The word tween may have been invented by marketing and advertising executives desperate to take advantage of the age group's buying power, but the age group itself has long been specially recognized for its developmental difficulties.
Tweens, preteens, and the parents who love them go through a lot of change in a very compressed period. At the end, they find they've moved from the threshold of teendom into the realm of quasi independence. Without your guidance and love, they simply cannot begin to prepare for the changes they are facing-let alone weather them.
The years that lead up to full-fledged adolescence are extremely difficult ones-and not just because these difficulties have frequently gone unnoticed. Younger children need more supervision from their parents and get it. Teenagers, by contrast, have formed their personalities and begun to move away from their parents to explore independence. The first group gets the love and attention and the second gets the freedom. But between the two groups there is a developmental no man's land where everything happens, but it happens too fast.
Preteens are experiencing the changes we associate with teendom: they are beginning puberty and they are learning to construct independent personalities. At the same time, however, they are still children and they need the safety net that comes with that status in most families. It's a crucial time because if preteens and their families don't get it right, they are sending poorly developed personalities into the young adult world to face its dangers and make potentially life-altering mistakes.
Developmental specialists argue that these vulnerable years are when it is easiest for children to get lost on their way to adulthood. Serious problems like depression are known to begin now, long before children become teens or adults. So what can you do to protect your child? The most important thing is to provide a loving family foundation. Though a tween may need to criticize and rebel against their parents as they begin to test new identities, they need to do so in a safe space, knowing that their parents' love is unconditional.
At the same time, however, you must also help them to form those identities along the right paths by providing a structure that will direct their growth. You need to know what is going on in their lives and you need to provide rules and systems designed to keep them safe and encourage their growth.
It is a task that may sound overwhelming, not to mention overwhelmingly vague, but you will find that your child will help direct you. As long as you pay attention to your child and the changes that they are undergoing, you will find that it is possible to respond to their needs as they grow and change. Though they are not yet ready to experience the full fledged independence you might allow a teen with a driver's license, with you at their sides, they are ready to take the steps that will lead to that independence.