Striped ShirtIt isn't your imagination if you've observed that your middle-school children and their friends seem to be acting more grown up than you did when you were their age, although at other times, you notice they act like normal silly and childish nine-year-olds. The tween years have changed somewhat for children in this generation. They even seem to be starting earlier. A recent Newsweek* article suggests age eight as the beginning year. Physical puberty is earlier than it has ever been, but not much earlier. Most experts attribute that to better nutrition; however, it is also possible that children who are exposed to so much more sexuality through the media may be affected biologically as well. Media exposure surely continuously encourages them to act and dress older.

This generation of tweens has more money, and thus, more buying power thanGirl Standing former generations of tweens. More of them have two working parents, who out of either guilt or because of a democratic philosophy of parenting, are hesitant about setting limits and more liberal in providing choices and freedom, including financial freedom, for them. Tweens are overempowered and optimistic compared to those in past generations. There have been few economic hard times in their experiences, and they seem to worry little about wasting money or material possessions. In our clinical experience we find more young people who fall desperately in love earlier, who get angrier when they can't have what they want, and who exhibit behavior swings in which they act like immature children some of the time and pseudo sophisticated adults at other times. Because these changes will affect your own family, you may wish to prepare yourself.


Tweens need effective parents more now than before, so don't panic; they're not all grown up, and you have an important role in guiding them through these years. The path to adolescence and through adolescence is challenging, but it's also interesting and fun.

Here are some important guidelines:

  • Listen and talk to your tweens every single day. That may feel impossible with busy schedules, but find a time when you actually stop and concentrate and hear what your children are saying. If it's hard to get conversation going, play a game together or make a popcorn snack. Good timing for talks is often after your evening meal or right before bedtime. Kids are seldom anxious to go to sleep, and even the least talkative may become more verbal in order to postpone bedtime.

  • Stay in charge. Tell your kids that it's your job as parent to set reasonable limits. Whether it’s movies, TV, computer games, clothes, or spending their own money, be sure you have the final word. Don't let your guilt that comes from a shortage of time get in the way of your responsibility for saying "no" when it's appropriate. On the other hand, be fair; too many noes can cause unnecessary rebellion.

  • Encourage your children's interests. If your kids are in activities where they are building skills and interests, they'll be happier and more active kids. They're less likely to be lured to the problems that come to children who have few interests. Music, art, science, sports, or religious groups often help to distract from kids’ wish to shop, shop, shop or passively watch television or browse the Internet. Self-esteem will grow as your children accomplish in school and activities.

  • Foster independence. Tweens seem more anxious than ever to fit in. It's important for them to have friends, but it's even more important for them to think about their values and not just go along with the crowd. Peer pressure begins earlier than ever. Hopefully they’ll make friends with a healthy peer group.

  • Reserve time for family. Family time shouldn't be a choice. Whether it's anFamily trip evening or a weekend day, preserve time for both work and fun. Save it as a time for your family and not as a time to bring their friends along, although you can certainly make an occasional exception. If your kids resist, consider it required, and they'll soon simply expect family time to happen. Tweens and teens continue to thrive on family bonding experiences. If they don't realize it's important, you do, and you're the parent in charge.

  • Enjoy your tween. They're truly at a fun age. There's nothing to dread or worry about. As you stay close, you'll find this is just another wonderful stage of their development, with its own challenges and its own joys—all a little earlier than when you went through your tween years.

*Newsweek, The Truth About Tweens

©2001 by Sylvia B. Rimm. All rights reserved. This publication, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without written permission of the author.