Managing tricky transitions: Tweens to teens

What’s a tween, you may ask? Tweens are kids between the ages of around 10 and 12 – too old to be children, too young to be teenagers. For parents, this can look like kids who are all of a sudden too old for bedtime stories and cuddling up on your lap; kids who now prefer the company of their friends to their ‘boring’ and ‘old’ parents. And, let’s be honest, all this can feel a bit like rejection, which is one of the reasons the tween to teen transition is tricky.

One thing remains the same – they still need us!

Tweens to teens is a key developmental stage as our young people make their way from being dependent little kids to slightly bigger kids with increased autonomy. Our kids go through big changes (physically, mentally and emotionally) as they navigate and pursue increased independence, but one thing remains the same – they still need us! And not just for money and transportation. As parents, we’re our kids’ safe place to land – no matter what.

Connection is key

The tween stage is a time for important groundwork that will pay off later. Ideally we want our teens to navigate well on their own – making wise choices and handling life with resilience. That’s why our support and guidance at the tween stage is so formative.

At Parenting Place we talk about the V of Love – the V shape illustrates the widening of boundaries as our kids develop more capacity for trust and freedom as they grow older. And the ideal place for this progression to happen is within connected relationship.

The tricky thing about the tween stage is that sweet little kids get a bit, well tweeny, and the connection starts to feel different. Hopefully you’ll be encouraged to read that this is all normal. Sometimes the door gets slammed in our face, metaphorically or otherwise. We need to find another door and not take rejection personally. This is actually your child’s newfound independence speaking – you’re not rejected, you’re empowering your child’s development!

It’s helpful to look for new ways to connect with our tweens. At the same time, however, we suggest parents take the pressure off – look for natural opportunities for connection, instead of demanding your tween joins you in the moments you’ve designed. Driving to practice, shopping, cooking dinner – these seemingly mundane activities can be powerful moments of connection.

‘Talk less, listen more’ is a great goal when parenting tweens and teens, especially when our aim is listening to understand, rather than to respond. Remember things your tween tells you and weave them back into a conversation later. Ask questions, but not in an interrogation sense – in a ‘Tell me more about that’ sense.

Meet your tween where they’re at – and that place may be technology. Be interested in what they’re doing, and ask them for help. ‘Show me how’ is a really powerful connection tool. Our young people love to be the experts once and a while.

And have fun – play games, instigate a spontaneous dance party, watch funny movies. Laughter is very unifying.

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Check the tech

Technology is a significant tool in a tween’s quest for autonomy. However, it needs guidance so parental involvement is key. Our tweens are great at telling us how many apps their friends are allowed and how much freedom other kids apparently have online, but don’t be afraid to maintain control over the technology use and availability in your family.

While we guide our tweens, we’re also building trust. We’re giving them a lens to see for themselves what is okay and what’s not. We really don’t want our young people to go underground with their tech use, hence the need to stay involved and keep the conversation open and light. Phrases like ‘This is our expectation’ or ‘These are our guidelines’ are firm, but not confrontational. And make use of our old favourite: “In our family we…” This simple statement does profound work forming safe boundaries around our kids, which in turn makes them feel more confident. And as tweens get older, those boundaries can get a bit wider, in keeping with their growing maturity and confidence.

And enjoy the ride!

I still remember the night I put our youngest to bed when she was nearly five, and as I bent over to  kiss her sweet soft cheek, I caught sight of her new school stationary – carefully packed in a box and  tucked safely under her bed. I then had to rush from the room fighting back tears. Having no more preschoolers was a significant moment for me, and it was a tricky transition to navigate. But then she started school and we formed new routines and it was a lot of fun! I’ve found each stage of parenting brings its own challenges, joys and rewards. Walt Disney said growing old was mandatory but growing up was optional. He may have had a point, but he may have just wanted to maximise ticket sales at the box office. I tend to think that growing up is exciting – for our kids, and for us as parents. We’re upskilling! And that’s a privilege.


Looking for more personalised strategies and solutions for your family? 

Our Family Coaches bring their extensive training and experience to help uncover new insights, ideas and practical solutions to parenting and relationship challenges. Through one-on-one support (in person, via Skype or email), you’ll be provided with take-home strategies to bring about the positive changes you desire for your whānau.

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About Author

Ellie Gwilliam

Ellie Gwilliam is a passionate communicator, especially on topics relating to families. After 20 years in Auckland working mainly in publishing, Ellie now lives in Northland, with her husband and their three daughters, where she works from home as content editor for Parenting Place. Ellie writes with hope and humour, inspired by the goal of encouraging parents everywhere in the vital work they are doing raising our precious tamariki.

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