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Seriously, What Age Is A Tween? (And Can We Return-To-Sender?)

Has your sweet baby officially become a "tween"? Here's what to know and expect. Sorry in advance.

Originally Published: 
The term "tween" has meant various things through history, but today it's generally applied to prete...
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In the words of Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran, "Everything has changed." The song may not have even been released yet when your probable tween was born, but boy, does it seem to apply to the current situation. Overnight, your precious baby has seemingly turned into a moody, opinionated, stinky tween swamp monster. You love them! But, uh... mostly because you have to. How did this happen? What age is a tween anyway? You thought you had more time until you reached this point.

Parents of older kids, aunts, grandmas, and even pediatricians prepare you for the terrible twos and that "threenager" phase. Some might even tell you to "watch out" for those teen years. But not enough people talk about the tween years. While one of the best ways to prepare might be to watch Turning Red, there's still plenty more to know about the tweenage years. And, as it turns out, the experts have plenty to say.

What is a tween?

"Tween is a common term used to classify a child that is about 8 to 12 years old," says Dr. Sharifa Glass, a pediatrician and professor. "In medical literature, the "tween" age period is also referred to as preadolescence."

Many professionals mark the start of tweendom and preadolescence with the start of puberty. "Some tweens may experience the onset of puberty," explains Glass. "Puberty introduces changes to a child's previously normal hormone levels, which can cause sudden fluctuations in mood. Parents may notice emotional shifts throughout the day, which can contribute to parental conflict."

So, yeah. If you feel more like you're living with a demon than your darling daughter, there's a good chance you're living with a tween.

What are common attributes of a tween?

"Tweens exhibit more independence, which is most evident in their interactions with parents," shares Glass. "Parents may notice that tweens challenge parental decisions more often, and therefore, children in this age group benefit from detailed discussions on various topics. From the age of 8-12 years old, children have poor impulse control while also developing their cognitive skills to think and reason. This is why peer pressure has a large impact during this age period. Tweens begin making plans for short-term goals (such as being captain of a team) and long-term goals (such as career choices). Towards the end of the tween years at age 11-12 years, children start to explore romantic relationships and define their sexual orientation."

Tween Characteristics:

  • Losing interest in toys
  • Loss of interest in former hobbies
  • Lack of trust in you (they don't tell you as much or keep secrets)
  • Challenging authority and parental decisions
  • Return of emotional meltdowns
  • Developing & defining their own tastes and preferences
  • Major concerns about appearance
  • Mimicking older siblings or teenagers on television and the internet
  • Interest in new/surprising (for you) things
  • Growth/puberty

How has the definition of a tween changed?

The world is vastly different from when we were tweens. Has that affected when kids become tweens or the challenges parents face with tweens? The short answer is a resounding "yes!" Thanks to the internet and social media, your kids, tweens, and teens are exposed to much more "grown-up" content than you were. That will, of course, cause a child to develop differently. Then, of course, there's the fact that "tween" didn't used to refer to kids at all, but rather adults.

"In the early twentieth century, the term "tween" was used to refer to adults in their twenties that were either irresponsible or living with their parents," says Glass. "Toward the latter part of the 20th century, the definition shifted to describe pre-teens. This may have happened due to various marketing and media efforts. Also, the new definition may have originated from the word 'between' to refer to the period between childhood and adolescence."

Feeling like your tween is much more "mature" or "knows too much" for their age? You're not alone, and you can blame things like social media and reality television. Before you become a super strict parent and ban all forms of tween entertainment, know that those same outlets offer useful information, too. For every makeup tutorial on TikTok, you can also find a quick snippet of someone telling their viewers, "You're enough," or reminding teens to take care of themselves.

Raising a tween can be rough. But it's all part of watching them develop into a full-blown human with a personality all their own. You may not like every change in attitude you witness over the coming years, but you're destined to fall in love (again) with the final outcome.

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