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Managing "Tween" Children

There's the ideal summer vacation: happy children playing games, parents relaxing, cheerful grandparents, smooth roads, short lines and easy-to-schedule outdoor sports and activities for the kids.

And then there's reality, which was best portrayed in the 1983 movie "National Lampoon's Vacation." It follows the all-American Griswolds as they drive the family station wagon on a cross-country road trip to visit the Walley World theme park. At one point, Clark Griswold (played by Chevy Chase) faces a mutiny by his children, who urge an immediate end to the vacation. His response contains a few expletive words.

Tweens, or 10 to 14 year old individuals “in between” childhood and adolescence, are notorious for mood swings. There are more than 20 million tweens in the U.S., according to an estimate by the 2010 U.S. Census. As tweens begin puberty they are plagued with life’s challenges of middle school, social issues, homework, and the stress of having responsibilities. At this stage of development there are also brain and body development changes that they may not understand. These changes are very normal. All tweens have mood swings to a certain extent.

Changes in development during these years are present. There are other issues nowadays that tweens deal with that may not have been around when their parents were growing up such as the pressure to achieve. Many parents are preparing their children in middle school if not earlier for academic success and admission into a top University for college. This can exacerbate the mood swings stemming from the pressure they are under to achieve, not to mention extra-curricular activities many tweens are engaged in.

At this age, tweens are discovering who they are and where they fit in the world. They are beginning to socialize with the opposite sex and are defining who they are through the clothes they wear and the music they listen to. They are building a self-image and comparing themselves to others their age. Tweens may be moody, pouting, even tantruming like when they were a toddler. Tweens will sulk and whine as well. Research has shown that this is how tweens communicate their anger, frustration and displeasure with certain situations.

“At this stage, patience and understanding are important,” says Dr. Toby Spiegel, Assistant Professor of Forensic Psychology at Argosy University, Orange County. Confidence is the key for teens to deal with their emotions effectively. “Keep the lines of communication open. Empathize with their struggles and do not make light of them or laugh because it does not seem catastrophic to you. To a tween, everything is a life shattering issue. Pay attention to your tweens mood and recognize signs of depression. Watch for changes in grades, changes in friends, as well as eating and sleeping habits. Changes beyond moodiness can be signs of something else. If you feel your tween is beyond simple moodiness, consult a mental health professional such as a psychologist or speak with the school counselor,” added Spiegel.

So it’s important to take the time to listen and respect what they are going through. Praise them, making sure that the praise is meaningful and descriptive. Help them build their self esteem. Teach your tween to solve problems by brainstorming with them. Generally your tween should grow out of the moodiness by the time they turn 16.

“Staying connected to your child at this time is extremely important,” says Spiegel. “Knowing who their friends are and what they do in school will give you insight into who your child is becoming. Volunteer at the school, offer to chaperone school events, attend parent-teacher conferences and other school functions. At the beginning of the school year obtain the email addresses for your child’s teacher. Send them an email introducing yourself and tell them that you are “hands-on” and appreciate being contacted to partner with them in your child’s education. Believe it or not, teachers like to know they can count on the parents regarding meeting their child’s academic needs,” adds Spiegel.

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