14/08/2014 16:53 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Screaming Or Moody Silence? Welcome To The Tween Years

Screaming or moody silence? Welcome to the tween years

Welcome to the tween years. No longer do parents have to wait until their kids turn into teenagers for the backchat, disengagement and complete unreasonableness to set in. Today, it's the pre-teen years when many parents find their daughters constantly overreacting and their sons alternating between withdrawing and being defiant.

"Oh. My. God," exclaimed Karen Watson's 12-year-old daughter, Ellie, last week when she reminded her they were going on holiday this weekend. "Does nobody think of me around here? I've told my friend Jess I'm seeing her that day. It's arranged. I'm sorry, but you'll have to rearrange the holiday!"

Jane Marr knows how she feels. "I asked my 11-year-old daughter to tidy her room last week. She put her hands on her hips and shouted, 'Why don't you clean YOUR room?' and slammed the door."

It's not just girls. "We were shocked to learn that almost overnight, our 12-year-old son had become very self-aware, wanting privacy and independence and he became almost impossible to engage in conversation," says Vanessa Pritchard.


The good news is that if you play your cards right in these years, the evidence is that you can make the teenage years a much happier, easier time for all the family.


The bad news is it's hard to know where to start.

Indeed, in the beginning, you'll probably try to find a reason, just as you did when they were younger. Is she overtired? Is he hungry? In reality, however, they're just growing up and starting on the path towards independence. Hard that it is, this is the first concept parents need to grasp.

On this path, however, there will be inevitable risks. For the child, the chief danger is losing connection to their parents while struggling to find their place and connect in the peer world.

Meanwhile, the biggest danger for parents is trying to parent through power rather than relationship, thus eroding the bond and losing their influence on their child as she moves into the teen years.

So how do you avoid this? "By letting the relationship flex and grow with the child," advises psychologist Dr Russell Hurn.

"The pre-teens are an unsettled period. There is a growing confidence in themselves but in an immature mind. So parents need to be able to provide suitable limits, but with some flexibility, for the young person to explore and experiment with situations safely."

Parents are uncool at this time and frankly embarrassing, he says. "However as these young people try to separate, they also still require adult guidance, love and support – even though they may proclaim they don't."

Whilst the last thing you might feel like doing is acting as parent taxi to your now rude and ungrateful offspring, there's never been a more important time to do it, he says.

"Keeping regular contact at mealtimes, journeys to school and even the parent taxi rides are essential to form a relationship where anything can be discussed. It is these deposits into the relationship bank account that will provide the funds for the future teenage years."

Above all, your focus should be helping your children to develop problem solving skills and to start making appropriate choices and this will involve some guided, monitored experimentation, discussion and rewards where appropriate, he says.

Jeremy Todd of Family Lives agrees. "Make time to talk to your child and think about how you communicate. Try to avoid constantly 'nagging', for example. There's nothing wrong with the odd parental prod, but try to avoid being on your child's back 24/7 -or you run the risk of your child tuning out permanently."

Avoid being a "projecting parent" too, he says. "You can't necessarily expect them to follow like-for-like your own experience of growing up and subsequently your expectations of how they should behave. They are individuals and may have a different perception of the world and all that's in it."

Your pre-teen is looking for their own identity, he points out. "So try to be an advisor, but remember to be a parent – 'the Guvnor' - when you need to set clear boundaries if certain behaviour during the transition from 'tween' to teenager is becoming a major concern. The main thing is to pick your battles."

When a discussion between you and your tween does lead to screaming or hysterics, take a step back and wait for things to calm down, advises Karen Watson. Just as you might have used the Time Out method when they were younger, encouraging your tween to take a break from the situation can defuse high emotions all round.

"Sometimes my daughter is so upset that she shouts, 'I can't calm down!' But a few minutes alone in her room always works a treat and she'll come out in a better frame of mind."

Another trick that works for Watson is to work hard at reciprocating respect. "That can be difficult when you get caught up in a nasty argument, but I think it's important to say you're sorry when you feel you've gone wrong. For now at least, I know it makes my daughter more likely to do the same and I'm hoping that mutual respect will give us a grounding for the teenage years."

But why are parents having to think about the tween years at all? Are kids really growing up faster? The jury is out here. On the one hand, parents have always complained that their kids grow up too fast. On the other hand, the marketing of age-inappropriate products constantly forming the wall-paper of children's lives both in the home through advertising, as well as outside via digital social streams, is having an impact on young people.

Also, thanks to mobile phones and texting, tweens are developing closer bonds with their peer groups and, as a result, pushing away from their parents at earlier ages.

There are huge hormonal changes for "tweenagers" at the onset of puberty. This is not just reflected in their outward behaviour but your child's brain is likely also going through seismic changes, which may lead to greater risk taking and an increase in self-consciousness, which could lead to some awkward or irrational decisions being made, points out Todd.

"As a parent, you need to reassure your child that they can always talk to you, even if they choose not to, and that you will always listen and be supportive."

Although it may not feel very positive at the time, challenging you in the safety of the home environment is often a good sign, says Todd.

"It's better than doing it in the outside world. In fact, it often turns out that in the outside world their behaviour is a mirror image of yours. Many parents are amazed of how much they have taken in.

"It's just that tweens don't always show their parents their best side."

Concerned parents can call Family Lives' free 24/7 Parentline on 0808 800 2222 or visit for support.