Tween going on 20: From coffee to coifing

Jan 17, 2013 at 3:00 p.m. ET

Just yesterday it was pigtails and slushees. Now it’s hair extensions and double espressos? Why does your tween think she’s 20 and what the heck can you do about it?

Tween girl rolling her eyes

This is a normal phase

From the 'tude that shows up as quickly as it disappears to the constant desire to change her look, should you be concerned with your tween's rollercoaster-like behavior? "Children at this age are finding their wings and spreading them — it is a phase of individuation and what is so complex is that they can shift from playing with dolls to putting on makeup within the same hour. This is destabilizing for them and for us as parents," says Dr. Ramani Durvasula.

Give them the freedom you can

So what do you do when your tween wants to change her hairstyle or dress older? Durvasula suggests, "Give them a room or space of their own, privacy in appropriate ways. Go shopping with them and help them oversee choices. Check in with yourself. I hate to say it, but as a mom of a tween, I actually take more time to make sure that I keep it tame in terms of my look (I'm a single mom, so I am dating)."

Give your middle-schooler more freedom >>

Don't try to be cool

It's a fine line between giving them freedom of expression and making sure there are distinct boundaries for their behavior. "They may not tell you that they want boundaries, but they do," stresses Durvasula.

"They like knowing how far they can go, and there is a certain discomfort in having loose boundaries (even when they are fighting you tooth and nail). Too many parents are confused — so obsessed with being a child's friend that they are unable to be a parent. It's not cool to be a killjoy and say no heels, no makeup, and less revealing clothing (especially if the parent is doing those things herself). Tough — you are a mother, you are not supposed to be cool. It's OK for them to fight against you, hold your ground," adds Durvasula.

From awesome to awkward overnight >>

Tweens are highly suggestible

"One thing that makes this tough is that our kids are exploring in an era where sexual expectations run high, and the imagery to which young people are exposed is overly sexualized — at a time when they do not have the emotional tools to manage the images. Tweens are highly suggestible — wanting to emulate overly sexualized pop stars and TV imagery," adds Durvasula.

And what about you?

"In terms of parent emotions — this is hard. We are watching our kids grow up seemingly instantaneously. Talk with friends who have similarly-aged kids — even consider tossing together an impromptu support group. If you as a parent can find appropriate ways in which to discuss your emotions — it may result in fewer blowups at home with your child," says Durvasula.

"And every so often — pull them close and just hold them — they still want it, it helps them contain and soothes them (and does wonders for the parent)."

More about your tween's behavior

Battling a moody tween
Mean girls, tween girls: What parents can do
Mean girls rule the school? Help your daughter deal

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