Psychologists and child development experts have traditionally viewed the tween stage (from age eight to thirteen) as hardly worthy of consideration. In fact, they haven't even bothered to name it. Since this “in-between” time occurs after the early childhood developmental whirlwind and before the maelstrom of adolescence, it is perhaps understandable that this period is so easy for professionals to overlook. Despite the dramatic physical changes that transform tweens into biological adults in a few short years, experts have maintained that development in other areas slows to a snail's pace. Parents know that nothing could be further from the truth, and professionals are beginning to agree.
Tweens' intellectual and academic development is central in determining whether they will eventually drop out of high school at age sixteen or graduate from an Ivy League college. The kind of social savvy youngsters develop during this stage will affect how well they function in one-on-one relationships and in groups for many years to come. Moreover, the values they acquire during these five short years will go a long way toward defining the kinds of struggles they will endure during adolescence, and how they resolve them. Change is always possible, but the fundamental character children develop during this critical period is likely to last a lifetime.
Now especially, it is imperative for adults to consider how to usher this historically neglected group through the difficult period of being a tween. Although some modern tweens enjoy the protected, carefree childhoods that generations past remember with such fondness, most youngsters now face the same thorny issues once reserved for older adolescents. The schoolyard bully who once attacked victims with flailing fists may now be toting a gun. Family battles over makeup and clothing that used to begin as the tween years drew to a close now may become a source of family friction shortly after age eight. Worries about stranger danger cause many parents to confine their tweens to the safety of the house, depriving them of the exercise and unstructured social contact they need for optimal health and happiness.
Not only do modern tweens have to face more difficult issues and cope with more complex situations than youngsters from generations past, they receive a lot less help and guidance. Increasing numbers of households lack a stay-at-home parent and a network of extended family members living nearby; teachers are overburdened, and most neighbors are strangers. As a result, tweens receive far less adult supervision, nurturing, and support than in days gone by.
While working parents make great sacrifices to locate quality care for their toddlers, and while they exercise care in structuring teenagers' spare hours to minimize the time they spend unsupervised, millions of latchkey tweens return to an empty house three or more days per week. Too many wander aimlessly through the empty rooms until someone comes home, tells them what to do, and walks them through the initial steps to help them get started.
Parents are increasingly aware of the pressures tweens face and are trying harder to understand their personal struggles, but advice about how to help them through the challenges they encounter can be hard to come by. Most parenting books focus on ways to strengthen youngsters for the difficult teenage years ahead, but the best way to prepare children for adolescence is to help them to flourish as tweens. If youngsters enter the teenage years with a solid set of values, good social skills, a love of learning, healthy self-esteem, and warm family relationships, they are in a better position to get through their teenage years without falling victim to the serious problems that undermine the happiness and well-being of so many young people.
This book guides parents through the interior landscape of the tween mind. It reveals what tweens are doing and learning in the classrooms, playgrounds, and soccer fields where they spend their days, and provides the tools for guiding these special little people through a highly complex stage of life.