The changes in your tween are happening so fast you can hardly keep up. Reminiscent of when she was a toddler, your tween's physical appearance seems to constantly change — practically overnight. And with each passing day, she not only looks — but acts — older. And now she's got boys on the brain and she's asking when she can start dating. (Doesn't it seem like yesterday that she had her first sleepover with one of her little girlfriends?) So what do you tell this middle schooler who's 12 going on 20?
Former school psychologist, parent educator and author of Powered by Me for Educators Pre-K-12 (balboa press) Sherianna Boyle reminds parents of an important point. "Remember that the brain is not fully developed," warns Boyle. "Tweens are known for their egocentricism and impulsive ways. They want to be treated as adults but often resist the responsibilities that go along with being an adult."
"Parents who allow their tweens to behave as if they are in a relationship need to take caution as this is a time for your tween to develop his or her individuality. When relationships begin early, this may force tweens into developing themselves in accordance with pleasing someone else," adds Boyle.
Dr. Richard Horowitz, parenting coach and author of Family Centered Parenting, says, "Defining with your child what it means to have a boy or girlfriend and what that means in terms of expectations is important. The emphasis should be on friendships and that exclusive commitments at this age are really limiting need to be communicated."
Wendy Walsh, Ph.D., author of The 30 Day Detox and regular contributor to Datingadvice.com, warns against tweens who think texting is dating. "In my day, we went around. It essentially meant we would stand in relatively close proximity at recess, and on weekends we might be found in the same group cruising the local mall. Middle school couples tested out communication styles and learned to relate through the awkward ritual of pretend dating."
"But digital communication has changed all that. Today, many kids meet, date and break up all via text without ever uttering a face-to-face word to each other. They may not sit at the same lunch table or even be together in class."
"While some parents may think this high-tech version of puppy love is a safe way to date because it involves no physical contact, I beg to differ. Important lessons about communication and emotional intimacy are being lost when our children can't even speak to each other," adds Walsh.
In what feels like the blink of an eye, birthday parties for your little girl that were once a group of round-faced kids huddled around a sheet cake are now parties with girls and boys huddled around their cell phones. So when do you let your tween attend her first co-ed party and what do you need to know to prepare both her and yourself for this big leap?
"There is no arbitrary right time. It depends on the maturity level of your child and determining if your child wants to go to the party because of peer pressure or they really seem interested," says Horowitz.
So if you and your child decide it's OK for him to attend? "For the first party," adds Horowitz, "the same rules apply to spending time at a friend's house: Are the parents home? Set a time for pick up from the party. Reminder of previous discussions about family values regarding alcohol and drugs."
She's ready for a training bra. The thought of that alone makes your head spin. And don't even get yourself started on how you feel about the fact that her period could be arriving any day (although you pray it takes its sweet time). You know these changes in your tween's body are inevitable, but when you look at her, sometimes you still see a 5-year-old little girl staring back at you. How do you help her — and you — transition from little girl to, gulp, woman?
Kim McCabe, teen counselor and mother of three, provides these tips:
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