Friends versus Family
Your tween's preoccupation with people and events outside the family is natural and you should respect her boundaries, but it is imperative to remain actively involved in your child's life. Too often, peers end up filling the vacuum left by parents who are overly critical or largely absent.Privacy, Please
Your tween's need for privacy can delude you into thinking she no longer needs you very much, but this is not the case at all. Spending time alone enables your tween to hold the rest of the world at bay long enough to tune into her own thoughts and feelings, but she'll still need you to help her process them. Adults may be able to think through difficult issues even as other activities, conversations, and emotions swirl on about them. Because they have more practice, they can more quickly sort through complicated problems, resolve emotionally trying issues, and recharge their psychic batteries. Tweens are still learning how to do all that.
In actuality, the willingness to devote time to self-reflection is a sign of maturity. So is the desire to control the environment to ensure adequate time and psychological space for thoughtful contemplation. It is hard to focus internally when someone else might come barging in at any moment. Furthermore, just as members of religious orders find it easier to meditate while making a repetitive sound or motion, and just as many adults find it easier to think while listening to music and/or engaging in a simple, soothing activity such as knitting or tinkering on a project, tweens may close themselves off and doodle, listen to music, or build a LEGO castle. Piddling and playing with a mindless toy can serve the same meditative function.
Tween social pressures at school range from difficult to excruciatingly painful, and the games children play can be horrifically cutthroat as they vie to improve their own social status by putting down others. The academic pressures in the classroom can be intense, too. Then there are all of the physical changes tweens must cope with as their bodies develop. It's no wonder they need a lot of alone time to contemplate and recover.
If you have often held time-outs by sending your youngster to his room with orders to remain there until he's settled down, pondered his behavior, and arrived at a solution to his latest problem, during the tween years he may take the initiative and automatically go to his room when he needs to decompress.
It may be your house, but forbidding your tween the freedom to control her bedroom door is tantamount to forbidding her access to her own mind. If she shares a bedroom, try to help her locate a spot where she can get some privacy. Some tweens gravitate to the bathroom, but that can cause conflicts with other family members. Whenever your tween desires privacy, behave respectfully by knocking on the door and holding interruptions to a minimum, just as you expect your tween to do when you need to be alone. You cannot force your tween to be emotionally close to you, but you can certainly drive a wedge between the two of you by refusing to give her the physical space she needs.Little Space Cadets
Even if your tween continues to spend a lot of time with everyone else at home instead of staging a retreat from the mainstream of family life, he may often seem to be a million miles away. If he's not preoccupied with some far-flung fantasy, he's probably floating in the ozone. Ask him what he is thinking about and the answer is likely to be, “Nothing.” Press him for the truth about what is on his mind and you may well get the very same reply. Don't stop asking what's on his mind, though. Sometimes the blankness within may suddenly assume a form he can talk about.
Spaciness is common for tweens, and it lasts through the teen years. Get your tween's full attention before you speak to her, and give her time to collect her thoughts and formulate a response. For emotional issues, she may need as long as several minutes. Remain patient and squelch any urges to interrupt.
Tweens' tendency to space out at unpredictable moments leads to lots of confusion, misunderstandings, and angry scenes as parents mistakenly conclude they are purposely being ignored. “When I ask you a question, I expect an answer!” “Didn't I tell you to get started on your homework?” “How many times do I have to tell you not to do that?” are common signs that an adult is taking typical tween behavior as a personal slight.
If tweens could explain themselves, the answers they would give are, “I didn't answer because I didn't hear you, then I couldn't think of what to say, and then I spaced out again and forgot what you asked me in the first place.” “You may have told me but I was too spaced out to get what you meant, exactly.” “You're going to have to tell me again and again and again because I spend so much time lost in the clouds, I forget to pay attention to what I'm supposed to do here on earth.” Just as adults engrossed in a book can suddenly hear the teakettle shrieking or a siren blaring or rain falling and realize the noise has been going on for some time, tweens can suddenly realize that someone was speaking and even realize what was being said
A young child's preference for spending time with his parents above anyone else changes as the urge to spend time with like-minded people who share the same interests, concerns, and perspectives intensifies. If you don't love to play video games, hold cheerleading practices, and build backyard forts, you'll need to find other ways to remain close to your child.
When older tweens are tucked away in their rooms, they aren't just studying and hunkering down to relieve stress. A lot of their time is spent talking to friends on the phone and contacting them via the computer. Less sociable children may begin to think of their books and hobbies as their friends and companions. If forbidden to communicate with their friends directly, tweens write notes to them. They think about what their friends said to them today and what they will talk about tomorrow.
The chance to interact and have fun isn't the only reason your tween is drawn to spending time with friends. She has lots to learn about getting along with “colleagues,” and peers are the best teachers. However, lots of conflicts and questions are bound to arise, and your tween will need many infusions of help from an older and more experienced “boss” to know how to untangle and manage this confusing and difficult world of peer relationships. To help her with her other relationships, your own relationship with your child must be warm and trusting.