parenting tweens

I am the proud parent of a tween. And as difficult and exciting as the terrible twos were, they pale in comparison to the excitement (and terror) of tweendom.

The goal of parenting is to raise capable, kind, well-rounded young adults who will contribute to society in meaningful and beneficial ways. To get there, we have to pass through that awkward (and very eye-rolly) transition period called the tween years.

I call it awkward not just because it is a transition period for our children — it’s a transition period for us as parents, too. We begin by providing structure and oversight on everything, then, suddenly, we’re attempting to foster greater independence and autonomy for our growing children. It is both thrilling and terrifying to watch your babies (try to) take flight.

None of us knows what we’re doing when it comes to parenting tweens — we’re all making it up as we go along! But here are a few resources that I have loved during these tween years.

1. Gabb Watch

As a family, we are of the firm belief that unfettered access to technology, especially social media and the internet, is not in our children’s best interests when they are young. However, as we’ve wanted to give our tween greater independence, we found that we really needed a way to know where he was and to get in touch with him.

Enter the Gabb Watch. It’s not a phone, and it attaches to the child’s body so they can’t lose it as easily. They can make calls or send texts (but not pictures) to up to 10 numbers that we pre-program for them. Using the “locate me” option, we can find our son, as well as receive alerts when he enters or exits designated zones (school, home, soccer field, etc.). If our son can’t call us, he can push a button to instantly send us an SOS. It allows us to give our son more freedom while still making sure he is safe.

Downside: It can’t call 911.

2. Greenlight

Greenlight enables you to give an allowance, electronically, to your tween’s debit card. You help them set financial goals, teach them about spending and saving, engage them with early investing concepts, and send money instantly to their card in an emergency.

Should your child lose their card, you can lock it with the swipe of a button on your phone. You’ll also get updates as they spend, so you can have meaningful conversations about how they’re spending. In a world where most adult finance is electronic or plastic, it enables you to teach good financial management in a “real life” scenario, while still maintaining some oversight.

Downside: You can’t use it to withdraw cash when your tween needs it, and it doesn’t build their personal credit history.

3. Parallel activities

A good friend once told me that to have the best conversations with your tweens, do activities together that are not face to face. She explained that it’s easier for your tween to have a real conversation with you if they’re with you, but not always making eye contact. Go for a run or a drive together. Take a hike or go skiing. Try shopping or paddling a kayak.

Spend intentional quality time together one on one, in “parallel play” where silence isn’t awkward. Sometimes those silences prompt the best conversations. The more I get to know my tween, the more comfortable I am allowing him greater (age-appropriate) freedoms.

Downside: None!

4. The Five Love Languages of Children (Gary Chapman)

I picked up this book after a good friend recommended it to me, and I have found it very helpful for parenting tweens in particular. While it does have faith-based overtones, the principles are helpful for anyone. It’s led me to ask different questions as I think about discipline, independence, and just plain relating to my child. When tween communication devolves to grunts and angry stares, this book has been helpful in giving me some different strategies to draw out my child.

Downsides: Requires some picking and choosing of which principles work for your family.

5. Time out (for you)

Our kids know how to push our buttons, and sometimes the best thing you can do when parenting tweens is give yourself a little space to regain adult perspective. Sometimes, when our kids are the most ready for more freedom and responsibility, they become the most obnoxious and whiny. It’s easy to confuse testing boundaries for not being ready for greater independence, when actually sometimes the opposite is true. Or, let’s be honest, sometimes we just get too annoyed by their whininess and react in a way that is not helpful. Putting yourself in time out, or taking space, enables you to regain perspective and parent through transitions with maturity.

Downside: None.

Kristen D
Kristen is Southern by birth but has called Boston home since 2008. Unlike most Boston natives, she still really loves the snow and cold. She and her husband have two energetic and kind sons (2013, 2014) and a sassy baby girl (2016). Kristen jokes that she has a Master's degree in laundry and a PhD in conflict resolution — which she uses far more than her actual physics and politics degrees. After seven years as a stay-at-home mom, Kristen went back to work full-time in 2021, and has found that incredibly life-giving while also an additional "juggle." In her "spare" time, she runs her own business (Murph&Moose), serves on multiple school committees, and runs half marathons. Her passion is seeing moms feel comfortable in their own skin and less alone in the chaos that is motherhood. Loves: gardening, languages, coffee, running, time with her girlfriends, and the rare moments of silence when all three children are (finally) in bed. Dislikes: daylight saving time, non-washable markers, and noisy neighbors who disrupt her rare moments of silence.