The ‘Tween’ Years

By Erica Ray, LCPC, NCC

If you welcomed your little bouncing bundle of joy into the world around 2003, then you’re now living with a ‘tween’.  “What is a tween?” you might be thinking. This term of endearment was believed to be coined by J.R.R. Tolkien when referencing the reckless Hobbits who weren’t quite old enough to be referred to as men.  Although not just used when referring to boys, its current usage, at least according to Wikipedia, refers to kids between the ages of 10-12 years old or even as low as 8 years old. Now that you know a little history of the word I’m sure you’re wondering how to tell if your little bundle of joy is experiencing the ‘full throws’ of tweenhood. Let’s talk signs…

It’s no coincidence that the tween “change” occurs alongside puberty, in fact, it makes good sense. During this time your little bundle of joy begins to experience physiological changes which impact emotional and psychological states of being as well. Tweens begin to develop their sense of self and draw from the world around them such as peers, family, television and society; not always in that order. This is also the time when it’s discovered that they’re too old for the many things they’ve enjoyed like dolls/ toy cars and too young for other things like hanging out with older siblings, going places alone or even dating.  This realization leads to the tween’s attempt to find where they fit in and how to make their ‘new’ mark on the world.  Now, you might have heard through the mommy grapevine that girls and boys react differently to being a tween, but research seems to suggest differently. One comprehensive review investigating a wide range of cognitive, social, and personality variables found that 78% of the 7,000 individual reports showed little to no differences between boys and girls at this stage of development (Hyde, 2005, 2006). Although differences in personality can be noted from infancy, similarities ultimately begin to outweigh the differences by adolescence.  While boys and girls may go about meeting their needs differently sometimes, the primary need remains the same.  The need to find where they belong amongst their peers is imminent. The equally important need to identify themselves as individuals and find their niche in society is also important and universal.   So you may be wondering how best to interact with your tween while he or she figures it all out.

You might even be wondering will your little bundle of joy ever return or are they ok? Things to remember when you see the sudden changes in expression or vocalized demands are to keep calm and know that it’s all part of the growth. Do not take personally their need to pull away from you at this stage. Understand and try to recall what it was like to grow up and establish a separate identity from the one Mommy and Daddy gave you. Know that self-esteem is often fragile and impressionable at this time so encourage your tween to wear the clothes they like, practice your patience with how they style their hair, and fret not as they explore multiple activities until they find their niche. Lastly, the sooner you establish your own foundation of patience and understanding, the better prepared you’ll be for the teenage years. 

Cook, J.L, Similarities and Differences Between Boys and Girls, Child Development Principles & Perspectives, 2009 Edition


“Tween Talk: Too Old For Toys Too Young For Boys.” Take The Handle, 2011 Wikipedia 

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