When the tween years approach, an entirely different parenting dynamic emerges. Kids are pushing for independence while moms and dads struggle with how much freedom to allow. It can be tough to determine when to say "yes" and when to pull back on the reins.
Stephanie Lowe Sagebiel, MSW, LCSW, is a social work practitioner who has been in the field for over twenty years. She currently works with children, teens, and adults at Centerpoint Counseling and Baume Psychological Services in Indianapolis and has this to say about tween guidelines: "There are three factors to consider as your child navigates her tween/teen years: brain development, personality type and motivation." She goes on to explain that a child's brain is not fully developed until she is in her 20's. Therefore, it's critical for parents to act as the child's prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that can accurately assess the consequences of his or her actions. It's also important to assess whether or not a child has the maturity to deal with her decisions. (For example, will she take care of newly pierced earrings? Will she follow pre-established phone usage rules?) And parents need to talk with their children to determine the motivation behind their requests. Are they making a decision for external validation, or have they truly thought their actions through? Being open and honest about why a child wants a certain freedom helps parents determine whether or not their child is developing a maturity level that is equivalent to the privileges she is seeking.
Carmel Mom, Andrea, agrees. She has found that with her two sons (ages 15 and 11), open and honest dialogue is critical. She and her husband take their sons' requests into consideration with thoughtful consistency. "We review each request on a case-by-case basis. What works for one of our boys might be completely unreasonable for the other. But when we give them our answer, they know the decision has not been taken lightly."
When determining how much is too much for tweens to handle, Stephanie says, "Giving tweens too much freedom too soon is akin to flying a plane without preparation, knowledge or understanding of the aircraft. It's a recipe for disaster." Freedom, she explains, should be earned, and it's a parent's job to help a child along the journey of self-discovery. Simply giving a child make-up without instruction, a phone without boundaries, or a credit card without limits does not set a child up for success. Instead, increasing freedoms slowly and intentionally can help both the parents and child prepare for more significant milestones down the road.
Andrea admits that as a child herself, she had too much freedom too soon. "I had the ability to make some bad decisions – and consequently, I did. Therefore, I tend to be a little stricter with my own kids. Given the opportunity, good kids make bad decisions. It's my job as a parent to limit those opportunities while still giving my kids a chance to grow and discover who they are."
"Balance is definitely the key," Stephanie agrees. "When approaching a new freedom or adventure, it's crucial for parents to clearly outline expectations, rewards and consequences."
"Sometimes it's a give-and-take," Andrea says. "If we give too much and our kids don't handle that freedom well, we pull back. They're both incredibly different and unique individuals, and finding just the right balance for each is not an exact science."
Successfully ushering kids into the next level of their development can be a challenge. Especially with the tween years, a combination of patience, open dialogue, thoughtful consideration, love and support will help make this transition as smooth as possible.