Preteens are typically considered to be between the ages of 9 and 12, with young preteens falling in the lower half of that range. They are also sometimes called tweens to reflect their status of being "in-between" childhood and adolescence.
Issues in the Preteen Years
According to the book Adolescence, by Barbara Sheen, some 9 and 10-year-olds are in the midst of puberty while others are still a few years away. Girls may start puberty as early as age 8, while most boys will not experience puberty until at least age 10. Parents should make sure their young preteens are aware of these impending developments in order to help them cope and feel in control during these changes. Waiting too long may cause unnecessary stress for a 10-year-old facing her first period, or a young boy concerned about the new hair appearing on his body. Preteens who experience these developments may become hyper-sensitive about their appearance and lose self confidence, so parents must tread lightly when it comes to commenting on any changes, especially in a joking manner.
Young preteens begin to experience a stronger desire for independence. According to Iowa State University's Parenting Young Teens series, parents need to let go gradually and allow youth to test the boundaries a little bit by allowing them to spend some time alone after school or during an evening out. Preteens may also begin babysitting younger siblings, although the American Red Cross recommends that teens to do not begin full-fledged babysitting until age 11. The ARC also offers classes to help preteens learn babysitting skills. When preteens are left alone, it should not be for more than two or three hours, and they should be left with a list of rules and safety guidelines to follow.
During the young preteen years, parents may also want to begin to give their children more responsibilities around the house. Require preteens to do their laundry, clean their rooms and take on various chores around the house. Some preteens may also want to begin to develop their cooking skills, and parents may allow them to cook dinner one night a week or bake a cake from a boxed mix.
The first strains of peer pressure and wanting to fit in can appear during the preteen years. Tweens start to become concerned with what is popular, and they may feel pressured to let go of "childish" pursuits like dolls or cartoons. Both girls and boys start to notice their developing bodies. Whether they are maturing faster or more slowly than their classmates, they will often feel self-conscious about the changes. They may also start to notice members of the opposite sex, feeling additional pressure to seem cool or attractive to their new found crushes. Parents should remain supportive and reinforce how special their young preteens are, no matter what their peers think.
The American Medical Association offers multiple tips on avoiding conflict while parenting young preteens. At the core of avoiding conflict is letting preteens know they are loved and that all decisions are made with their best interests in mind. Communication is also key to avoiding conflict. Parents who regularly communicate with their preteen and pay attention to her interests are also more likely to avoid conflict than hands-off or disinterested parents. When parents communicate with their young preteens they are more likely to develop a relationship based on trust and respect, which will help avoid conflict. Communication also allows parents to begin to set boundaries and give their young preteen input into what activities and fashion choices and what compromises can be made. As preteens develop, parents may adjust the boundaries and reward the teen for making wise decisions or maturing. UNICEF's guide Adolescence: A Time that Matters states that "when adolescents are supported and encouraged by caring adults, they thrive in unimaginable ways."
Young Preteen Activities
Young preteens are starting to feel the urge to be "grown up". They may want to watch television, listen to music, and watch movies better suited for teenagers. Luckily, the media recognizes the power of the tween demographic and has created music, movies, and television programming tailored to this younger audience. For instance, The Disney Channel and Nickelodeon have several series that are popular with preteens and a host of related musical releases. There are also popular programs suitable for the whole family. If they are interested in pop music, shows such as American Idol and The X-Factor usually feature family-friendly music, while presenting hot young stars tweens can fall in love with. With so many options available, battles over appropriate content can be avoided, or at least postponed.
Movies and Video Games
Preteens are often caught in the middle when it comes to movies and video games. They may still enjoy animated movies and video games geared toward children, but also want to feel more grown up by watching movies and playing video games with more adult scenarios. As they get closer to becoming full-fledged teenagers on their thirteenth birthday, many young preteens want to watch movies rated PG-13 and play video games rated T (teen). While much of the content contained in these categories offers material not suitable for young preteens, parents may want to begin to allow their children to enjoy these entertainment options with supervision. Allow your preteens to begin watching movies or playing video games with these ratings on a case by case basis and talk with them about the reasons for the ratings, including inappropriate language, extensive violence or sexual scenes. The Motion Picture Association of America and Entertainment Software Rating Board offer more information on their ratings and helping your preteen choose appropriate movies and video games.
Young preteens will enjoy most popular young adult novels, although some young adult novels, especially those geared toward girls, may contain mature content intended for older teens. Young preteen girls will enjoy books by authors such as Judy Blume and series such as Meg Cabot's The Pricess Diaries or Ann Brashares' Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Boys gravitate more toward non-fiction books, particularly those that talk about popular athletes or the Guinness Book of World Records. Popular fiction books for preteen boys also include S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders and Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Organizations such as the Young Adult Library Services Association offer book lists and award-winning suggestions for preteens.
Preteens are active. Many elementary and middle schools offer intramural and after-school sports programs to help harness that energy. Boys enjoy sports such as football, soccer and basketball. Girls may enjoy playing volleyball, basketball, soccer, dance or cheerleading. Being involved with a sports team helps preteens feel a sense of belonging and offers a way to build self-confidence. However, the stress of competition may be too much for some preteens, so it is importance to stress that all sports should be played for fun. Try to avoid focusing too much on one sport or allowing one activity to take up the majority of a preteen's time and allow her to explore multiple activities to develop her interests.
During the preteen years, friends begin to take on a more important and influential role than parents. Preteens also begin to develop their social lives. Many preteens will enjoy simply spending time goofing off with friends, talking on the phone or chatting on the computer. Allow preteens to walk to a friends' house, take a bike ride with a group of friends or attend a movie or visit a skating rink or bowling alley with a group of friends.
The following resources can help young preteens and their parents navigate these important years.
- Today's Parent, a parenting magazine based in Canada, offers articles on behavior, health, nutrition, education, and other topics important to parents of preteens. Discussion forums are also available.
- The Palo Alto Medical Foundation has created a website especially for preteens. In addition to health-related information, they can also find book and movie reviews, recipes, and quizzes.
- Talk With Kids is a website dedicated to helping parents tackle difficult topics with their tweens.
- The Everything Tween Book: A Parent's Guide to Surviving the Turbulent PreTeen Years by Linda Sonna
- Girls: What's So Bad About Being Good?: How to Have Fun, Survive the Preteen Years, and Remain True to Yourself by Harriet S. Mosatche Ph.D.
- Chicken Soup for the Preteen Soul - 101 Stories of Changes, Choices by multiple authors
Embracing the Challenge of the Preteen Years
Parenting young preteens has its fair share of challenges and is guaranteed to produce challenging moments. However, when parents communicate with their preteens and are aware of the challenges that this age range brings, the challenges will be minimized. As a parent seek advice on handling your preteen from books, your preteen's pediatrician and other parents of preteens to help your child successfully transition from her preteen years to her full-fledged teenage years and on to adulthood.