The tween years aren’t easy. From hormones beginning to surge to friendship and (yikes!) relationship drama, it’s tough out there on our kids.
To make matters worse from the parents’ perspective, while we remember our tween years, it’s hard to remember exactly how we felt and what we needed from our own parents at the time. It was simply so, so long ago.
That’s exactly how I feel when trying to communicate with my own tween. We love each other so much, but it’s become harder and harder to not butt heads. I constantly feel like all I do is ask a simple question, and suddenly I’m hit with a sassy attitude and a door in my face.
It’s emotionally exhausting! But I know it’s emotionally exhausting on her, too.
I actually find the tween years to be really amazing. Tweens are some of the most easily excitable, fun, and adventurous people you can find. The self-discovery happening during the tween years is huge, and it’s endlessly fascinating to watch. However, the tough parts — like the moodiness, and the self-doubt, and the downright rude behavior — can test even the most patient parent.
There are so many things that make raising tweens tough. And right now, as we navigate new ways of schooling and our kids are still not socializing in the ways they are used to and that are healthy for them, it can be even tougher. As parents, we definitely need all of the support we can get when it comes to raising tweens.
We asked parents for their best advice for navigating these tumultuous years, and here are some of the gems:
It's not personal.
The thing about raising tweens is that everything feels super personal, which is hard, especially because they often have harsh words for us. It’s important to remember that it’s more about them than us.
Rachael Herbert Pavlik, mom to a 14-year-old and a 17-year old, has been there, and she spoke to this point, saying the best advice is “to not take it too personally when they’re mean. And they are mean!” She also pointed out that there is a reason why they are toughest on you. “Basically, you’re their safe space, so they unload on the ones they love most. It’s super fun,” she quipped.
Put yourself in their shoes.
Sandy Lindblom, an experienced mom and doula, said it’s important to try to have empathy for your tween. “You made mistakes at that age that were character building,” she said. “Give your children the same freedom. Have faith that the core values you instilled are still there. Make it clear that you will love them no matter what.”
Treasure their strong will.
Laura Whyte has two tweens —a boy and a girl. She spoke about how important it is, specifically for girls, to embrace the same strong will that is so tough when it’s directed toward you: “That strong-willed girls grow up to be strong-willed teenagers who can resist peer pressure, stand up for themselves, and avoid being pushed into situations that make them uncomfortable. In other words, if they can tell you to F off, they’ll tell anyone to F off!” She joked, “I want this to be true on so many levels!” Same. Same.
It can be so hard not to talk our kids’ ears off, especially when we’re worried about them. Melinda Starry Smith said that when it comes to tweens, it’s more important to let them know we hear them: “Listen more than you talk. Seriously. I used to ask my 13-year-old a million questions, but I soon learned that I found a lot more out from shutting up. Almost all deep or meaningful conversations will happen in the car at inconvenient times, so be prepared.”
She also had a great tip for helping kids to communicate: “I left a notebook in the kitchen that my kids can use to write down any questions or problems they have that they might be uncomfortable discussing face-to-face. It has worked out!”
Remember, they're still growing.
Jo Keller, a mom of a 12-year-old and a 15-year-old, said it’s important to remember that, even though your tweens might seem very grown up (at times), they’re still very much children. “They’re still so little and need to feel secure,” she said. “Pushing boundaries is natural/normal, and they need to feel something solid.”
Give love, and ask for respect.
Adrienne Bergthold, a birth and postpartum doula, understands how tough the tween years are. She urged that no matter what, it’s important to show your child love and ask, even when they aren’t feeling their best, that they are still respectful. “When they’re acting mean or grumpy, tell them how much you love them and you understand how hard it is and you’re here to create a safe space so they can grow,” she said. “If they’re getting mouthy, say something about reminding them how … even when we’re stressed we still need to find ways to speak to each other with respect. Being a teenager in this world must be scary.”
Realize you can't fix everything.
Caitlyn Deckman has an 8-year-old and an 11-year-old. Her sage advice is to remember that you cannot make everything OK, all the time: “You can’t fix it, and you can’t win. I truly believe the best we can do is model empathy, play fair, and choose your battles very, very wisely.” It’s tough, because parents always want to fix things for their kids. Watching them struggle is so hard, but so necessary.
Spend time together.
Frankie Harding, dad of one tween, said that spending time together — no matter what you’re doing, even watching TV or playing video games — is way underrated: “Just spending time together is great because it keeps the relationship and lines of communication open when there’s nothing at stake, but also gives you a line of communication when things aren’t going well.”
Show them you're human, too.
Lucas Herndon is a single dad to an 11-year-old girl who just started sixth grade. He said that letting your child see that you are flawed, and have struggles, goes a long way: “I guess my biggest thing is to try and show her that I as her parent am a human too, that I also have feelings, and that as much as she feels like the universe revolves around her right now, she needs to make space for others and remember empathy.”