Tweens are children between the ages of 9 and 12. A tween is no longer a little child, but not quite a teenager. While a tween is not yet in the midst of adolescence, he or she will face a variety of obstacles in the next few years including exposure to dangerous behaviors by their peers including drugs, sex, and more.
Tweens can be a challenge to parent. One minute they can be sweet and loving, the next they can be moody and difficult. Today’s tweens often shock parents when they begin to act like teenagers. Don’t be fooled, they’re still children. They’ll astonish you with their ability to conceptualize, to argue brilliantly, and then to do foolish things.
The biggest danger for tweens is losing the connection to parents while struggling to find their place and connect in their peer world. The biggest danger for parents is trying to parent through power instead of through relationship, thus eroding their bond and losing their influence on their child as she moves into the teen years.
Thanks to cell phones and texting, for example, tweens are developing closer bonds with their peer groups and, as a result, pushing away from their parents at earlier ages.
Due to societal acceptance, the age that a child gets his/her first cell phone is dropping steadily. As of January, 2009, in a TweenParent.com poll, parents stated that on average a child should not be given a cell phone until they are 11 years old. Odds are, that age would be lower if parents were asked today, 7 years later!
The use of cell phones by tweens clearly offers some very positive benefits in certain circumstances. The most obvious is the ability for the parent and tween to be able to communicate for logistical purposes; as plans change throughout the day, an agreed upon time may change and a quick call/text to each other can make a change easy to facilitate. Also, there’s a certain amount of relief for both the parent and child to know that they can reach out in an emergency; key phone numbers can be preprogrammed and accessible. Also, a quick call home or to your tween just to touch base can offer an added level of comfort for everyone involved.
So, rather than fight the tide of change, for parents who have crossed the bridge to provide their tween with a phone, here are several tips (with input by internetsafety.com and http://www.tweenparent.com/) that can help parents as they create boundaries around cell phone usage:
• Etiquette — don’t overlook phone basics, like manners, personal interaction and good practices regarding answering the phone and sharing information.
• Usage – set boundaries regarding on/off hours and weekday/weekend time limits. Help your tween manage the amount of time spent (including the way to monitor minutes used or airtime uploaded).
• “No Phone” Boundaries — ensure that your tween leaves the phone in a public place at night (perhaps in/near a charging area) to avoid middle of the night activity, which can clearly impact much-needed rest. Determine your level of comfort with your tween’s phone use while in family settings, etc.
• Internet Connections — as phones become more and more sophisticated, they’re becoming like mini-computers. Many are now enabled with the ability to connect to the internet. Having internet access on a broad and virtually unmanaged tool like a cell phone carries a whole host of other issues. Explore internet safety rules, in general, that you might apply to a phone that has internet capability.
• Sexting — as out of the range of possibility as it may seem, like sexual education, talks should start younger than you’d think. Since virtually every phone has a camera, the fun of sending images to friends can be very enticing. It’s important to reinforce that once an image is in “cyberspace,” it can take on a life of it’s own. And, the more intriguing (or sexually suggestive) it is, the more it will spread.
• Bullying — like email, texting can have the feel of a degree of anonymity. Yes, the recipient knows who it’s coming from, but written words may not feel as harsh to the sender as spoken words. On top of that, sexually suggestive texts can be too exciting for a pre-teen not to share with others.
Finally, Maintain Your Parental Status
This is not the time to try to be your child’s friend. Despite appearances to the contrary, “he’s looking to you to help him get through this confusing stage,” says Linda Sonna, Ph.D., author of “The Everything Tween Book”. “Ultimately, he’ll take his cues for how to behave from the way that you deal with a given situation.”