween-age friends, and you might be able to picture a day in the life of your tween.And if you canât, donât fret. Thatâs what Madonna King, journalist and author of Being 14, psychologist Jasmine Pang, and director of
And if you canât, donât fret. Thatâs what Madonna King, journalist and author of Being 14, psychologist Jasmine Pang, and director of eeni meeni miini moh and E3M and mum-of-two boys, Elizabeth OâConnor-Cowley, are here for.
Based at Mt Gravatt, Benchmark Psychologyâs Jasmine Pang says it can be tough to even define when a child becomes a tween, and then moves from a tween to a teen.
âThe age range can vary for girls and boys,â she says. âGirls seem to mature a bit faster, while boys tend to enter âtweenhoodâ around 11 or 12.â
According to Jasmine, while some girls are becoming more interested in fashion, music, boys and the world around them, boys will still be happy to play outside and get dirty. But what makes a tween a tween can also vary based on the childâs involvement with social media. She says adolescents are maturing faster now than they have in the past as they have a lot more exposure to the world through the Internet.
âWe are finding more children who are wise beyond their age, like 8 and 9-year-olds talking about makeup, which can be a scary thing for parents,â Jasmine says.
Brisbane journalist and author Madonna King agrees that the life of the modern tween is one of total connectivity â 24/7 contact with friends, Wi-Fi on demand, music in their pocket and instant gratification.
âA tween now would never have seen a dial-up telephone outside of an antique store. They have no time to be bored and that’s not a good thing!â Madonna says. âThey can also be contacted 24/7 and that has led to a surge in bullying.â
Designer/director of Bowen Hills-based tween fashion label e3M and a mum of two boys, Elizabeth OâConnor-Cowley might be technically out of the parenting tween-age years (her youngest son become an official teenager just last month), however Libby, too, says screens and tweens are an unfortunate mix.
âScreen time causes the most arguments in our household by far,â she says. âWhilst our boys arenât regularly posting, they certainly are engaged in social media and are quite âsocial beings’. According to them, we are âhelicopter parentsâ because we restrict their screen time and monitor their social media.â
For most parents, this is familiar territory. One of the biggest challenges of raising a tween is figuring out how to give them an inch without them taking a mile. Jasmine says that, in her experience, one of the most important things for a parent to remember is to be sensible about how much they limit their tween.
âDonât go the extreme and ban everything like Facebook and the Internet, because theyâll only go underground,â she says. âSet appropriate limits and make sure that they understand why this restriction is being implemented at this time so that they know that you arenât being unreasonable.â
Elizabeth figured this out the hard way but says things are improving in the âTeam Cowleyâ household after she and her husband sat down with the boys and determined new parameters together.
It all comes down to communication, communication, communication â even beyond setting limits. Jasmine says discussions should take place regularly and go both ways – talk about their interests and get to know what they like.
“Itâs important to have an understanding of what is happening in their lives and how theyâre feeling,â she says. âKnow their world, at any age!â
While speaking to teens, counsellors, teachers and parents for her book, Being 14, Madonna found that tweens and teens, in particular, get a lot of benefit from simply talking to their parents.
âOne counsellor told me the place that worked for her daughter was in the car after she’d picked her up for an extracurricular activity,â she says.
âNow she makes sure she does pick her up as much as she can and she always stays in the car, in the garage, until her daughter gets out of the car first. She knows if her daughter wants to talk, that’s where she will open up.â
With our increasingly busy lives, it can be hard to remember to and the time for a simple chat, but Madonna found that itâs affecting our kids more than we know.
âThe girls I spoke to said that one reason they often don’t talk to their parents is because their parents are just too busy, and they are not sure when or how to bring something up.â
Itâs simply about being more engaged, says Madonna, rather than involved. We can spend hours fundraising, volunteering at tuckshop and helping at sport, but sometimes our tweens just prefer a cup of tea and the opportunity to chat, free from judgment.
If youâre a parent who hasnât yet entered tween territory, thereâs advice for you too. Jasmine says that the foundations for a good relationship with your tween are laid in childhood, so invest in them from day dot.
âThe thing about tweens is that we see a generation that is maturing faster than what they probably should be, and it can be a shock when your kids get into the tween years and start to not listen to you,â Jasmine says. âJust remember that the relationship will change, naturally, but you need the foundation in the first place to keep that line of communication open.â
While they might still feel like your little baby, your child is growing up â fast â and that can be a scary thought. Itâs easy to get caught up in the trials and tribulations of their tween years and lose sight of the fact that weâre raising future adults.
âParents are jumping in to âsaveâ their children from disappointment too quickly,â says Madonna. âWhen parents call a principal over an exam or confiscate their tweenâs phone to protect them from online hate, theyâre harming their childâs ability to make independent decisions and to develop resilience. Let them fall – but be there to pick them up.â
Itâs all about balance; finding the harmony between letting them grow up and still taking care of the things they canât quite do yet â like decide how much sleep is enough.
âSleep deprivation is our second biggest challenge,â says Elizabeth. âAccording to experts, children aged between 11 and 19 are supposed to have 9.25 hours sleep each night and, like many Australian tweens and teens, our 16-year-old son often averages just six.â
This is hardly a surprise, considering everything that kids have on these days. If they are actively involved in sport and hold a part-time job while staying committed to a decent amount of homework/study, it makes for a long day â and thatâs not even including screen time.
âA TEEN GIRL NEEDS NINE HOURS SLEEP, MINIMUM, EACH NIGHT,â SAYS MADONNA. âIF SHE’S NOT GETTING THAT IT IS AFFECTING HER MOOD, HER ACADEMIC WORK AND HER CONCENTRATION.â
The consequence of a bad sleep? Through her research, Madonna found that a 14-year-old with 30 minutes of missed sleep records a measurable IQ difference of up to 10 points. So, between social media, school, sport and even sleep, thereâs a lot that tweens â and you, as their parent â have to keep up with. It can feel overwhelming at the best of times, but remember that itâs all about communication and a little bit of TLC. After interviewing more than 200 girls for her book, Madonna says that, in a nutshell, all our tween and teen kids want is for us to âstop, stay calm, and really hear what they are trying to tell usâ. Mental note taken.