We used to call them preteens, which made them sound sort of like little ladies and gents in waiting. Today we are more likely to call them tweens, which more aptly describes their position poised between childhood and adolescence. No matter what we call them, children between the ages of 9 to 12 are truly special and fun to grandparent.
Changes in Social Life
In the tween years, many children make radical changes in their social groups, as their aspirations and tastes change.
They are in transition from the early years of school, when most children have little difficulty with friendships, to the teen years when social relationships become positively Byzantine. Having adults with whom they can discuss social relationships is vital, and grandparents can fill that need.
Typically, tweens complain, “I don’t have any friends.” This plaint is often followed shortly by a phone call, text message or knock on the door. That’s the end of the subject until the next time they spend an hour without being contacted by a friend. Occasionally, a tween has real and obvious social problems, and that situation may call for some type of intervention by the parents. Mostly, however, grandparents can help their tween grandchildren by listening to their problems and providing reassurance.
The jury is still out on whether you can help grandchildren with a problem by telling them about a similar problem that you had.
If you decide to try, be sure that your tween's grievances have been adequately aired before you switch to your own experience. Then tell your story quickly, making it as interesting as you can. Afterward, switch the conversation back to your tween's situation.
Temptations and Staying on Track
Tweens are in transition from the children they were to the teenagers they are going to become.
This is a vital age when they need lots of support from the adults in their lives to stay on the right track. Physically, they are undergoing puberty, with all that that entails. Mentally, they are old enough to assert their independence, but their brains lack the maturity to make consistently good decisions. The frontal lobes, home of reason, decision-making and goal-setting, are still immature.
It's no surprise that alcohol use, drug abuse and sexual experimentation often begin in the tween years. Grandparents will probably be shocked at the idea that these behaviors start so young, but one study of underage drinking found that on the average, boys try alcohol at age 11. For girls it is 13. As shocking as these numbers are, it's important to realize that if these ages are average, many children start drinking much younger.
Early alcohol use has been tied to lack of supervision, and that is a place where grandparents can help if they are close by. When parents are over-scheduled and there is a likelihood of children being unsupervised, grandparents can step in.
It's also okay for grandparents to let tweens know where they stand on issues such as underage drinking and premature sexual experimentation. It's best if they can convey their stance in a matter-of-fact way, without being preachy or getting emotional. Grandparents can also promote and facilitate positive activities, such as sports and Scouting.
Tweens and Self-Image
Many tweens have issues with self-esteem. They need all the positive reinforcement they can get, and they aren’t yet jaded enough to discount their grandparents’ opinions. That means that grandparents should pour on the unconditional love and praise them every chance they get. Of course, that doesn't mean offering insincere praise or praise that the grandchildren don't really deserve. Tweens are smart enough to know when they haven't really done anything worthy of notice. If grandparents praise them anyway, tweens will learn to write off the grandparents' opinions altogether.
Often tweens also have an uneasy relationship with their bodies. They are approaching puberty and may be feeling apprehensive about the changes ahead. Grandparents can help by having a positive attitude about aging and by emphasizing the things that bodies can do instead of the way bodies look.
Why Grandparents Need Tweens
Grandparents can fulfill many positive functions for their tween grandchildren, but it is hardly a one-way street. Grandparents can benefit greatly from hanging out with their tween grandchildren, for these reasons:
- Tweens still like to play. Maybe they have put away their own Barbies or Lego; that doesn’t mean that they won’t play with them at Grandma’s house, especially if they have the excuse of playing with younger grandchildren, or with Grandma or Grandpa. And when they aren't being moody, they can have a genuinely playful attitude that makes everyday activities fun.
- Tweens can do a lot of grown-up things. Grandparents can share activities with tweens on an almost adult basis. You don’t have to play Candyland; tweens can play real card games. When you cook or go bowling or work on a craft project, you may find that their skills are approaching your own. If you are playing video games or doing a computer search, you probably will find that their skills are far past yours!
- They still care about family. The social calendars and school schedules of most tweens aren’t yet as crammed as they will be in a few years, so they still have time for grandparents. Peers haven't become as important as they will be in the teen years, when relationships with peers eclipse family relationships at times.
- Tweens aren't so much work. Tweens are old enough to take care of most of their own needs. They are not so tiring to be with, which means less work and more fun. You won't be so fatigued after your grandchildren come to visit.
- The tween years are perfect for travel. Just as tweens are easier to entertain in your home, they are also easier to travel with. Many grandparents feel that the tween years are perfect for multigenerational travel. Many teenagers find family vacations less than thrilling, but tweenagers aren’t there yet.
Every age and stage of development has its charms, but tween years just may have an extra ration.