Updated: Apr 24, 2022
How to Empower Your Tweens
Do you have any traditions with your children during their tween years? As challenging as these in-between years can be, with the right approach they can also be enchanting, empowering, and enriching.
Typically, by the time a child is 12 years old, they are making decisions with the same level of accuracy and maturity as a 19-year-old. There are many ways we engage with our preteens. Out of habit, we can easily overlook their abilities and still treat them the same way we did when they were 5 years old. It is equally as easy to forget how young they are (especially if they are quite responsible) and expect them to mimic our decision-making process. Another approach is to give your children the education, tools, and resources they need to start making choices that matter while they are still in your home to help them process the outcomes. While this concept is easier when their decision works or aligns with what we would do, that’s not always the case. For this to work, you have to relinquish the reins even if their choice differs from what you would choose.
Start with the basics, by adopting the following three precepts when it comes to your kids: “You are the expert on you.” “You have a brain in your head.” “You want your life to work.”. ― William Stixrud, The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives.
Around this time, those same children are capable of reading and following a recipe, building instructions, or product manuals. As easy as it is to continue to do ALL OF THE things for your children, allowing them opportunities to grow builds their confidence and fortitude.
“a low sense of control is enormously stressful and that autonomy is key to developing motivation,” ― William Stixrud
Ask yourself what you want your children to know in the various categories by the time they leave your house, then create a game plan to make it happen.
Consider all aspects of your child's health. Empower them to learn their baseline. What does it feel like to be in optimal physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, financial, and nutritional health? How does their health change with not enough sleep or healthy movement? Does eating too many sweets, dairy, or wheat impact their health? Are they easily stressed, frustrated, or excited? Do they have coping mechanisms to manage areas of struggle?
“Exercise is also critical to a state of relaxed alertness. As John Ratey showed in his book Spark, when students exercised heavily as part of their school curriculum, academic performance dramatically improved.7 Again, Finland is at the head of the class here: they mandate twenty minutes of outdoor play for every forty minutes of instructional time.” ― William Stixrud
Yes, they are tweens. I’m not proposing you throw out all of the rules. However, they can be a part of setting the rules with proper considerations taken into account. Ask them to monitor their technology usage and the impact it had on their life. Finally, watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix and select a time to go screen free to see the impact it has on your life.
The Social Dilemma is a 2020 American docudrama film directed by Jeff Orlowski and written by Orlowski, Davis Coombe, and Vickie Curtis. The documentary examines how social media's design nurtures an addiction, manipulates people's views, emotions, and behavior, and spreads conspiracy theories and disinformation, to maximize profit. The film also examines the issue of social media's effect on mental health.
Work together to create limits. Revisit the limits as necessary, when they are not being adhered to or as circumstances change requiring different limits.
“The research of Larry Rosen and his colleagues has shown that time in front of a screen is positively correlated with increases in 1) physical health problems, 2) mental health problems, 3) attention problems, and 4) behavior problems.19 Similarly, in her troubling recent article, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” Jean Twenge (whose research we discussed in Chapter One) argues that smartphones and social media are making the current generation of children, teens, and young adults “seriously unhappy.” Her research suggests that despite their constant connections through media, contemporary young people increasingly feel lonely, tired, and left out.20” ― William Stixrud
What subjects come easily/need extra time or support? What's their learning style? How confident are they with learning? Are there any holes in their academics? Are tutors or supplemental assistance needed to prepare them for high school? Do they know how to study? Do they embrace a growth mindset?
“The reality is that we become successful in this world by working hard at something that comes easily to us and that engages us. We need to tell our kids that the skill set required to be a successful student is, in many ways, very different from the skill set that will lead you to have a successful career and a good life.”― William Stixrud
For many kids, this is the time when tough decisions have to be made regarding extra-curricular activities. Should your child continue with a sport or activity they have invested up to 9 years in at this point? Have open and honest conversations about their desires outside of the time or money invested or sacrifices made. Sometimes they realize their limitations, their bodily changes force them out of a sport, or they want a less rigorous experience. While you can explore the pros and cons together, trust them and let them know how much weight their opinion will have on the decision.
“So often, parents want to play Edward Scissorhands and start pruning their child like a tree, but the reality is that your tree has just begun to grow, and you don't even know what kind of tree it is. Maybe it's not a sports tree.” ― William Stixrud
Does your tween know how to cook, clean, make basic home repairs? Do they have a rough idea of the home maintenance schedule, shopping for groceries and household items? This is not about absconding your responsibility, burdening them with extra work, nor taking their childhood. Providing children with the skills necessary to 'Adult' empowers them to feel confident and secure in their abilities when they are no longer with you. Practice is required in EVERYTHING that we do.
Are you modeling and actively teaching them how to be in healthy relationships? If not, they are learning from somewhere. Do they know how to identify toxic friends? Do you discuss the purpose of dating - what it looks like and what it does not? Are they being bullied or bullying school mates? Do you know and commune with your neighbors? How do they personally express appreciation to their coaches and teachers? Do they treat others with the dignity and respect they deserve whether or not they want to be in their presence at the moment? How do they interact with you, their siblings, and extended family?
When kids understand how much money you have and how you choose to spend it, that knowledge can level set expectations. Understanding the importance of paying bills on time and how it impacts your credit is a great place to start. Teaching about saving and investing, taxes and donating are equally as important. Each of these conversations can incorporate your family values. Explaining how you derived the limits or liberality you follow helps them to assess how they spend. The more opportunities they have to practice what you teach or discuss the better. Providing a time and money budget for your child to plan a vacation is another great way to allow your child to practice money skills and involve them in the decision making.
Before you speak, listen. Before you write, think. Before you spend, earn. Before you invest, investigate. Before you criticize, wait. Before you pray, forgive. Before you quit, try. Before you retire, save. Before you die, give. -William A. Ward
What does investing time, talent, and treasure into your local, national, and international communities look like? What causes are important to you? your children? Regardless of the excess you have, you can cultivate an attitude of generosity throughout your life. Some families opt not to volunteer when the children are younger because it is more challenging. You know your offspring. While some kids can join the team as a toddler, others need to be preteens before they are able to not cause undue stress. Keep in mind, the longer you wait, the more difficult it may be to start. Before your child is able to help, you can attend fundraising events as a family explaining to your children the mission of the organization. Discuss causes that are meaningful to your family members to help you decide when and where you can start. Collecting items or selling lemonade is a way for children to support the community.
“Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more.” ― H. Jackson Brown Jr.
This is A LOT. We have so much to teach them in so little time. The concepts on this list can follow the approach I embraced decades ago with homeschooling. There are three options when educating your children, 1. You can learn it before them. 2. You can learn it with them. 3. You can hire/barter someone to teach it. As you review the list, identify what you can teach them, what you need to learn too, and what you can outsource. Remember, we teach what we know and learn what we can to grow into the people we were created to be.
It can be hard to decide when to start, when to cross the line of childhood. Usually, our children tell us in one way or another. For some children, hitting double digits is a good marker, while others will be ready at 8! One risk in "waiting a few years" is that your child might not be as receptive, may have a busier schedule, or may not be as interested in trying new things.
“Without a healthy sense of control, kids feel powerless and overwhelmed and will often become passive or resigned. When they are denied the ability to make meaningful choices, they are at high risk of becoming anxious, struggling to manage anger, becoming self-destructive, or self-medicating.” ― William Stixrud
Enjoy your tweens!