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Cracking The Tween Code

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 can’t, don’t fret. That’s what Madonna King, journalist and author of Being 14, psychologist Jasmine Pang, and director of

And if you can’t, don’t fret. That’s 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 O’Connor-Cowley, are here for.

Based at Mt Gravatt, Benchmark Psychology’s 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.

“The age range can vary for girls and boys,” she says. “Girls seem to mature a bit faster, while boys tend to enter ‘tweenhood’ around 11 or 12.”

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 child’s 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.

“We 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,” Jasmine says.

Brisbane journalist and author Madonna King agrees that the life of the modern tween is one of total connectivity – 24/7 contact with friends, Wi-Fi on demand, music in their pocket and instant gratification.

“A 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!” Madonna says. “They can also be contacted 24/7 and that has led to a surge in bullying.”

Designer/director of Bowen Hills-based tween fashion label e3M and a mum of two boys, Elizabeth O’Connor-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.

“Screen time causes the most arguments in our household by far,” she says. “Whilst our boys aren’t regularly posting, they certainly are engaged in social media and are quite ‘social beings’. According to them, we are ‘helicopter parents’ because we restrict their screen time and monitor their social media.”

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.

“Don’t go the extreme and ban everything like Facebook and the Internet, because they’ll only go underground,” she says. “Set appropriate limits and make sure that they understand why this restriction is being implemented at this time so that they know that you aren’t being unreasonable.”

Elizabeth figured this out the hard way but says things are improving in the “Team Cowley” household after she and her husband sat down with the boys and determined new parameters together.

It all comes down to communication, communication, communication – 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.

“It’s important to have an understanding of what is happening in their lives and how they’re feeling,” she says. “Know their world, at any age!”

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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.

“One counsellor told me the place that worked for her daughter was in the car after she’d picked her up for an extracurricular activity,” she says.

“Now 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.”

With our increasingly busy lives, it can be hard to remember to and the time for a simple chat, but Madonna found that it’s affecting our kids more than we know.

“The 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.”

It’s 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 you’re a parent who hasn’t yet entered tween territory, there’s 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.

“The 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,” Jasmine says. “Just remember that the relationship will change, naturally, but you need the foundation in the first place to keep that line of communication open.”

While they might still feel like your little baby, your child is growing up – fast – and that can be a scary thought. It’s easy to get caught up in the trials and tribulations of their tween years and lose sight of the fact that we’re raising future adults.

“Parents are jumping in to ‘save’ their children from disappointment too quickly,” says Madonna. “When parents call a principal over an exam or confiscate their tween’s phone to protect them from online hate, they’re harming their child’s ability to make independent decisions and to develop resilience. Let them fall – but be there to pick them up.”

It’s all about balance; finding the harmony between letting them grow up and still taking care of the things they can’t quite do yet – like decide how much sleep is enough.

“Sleep deprivation is our second biggest challenge,” says Elizabeth. “According 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.”

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 – and that’s not even including screen time.

“A TEEN GIRL NEEDS NINE HOURS SLEEP, MINIMUM, EACH NIGHT,” SAYS MADONNA. “IF SHE’S NOT GETTING THAT IT IS AFFECTING HER MOOD, HER ACADEMIC WORK AND HER CONCENTRATION.”

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, there’s a lot that tweens – and you, as their parent – have to keep up with. It can feel overwhelming at the best of times, but remember that it’s 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 “stop, stay calm, and really hear what they are trying to tell us”. Mental note taken.

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