Yesterday, I had my very first brush with ‘bad tween behaviour.’
My 12-year-old daughter came home after school, and I told her, “We have to buy you new school shoes. Quickly have your lunch and hop into the car.”
In response, my usually soft spoken child snapped at me. “Oh. Gosh! I JUST came back. You won’t EVEN let me finish lunch. FINE. WHATEVER. Let’s go!” she said.
“We don’t have to rush, sweetheart. You can finish your lunch first,” I replied calmly.
“NO! Let’s go now,” she snapped again. I could only wonder, “What just happened? Have the hormones arrived?”
If this is a familiar scene at your home then you are also experiencing normal tween behaviour.
At first, you chalk it up as your kid being ‘overtired’ or ‘hungry’ or even ‘flustered.’ But the actual reason your sweet-natured child is turning into a nagging, erratic monster is because he just turned into a tween.
You might hear them repeat your instructions under their breath. “YOU clean your room!” is a phrase we have all heard at some point. So yes, it feels disappointing to hear them yell, talk back and mock you. After all, you have spent so much time and effort in raising them right.
The situation becomes especially disheartening when you see your tween transition from happy to cranky.
But then “Parenting a tween is cake walk,” said no one ever!
Tween behaviour problems: All your need to know
As tempting as it is to believe that our kids will become immune to tween behaviour problems, the reality is far from it.
Bad behaviour doesn’t just end when your kids graduate from diapers to pants and skirts. It is one of the greatest challenges for a parent to discipline a tween – especially one who may be butting heads with you, talking back, not to mention lying and rebelling.
Incidentally, there is a perfectly good explanation as to why tweens often act out and misbehave.
Why is tween behaviour so erratic?
As kids grow out of their early childhood years (5-8) and inch closer to the teenage years (9-10), they try to become more independent. But they lack the maturity and understanding to make thoughtful and informed decisions.
The part of their brain that is responsible for making informed decisions is not fully developed yet. Plus, they still have much to learn. But a combination of immaturity and autonomy (without the approval of their parents) can lead to bad behaviour. Sometimes even to the extent of smoking, drinking, abusing drugs as well as unprotected sex.
You obviously want your kids to make the right life decisions, but disciplining a tween may not be all that easy. Unfortunately, you cannot lure them into good behaviour with a sweet treat as you did when they were toddlers.
Effective parenting of tweens requires smarter and stronger methods of discipline. Your goal should be to teach your tweens about the morally right thing to do and to control their behaviour – without being too controlling, of course.
How do you curb tween behaviour problems?
While it is acceptable to allow tweens to test their wings, misbehaviour must be curbed from the beginning. You must lay down the rules from quite early on, and be firm. Most importantly, be a good role model for them.
There are many more things you can do to curb tween behaviour problems:
- Set clear rules. Tweens and teenagers often push the boundaries of what is acceptable just to see how their parents will respond. It is important, therefore, to lay down clear rules. This includes the consequences of bad behaviour. You will face less resistance if you ask your tween for an apt punishment but remember to eventually have the final say.
- Make it black and white. Write all the rules in paper. Yes, you read that right. Create a behavioural contract between yourself and your tween so there is no confusion. Post it on a location that is central, accessible as well as readable (for your tweens).
For instance, “You can play video games for 30 minutes for three days a week. Any more than that will earn you one day without television.” So if your kids fall out of order, you can point at the list and remind them of the rules.
- Be consistent and firm: Tweens and teenagers can be very good at manipulating your weaknesses. If you show leniency once, they know they can get it out of you again. So be strict and firm from quite early on.
Be on the same page with your partner. If one parent says ‘yes’ and the other says ‘no’ the kids will immediately know whom to approach next time. But do not forget to show empathy and compassion. Both go a long way in disciplining teenagers in the future.
- Tell them what’s non-negotiable. As you become more firm with your rules, do not forget to give in to their small demands from time to time. If it’s not dangerous and gives you more time with your growing tween then why not?
However, if you sense danger or if an activity has social consequences that your kids cannot fathom at the moment, then pull back and be strict. For instance, allowing your tween to colour her hair temporarily can be acceptable, but smoking and drinking are not.
- Be a role model. Your child will follow your footsteps and there is no better place to check that than at home. If you often speak loudly with everybody but expect your kid to be polite, then chances are you just gave them a free pass.
The best way to encourage effective and positive tween behaviour is by walking the talk.
- Encourage responsibility. Since tweens crave freedom and want to do things independently, it’s best to teach them about making morally right decisions. Talk to your tweens about the consequences of their actions – both good and bad.
Make them understand that with age comes responsibility. Also remember that they are still very young and that they will make mistakes. The important thing is to help them learn from their mistakes.
- Be involved, then stay involved. One of the best ways to make sure that your tweens are on the right path is to keep a close watch on them. Of course, you do not have to spy on your kids to know about their every little move, but you need to be involved in their lives. Ask them about school and most importantly, look out for signs of trouble.
These warning signs include acting out, sleeping in all day, not sleeping through the night or complaining of physical pain. If you notice any of these behavioural changes, you must speak with your tween about it and take him to a psychologist, if needed.
- Do not judge your tween. Before you became a parent, you were also a tween and then a teen. So do not judge your kid for trying too hard to fit in, or struggling to find his footing in school.
We have all been through it at some point in our lives. So do not judge your tween for being a tween.
- Lend a compassionate ear. Get your tween to open up and share his or her problems. Are they getting bullied? Is somebody physically hurting them? Or are they simply going through a rough phase with their friends?
Talk to them and do not be afraid to address sensitive issues such as drugs, sex and alcohol in your conversations.
All of these suggestions work fine when your tween is not into unlawful activities. But what if you catch him smoking, drinking or even abusing drugs? What then?
What if tween behaviour turns unlawful?
In such a scenario, it’s best to lay down your rules straight. Do not wait for another disaster to happen. Here are a few things you can do:
- Lay down stricter laws. Unlawful activities are a strict no-no. Tell your tweens that you disapprove of activities like smoking, drinking, and even drug abuse.
Lead with, “Smoking will harm your lungs and drug abuse will make you an addict.” Also make sure to tell them you do want such activities repeated.
- Make them aware of consequences. It’s not enough to lay down the law. If you catch your tween misbehaving or abusing their freedom, make sure to teach them that every action will have a reaction.
You can ground them for a week or take away special privileges to teach them a lesson. But make sure punishments are not extremely severe.
- Monitor their actions. Stay strict and keep a track of your tween’s whereabouts. You have to let them know that you are the boss, and if they break your trust, there will be consequences.
If your child is on social media, shut it down till you feel that it is okay to return that privilege.
- Praise for honesty: If your child fesses up to his bad behaviour and asks for forgiveness, praise him for his honesty. The idea that honesty gets rewarded and wrongdoings gets punished will make a huge impact. This way, your tween will always choose honesty.
Remember, it is important to let your tweens know that they have your support and love. They will learn most by practical examples. So be sure to not set a wrong one in front of them.
It’s also a good idea to spend some ‘family time’ together so you know where your child is at, psychologically. This means no friends, and no extra curricular activities.
As a parent, you will immediately know if your tween is acting out or is cranky or upset about something. You can take proper actions based on your judgement. Spend time with them and know their problems.
And if they still act out, you know how to lay down the rules and let them know who is boss.