As a parent of a tween, you may be struggling to decide what’s normal and what’s concerning as your child is entering their teenage years. In this “between” stage, your child is facing new challenges and discovering what their new role means. They are no longer a child who will be content with only playing outside and pretending with friends. But, they’re not quite as independent as a teenager. It’s a stage in which hormones are introduced at different times for everyone, meaning that each tween feels they are the one out of place and can’t stop comparing themselves to their peers. And thanks to social media, they can compare themselves at all times of the day.
Before you become overwhelmed and take your child’s electronic devices and limit friend time, there are a few things to remind yourself. During this life stage, your child is beginning to explore who they are. You have already taught them right and wrong and they have learned the school basics. They are now beginning to form their own opinions while also having the cognitive awareness to compare and research these opinions. They may have always liked playing with Legos before, but now are analyzing “What do I really like? What do my friends like?” They need to be given the space to have these thoughts of exploration, while also still receiving guidance and encouragement- something they will continue to need throughout their teenage years. You may have already been tiptoeing the line to keep the perfect balance of allowing them to explore and holding the reigns of parenting. You’re not alone in this struggle. And don’t worry, you have plenty of years ahead with your child to work on this balance.
So now that we understand the cognitive needs of our tweens, let’s talk about healthy and unhealthy socialization.
They seem glued to their screens.
Maybe you are feeling that you haven’t even seen your child’s face in days, at least not without some part of it being blocked by their phone, tablet, etc. This can limit some of your child’s social development, such as promoting low levels of eye contact or limiting the depth of their social interactions. While this can be concerning, it doesn’t mean it’s not a normal want for tweens to be on their phones. By validating their interest (“I want to give you time on your phone because I know it’s important to you…”) while also setting limits (“..but you need put down your phone when having conversations”), you can show your child a balance of using technology while remaining involved in the actual world around them.
They keep posting pictures with their friends.
Maybe every time you take your tween and their friends out for ice cream, you notice they are constantly trying to pose for pictures to post. This in its self isn’t a bad thing. But you need to be aware of the “why” behind it. Do they have fun taking pictures and like posting with friends? Yes? Great! Or are they posting because they have to get 75 likes to feel validated as a successful person? If that’s the case, their self-esteem may be too heavily tied to social media. If you’re worried, talk to your tween in a welcoming and nonjudgmental environment. Also, ALWAYS promote internet safety with your child. If they are going to be posting on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, etc., you need to encourage having private profiles and periodically check in about their internet safety.
How do I know if it’s a healthy friendship?
You may not know what to think about some of your tween’s friendships. Are they falling in with a good crowd? Should they have more friends? Closer friendships? Less close friendships? Socialization at this age is important. As I mentioned earlier, they are in a stage of self-exploration and their peer relationships play into this a lot. So it is important that the people they’re spending time with do care about them. If your child has a strong support network, whether two friends or ten, they’re going to be better able to handle any stressor they may face. Presenting a non-judgmental space for your tween to talk about their friendships will allow you peace of mind for who they’re hanging out with as well as plenty of time for conversations on their growing values and beliefs.
Amanda Baskin, LMSW is a therapist at Water’s Edge Counseling, where she works primarily with children, adolescents, and college-age clients. She applies a variety of therapeutic techniques, such as CBT, DBT, Play therapy, and Solution-Focused therapy, to work with clients of all ages to help them reach their goals.