Ah, the Terrible Tweens. Arguably worse than the Terrible Twos, this transitional period is a nightmare for the kids and the parents. In retrospect, I think my parents had it worse than I did, because I probably took at least a small amount of joy in my moody, brooding, snarking journey toward proper puberty. “Tween” is a relatively new term, but kids have been going through the Terrible Tweens for years. Decades. Centuries. Millennia. Juliet? Yeah, that whole thing with Romeo and Paris and the suicide, that was probably a bit of tweendom. During that span between age 9 and age 12, things get a little wonky. Is your child officially a tween?
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One moment you're best friends with your little boy or girl. He worships you like a goddess, she wants to grow up to be just like you, and you're the first person who hears all the triumphs and tears and secrets. The next … what? Suddenly, there are no words. You know your child has entered the Terrible Tweens when you get nothing but grunts, mutters, eye rolls … and texts. Lots and lots of texts. You don't even get the courtesy of an email.
Tweendom really is a transition period. Kids stop worrying about which clothes they can get dirty and start worrying about which clothes will get them noticed. It's less about Garanimals, more about Dolce & Gabbana. Well, maybe not that high end, but you get what I'm saying. When your baby starts noticing brand names and insisting on hundred dollar kicks instead of shoes that light up or feature SpongeBob, guess what? Tweens ahoy!
This is also the point where your child will start getting really into social media. Whether or not you allow your kids to have a Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or Instagram is another matter altogether, but if they don't have a major account already, they'll start petitioning for one. It's The Big Thing, all their friends have it, and they need it. They NEED it.
Even if you don't let your tween have a smartphone, there are still selfies everywhere. Your kids will start getting more into their physical appearance, and that leads to a desire to show off. That's totally understandable, if a little frustrating (it's even frustrating when you're way older; I myself have a selfie problem). You have to deal with it the way you choose, but get ready to start seeing School Face and Lunch Face and Skating Rink Face.
Your tweens will start locking, knocking, and jockeying for more privacy all the time. They'll lock their doors when they can, they'll demand you knock before entering, and they might even do the same before they enter your room. They want privacy for lots of reasons, so don't necessarily get suspicious. Many of them are also reaching puberty, remember, so a little privacy for, ah, self exploration may be necessary. However, there's also an increasingly fierce need for independence, and time alone is part of that – especially if there are little brothers and sisters involved.
You'll suddenly notice your tween saying … things. I'm not even talking solely about cursing, but it's highly likely that your child will test the boundaries. I mean you'll hear all kinds of curious insults (like d-bag, for instance), plus all manner of odd internet terminology. Start boning up yourself, head to Tumblr and Reddit, and get in touch with what those crazy kids are saying! In Tweendom, memes are a parent's best friends.
So I said earlier that your tween would largely stop verbally communicating, but let me add a caveat onto that. There will be back talk. Even the heretofore sweetest, most well behaved child will get a little snarky sometimes. The things your child used to wait to say to dolls or action figures will now be muttered under the breath, just loud enough for you to almost hear. You'll also hear the question “Why?” more incessantly than you did during the Terrible Twos.
Speaking of which, your sweet little girl or boy? Not so sweet now. Even if it's only intermittent, that sweetness will soon be replaced with sulkiness, sarcasm, and overall snark. Your child is looking for a new identity to take into the teens. That usually involves trying to be edgy and cynical, at least for a little while.
Did you know that? Probably not, because according to your tween, you don't know ANYTHING. This is just a phase – or will be, as long as you handle it right; please don't encourage it, because the world does not need more of these people. Nearly every child goes through a self righteous know-it-all phase. The good ones do grow out of it; others remain insufferable for the rest of forever, and become equally pretentious adults. But before I get off on a rant, let me just advise you not to take it personally, and not to take it period. You don't want to encourage this behavior, because it might spread beyond the family, and that's bad for everyone.
I lied again. You do know one thing during this period: how to be embarrassing. It doesn't matter what you do. You're probably the coolest mom in the world. You dress stylishly, you like awesome music, your taste in books is impeccable, you know all the greatest movies, and your sense of humor is always on point. It doesn't matter. Whether you're taking your son to school or buying your daughter jeans, you're embarrassing. This too shall pass.
This has been bad since AOL was a thing, but it's particularly bad now. Tweens sometimes develop an aversion to going outside. They're quite happy to remain sequestered in their bedrooms, texting and tweeting and Skyping and Snapchatting. They have fun with it, they're talking to their friends, and that's cool – but encourage them to go outside. The sunshine misses them.
The best way to get through the Terrible Tweens is to exercise patience – lots of it. Seriously, you'll need a lot. If you can remain patient, however, and strike the balance between being there for your child and respecting that sudden, ferocious desire for privacy and independence, you'll all make it through. Parents of tweens and former tweens, what is or was the hardest part? Do you have any funny/infuriating/strange/awful/hopeful stories to tell?
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