5 helpful pieces of parenting advice if you have a tween
There's no rule book when it comes to raising tweens, but parents like Dylan Lewis, Pia Miranda and Robbie Buck from our Growing Great Tweens podcast have some great advice to share.
One minute they’re doing handstands in the backyard and the next they’re discussing climate change at the kitchen table. Tweens: they’re 8-12 years old, discovering who they are, who they want to be and what is really going on in the world.
In our Growing Great Tweens podcast hosted by Dylan Lewis, we shine a spotlight on this fascinating age group and discuss what shapes tweens: from discovering their identity and forming strong friendships to technology use, resilience, gender stereotypes and family connection.
Listen here to tween wranglers and parents like actor Pia Miranda, indigenous comedian Andy Saunders, radio host Robbie Buck, the voice of Bluey’s dad Dave McCormack, swimming legend Susie Maroney, scientist and technology expert Dr Catriona Wallace and many more as they talk tweens, life and parenting. Here’s some advice they’d like to share.
1. Believe your tween when they tell you something
When your children tell you who they are, believe them, says Carolyn Tate, a mum of 3 whose eldest son started their transitioning journey when he was 12 years old after experiencing gender dysphoria.
“Believing your kid…it’s so basic isn’t it? Connor [my eldest son] was 11 when he started to have some serious mental health issues that we didn’t know at the time were related to gender. I didn’t believe him at first. I thought he was just depressed, and looking for a reason to be depressed. I wouldn’t say it’s convenient, because there’s nothing convenient about transitioning. But I thought maybe it was the magic bullet that would fix everything. I had this really cliched idea of what transgender was.
“The thing I always say about believing [your tween] is that it costs you absolutely nothing. The concern for a lot of parents is, ‘what if they change their mind?’ So what? The point of believing them is there’s nothing more important than my child knowing I love them and accept them, and I’ll celebrate them whatever shape and size that shows up in.”
Carolyn says the key is keeping lines of communication – with your tween, with their school, with their psychologist – open. “You can’t protect your kids from the world,” she says. But you can “make sure home is a soft place full of love and acceptance…Just be led by your child and tune in to them and address what their needs are.”
2. Sometimes, simple connections are the most effective
“No matter how busy we or the kids are, we try to sit down and have dinner together every night,” says radio announcer Robbie Buck. “I know it’s a bit hokey and traditional. But that little ritual has a profound effect on the family.” It gives everyone the space to open up about the day – with the only distraction being what’s on the plate, he says.
Camping, one-on-one, with a tween is another great way to open up lines of communication, he says. “You’re off screens, cooking together, setting up tents together. You have to find where you’re going, then sit around the campfire.” It’s a great way to “loosen the conversation and bring bonding. Normal things are often the best.”
At the other end of the spectrum, Robbie also loves physically challenging activities with his tweens. “At the time they might hate it – but you come out with a bond. It builds resilience. It’s a powerful thing.”
Dave McCormack, musician and the voice of Bluey's dad, agrees that you don’t have to make a big effort to get the conversation started. He loves the one-on-one time that comes from driving his tween to extracurricular activities. “You have a captive audience, no devices… one-on-one time. It’s a great way to ‘unpack’. They can’t escape. They have to engage.” It’s perhaps aided by the fact that you, as a parent, are not staring your tween down – you’re both looking at the road ahead.
3. Encourage and educate your tween on how to find their friendship tribe
“Friendships are everything,” says actor Pia Miranda. “I think they can inform how you behave. They can inform your life choices, and how you relate to other people. Just what kind of gang you hang out with can really inform how you are as an adult.”
And you shouldn’t have to change yourself to make those friends, says cookbook author George Georgievski. “I always tell my daughters, ‘if you can be 100% yourself around the people that you classify as friends, they’re good friends because you don't need to change’. The minute you have to change who you are to please other people or to feel accepted, you might want to question those relationships because they’re denying you.”
Pia and George agree that it’s important to help your tween understand they don’t have to put up with, or participate in, toxic environments just to be accepted. “If you're in that kind of environment, it might not be the right one for you,” says George.
4. Allow tweens to just be, without expectation, without judgement
“Our job [as parents] has to allow [our tweens] to explore authentically, without bringing sexuality or gender into the conversation at all,” says Sean Szeps, content creator and podcast host.
“It's such a challenging thing for even a social psychologist to step back and ask, ‘is it damaging for [tweens] not to be able to express and explore themselves authentically?’ Yeah, of course it is. I'm still struggling today with how much of who I am is because of those stereotypes and not being able to express myself authentically,” he says.
We might have an embedded social ‘script’ of what it means to ‘be a man’ or ‘behave like a lady’, says Sean. “But here’s a friendly reminder – people exist outside of that.”
“The world is changing. People are allowed to express themselves differently. The gender stereotypes are becoming less. And so there are going to be younger people around your children, tweens and older [kids], who are expressing themselves through that.
“And I feel like it should be as much of a goal for you, as a parent, to ensure your children feel safe exploring [outside stereotypes]. But also ensuring that they're good people themselves,” and don’t follow stereotypes.
5. Being adaptable and vulnerable can make you stronger
“Being adaptable is hugely important in life,” says Lauren Patterson, a fitness enthusiast and personal trainer based in Brisbane. She says this allows you to “learn from each situation – life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you deal with it.” It’s a motto she tells her kids on a regular basis.
Leave the conversation between you and your tween completely open, says Lauren, who wants her kids to “feel like they can talk about anything with us and be vulnerable with the people they trust the most. It can be scary, but it will also make you stronger.” Home should always be a safe place to say things to you that they might not be able to say to other people, she says. But also be a place where you learn and grow from your mistakes.
“I try to let the kids work things out themselves first,” says Lauren. “I don’t want them to think I don’t believe in them. Try first – come to me second. Sometimes that means chucking them in the deep end – in the most loving way possible,” she says.
It’s about giving tweens the tools to find solutions, but knowing you will be by their side if you need it.
“This gives them the power to stand up for themselves no matter what. They have the strength and the power to say no and create boundaries… It’s okay to walk away from something that’s making you feel horrible, it’s okay to say no, it’s okay to ask for help.”
Mental health support for eligible members
To make it as easy as possible for members to access the mental wellbeing support they need, HCF has partnered with PSYCH2U, offering eligible HCF members access to free online video sessions with a mental health professional*.
HCF members with hospital or extras cover also have access to Calm Kid Central^, an online educational and support program to help kids aged 4-11 manage tough life situations.
Published June 2022
Managing the mental load of family life
Feeling stressed by family life? Here’s how to set boundaries and still have fun.
How to care for you teens mental health
Recognising emotional issues early is the best way to protect your child.
Teens and tech: how to set healthy boundaries
This is how parents can help their kids manage screentime.
Mediterranean chicken: a feel-good family recipe
Easy, versatile and delicious. Try it tonight!
* Must have HCF gold level hospital cover for at least 2 months. Eligibility based on clinical need as assessed by PSYCH2U.
^ Excludes Accident Only cover and Overseas Visitors Health Cover.
This communication contains information which is copyright to The Hospitals Contribution Fund of Australia Limited (HCF). It should not be copied, disclosed or distributed without the authority of HCF. Except as required by law, HCF does not represent, warrant and/or guarantee that this communication is free from errors, virus, interception or interference. All reasonable efforts have been taken to ensure the accuracy of material contained on this website. It’s not intended that this website be comprehensive or render advice. HCF members should rely on authoritative advice they seek from qualified practitioners in the health and medical fields as the information provided on this website is general information only and may not be suitable to individual circumstances or health needs. Please check with your health professional before making any dietary, medical or other health decisions as a result of reading this website.