I have taught 10- to 12-year-olds for 17 years—I love that age group. Fifth-graders are some of my favorite people! The parents, I would say that to in conferences or school conversations would always look at me like I was crazy, and I never understood why. Now that I have an 11-year-old and a 10-year-old of my own, I totally comprehend those questioning looks of concern for my sanity. Let me tell you, tweens at home are VERY different from tweens at school!
Let me share some of my observations of the good, the bad, and the ugly of those tween years.
The Tween Good
Developing Their Own Personalities
Kids in the tween years start to really explore their own interests, whether in sports, art, theater, or academics. They are starting to grasp sarcasm and develop a sense of humor. The rambling jokes of first-graders give way to actual punchlines! They can carry on conversations and give more developed answers to questions. They are learning to give and take in social relationships beyond just “sharing their toys.” Tweens are really fun to get to know!
More Independence & Responsibility
With getting a little older, especially when they hit double-digits, comes more independence and responsibility. Tweens can make more choices for themselves, like what to wear, what to read, who to hang out with at lunch or recess. They can really take ownership of their successes and also of their mistakes. They may get to go places with their friends without direct supervision, start staying home alone or even babysit other kids. They can prepare their own food, find their own snacks, do their own homework. They can do some of the bigger chores like laundry and mowing the lawn. They are learning work ethic through all of these things!
I always considered fifth-graders to be in a sweet spot. As a teacher, I would say that I didn’t have to wipe noses and tie shoes, but they also still had some respect for authority and thought their teachers could be kind of cool. As a mom, I love that I can leave them home for short errands, but they still want to snuggle up on the couch sometimes!
The Tween Bad
If you thought your three-year-old was pushing limits, beware! Tweens now push limits in new ways because they are developing logic and reasoning skills. Good things to have, yes! But potentially frustrating when some things have to be done “because I said so.” Tweens will test those boundaries in many ways and can sometimes be pretty sneaky or manipulative. Parents have to establish firm expectations and consequences.
Peer Pressure Kicks In
As tweens start to spend more independent time with friends, those opinions can start to matter more to them. They may try to show off for their friends. Friends may encourage behaviors that go against what you want for your child. Parents must know who their tween is hanging out with and start having those conversations about peer pressure.
School Gets Harder
From ages 9 to 12, students are starting 4th grade and ending in 7th grade! They go from learning basic math facts to possibly pre-Algebra! There is SO much content taught in these years. Homework loads pick up—they may have more teachers if they switch classes. They may start at a new school building for middle school, depending on your district. That is a lot of change! It can be tough on tweens and parents alike.
The Tween Ugly
Need I say more? Probably not, but I’m wordy, so I will. We have all been through it and remember the various stages of awkwardness and feelings of weirdness. Tweens hit puberty at various points. Some are in full voice-dropping, growth-spurt-having by age 11; others will be desperately waiting for any sign of growth at 13. Each kid is different, making it tough as this age group constantly compares themselves to each other.
The tech that tweens have and use is probably the one thing that is most different from their parents’ tween years. Each family will handle this with what they think works best for their situation. No matter what the decision is, parents still have to remember that they are in charge of the technology and that tweens must be monitored. As a teacher/library media specialist, I encourage parents to learn about COPPA laws and understand that many of the apps and sites tweens use are really designed for age 13 and up.
Closer to Gone
Realizing your child has gone from being a “kid” to a “tween” is just one more step on the road to them being gone. All the clichés are true. They grow up so fast! You blink, and they’re in college! Going from little kidhood to tweenage years is one more stage of learning how to grow toward independence and leaving the proverbial nest. Yes, they will drive us crazy as they test limits, require rides everywhere, suffer through mood swings, and outgrow clothes and shoes faster than we can buy them. But they will amaze us with their emerging personalities and interests. They will make us laugh and cry and roll our eyes. And then they will astound us further by going from Tween to Teen.