As parents, the welcome relief of the “old enough to take care of themselves but young enough to still like their parents” tweens years can seem like heaven. When my kids were old enough to discuss things, make their own lunch and get dressed on their own, I felt so free. As a mom, I thought the tween years were just easier times for parents and more carefree innocent days for my kids. But what my 10 years of teaching Sunday School to tweens has allowed me to witness shocked even me. We can’t coast during the tween years! Here are 5 conversations you must have with your tween before they enter the teenage years.
There are so many pivotal moments and decisions our kids are making during the transition time from little kids to teenagers. And if we aren’t careful we may miss this opportunity to shape our kids. Heck, I almost didn’t see it, except for the fact that I have had a unique experience of working with kids at my church through those pivotal years from 4th-7th grade.
The Tween Years Transition
One Sunday, I noticed a student was so different in her actions and thoughts. I observed her behavior and felt saddened but went on with class, tucking this insight into the back of my mind. Later that week, my co-teacher and I remarked on the major shift in this student, finally verbalizing aloud what we had been seeing in ALL our tweens for years. While the change in this student felt more dramatic, we had been observing for years, the mental and emotional changes in all our tween students!
There is a strong spiritual shift that takes place from the time students enter as 4th graders and leave as 7th graders. By time my students leave Sunday School class and head off to youth, they have made a decision about what they believe about God. How can students so young make such a major decision about their faith? And what else have they made a decision on in their life? And yet a pivotal shift in the way they are thinking about life has occurred.
5 Conversations You Must Have With Your Tween
As parents, we typically see our kids every day. The day to day routine hides the subtle changes that are occurring. I know as a parent, I did not observe these belief changes in my own tweens. It was not until I saw the change year after year in other students that I comprehended what I was seeing.
Knowing that our tweens are making such a big decision about life, how can we safeguard our children? What do we need to be discussing with them during those late elementary and middle school years?
Here are 5 conversations you don’t want to put off having with your tween!
Talk to Your Middle Schoolers about God
Share with your children what you believe about faith, God or religion. Make sure that you are walking out your faith if you say it is something that is important to you. Tweens are observing the choices your are making. They are aware of where you spend your time and what you spend your money on. They notice the relationships that you put emphasis on in your life.
Go beyond the typical Bible stories and discuss the more challenging aspects of your faith. Read biographies of those that have walked out their faith and discuss the struggles they faced. The tween years is such a sweet time to have deeper conversation. Your children are eager to talk with you and yet old enough to grasp more adult concepts.
Also share about the beliefs of others. What do some of your other friends believe? Are there religions that are common in your area that your children will interact with. Learn about those religions and a little bit about the history behind those beliefs. It is better for your tweens to hear from you why you believe a certain way versus another religion or belief.
Discuss Dating and Marriage with Your Tween
Our beliefs about God and who we marry are two of the biggest choices we ever make. Everything else in life trickles down from those key decisions.
In some bigger Facebook groups, I have come across moms who choose not to discuss marriage with their children, especially their daughters. They wish to not overly influence their daughters to think that marriage is somehow the only major goal in life. But this ignores the fact that we are relational people. Most people have a strong desire to feel loved, wanted and in a special relationship.
For high school, I went to an all girl Catholic school where female independence was highly valued. And I loved that push to be independent in my classes. As young women, we learned to speak up and think through our opinions. And yet there was this underlying current that we should ALL desire to be career women who didn’t even think about marriage. But over lunchtime conversations I heard all the girls talk about guys, who they wanted to date or the next dance that they were hoping to get invited. It was strange this line we walked where honestly saying we hoped to get married someday was seen as weak.
So what if instead of acting like desiring marriage is antiquated we just discuss being intentional about dating and marriage. Marriage is not for everyone. And marriage is not an end goal that will bring you ultimate satisfaction as a happy marriage involves a lot of work and self-sacrifice.
But marriage can be wonderful! And certainly saying no to dating certain people is just smart if you know that they would not be good marriage material. Isn’t it smarter to encourage our kids to think through what they truly believe and what they value? We want to help our kids brainstorm goals and dreams they have in life and how marriage would involve making sacrifices?
As parents, we are sending messages to our kids all the time! So we need to think through what we truly believe, not just what we feel. And then discuss the topics of dating and marriage with our tweens. Soon hormones will kick in, if they haven’t already. Wouldn’t it be better if our kids had a few years to process what they believe based on actual healthy information and not just what they see on TV shows or the movies? That way they can set realistic expectations and healthy goals for their dating life.
Share and Discuss Healthy Relationships with Your Middle Schooler
“You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with!”, a now famous quote by motivational speaker Jim Rohn. Friends and mentors matter. So this is a topic that we definitely want to be discussing with our tweens. We want to talk about choosing friends wisely and how to recognize healthy relationships.
As my first born headed off to college, I remember telling him to watch people’s actions, not just listen to their words.
“Mom!! You’ve told me this enough. I get it, ” he told me back. Well, good!
I was blessed to see basically healthy relationships growing up. But in some ways this did not prepare me to understand that some people could lie to your face without blinking. Or that one had to be intentional to truly seek out healthy relationships.
While in my twenties and working at a non-profit domestic violence agency, I began to truly wonder what do I want my kids to know about friendships and relationships. I hardly want my kids to think all people can’t be trusted. Nor do I wish my kids to ignore their spidey sense when something seems off about a person.
For our family, we landed with telling our children to be trusting and give people the benefit of the doubt. However, before you put money on someone make sure that you have truly watched their actions. People can tell you whatever they want, and some unfortunately do. But actions speak loudly and most people cannot hide their truth self after 2 months.
Teach Your Tweens to Value Time During the Teen Years
With kids taking longer to leave home, the teen years have lost some of their urgency. As parents we vacillate between wanting our teens to just have fun and pressuring them to prepare for college. But the teenage years are actually a unique time to prepare for life!
In the groups I teach, I often ask the parents of teenagers, ” Do you have more free time now or when you were a teenager?” Without a doubt the answer comes back that parents all feel they had more free time when they were a teenager. So what should our teenagers be doing with that “free time” to truly prepare for life?
Talk with your tweenster about using the teenage years wisely. Prepare them now to value the time and freedoms that they will have during the teenage years. Discuss ways that they can learn about themselves more, try out different part time jobs and volunteer. Brainstorm ideas on what kind of job they would love to try. Discuss with them ways they can learn about themselves and others volunteering at church or in the community.
Help your tween to be excited about the additional freedoms they will experience during the teenager years. But also discuss that with freedom comes responsibility. Ask them how they think they should handle those additional freedoms in a smart way.
Remember your tween is making some major decisions about what they believe. It is not too early to discuss how they will handle the teenage years. They are already thinking about being a teen!
Having these conversations is just smart! We want to walk with them through what they decide about life.
Prepare Your Tween to Make the Teenage Transition
I’m late to the party on this one! Some things I was able to see coming with our teenagers and prepare ahead of time. Preparing our kids to leave home well was not one of them. But I can now clearly see the need to teach this art.
While your kids still think you are pretty wonderful, discuss the fact that one day they will think their parents don’t know much and just want to leave home.
And that while you will be very sad when that day comes, leaving home and striking out on one’s own is a positive thing. But there is an art to leaving home and beginning one’s own life. Both parents and teenagers/young adults have a role to play in making this transition gracefully.
As parents, we have to gradually let go and cheer our kids on from the sidelines. We will no longer be making all the decisions. Our kids are going to mess up, but we have to try not to jump in with a, “I told you so!” We also need to increase our expectations of our teenagers, giving more responsibility as we give more freedom so we don’t inadvertently make home life so easy for them that they never want to leave!
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And while our kids are still young, we want to discuss with them that it is natural that they will begin to form stronger opinions about life in the teen years. Our kids will think through the beliefs that they have been raised with and decide what they believe. All of this soul searching and lively discussions are positives. Processing what they believe only crosses the line to a negative when a teen decides they don’t want to consider anything their parent says. Discuss the pitfalls of leaving home too soon or with a hateful, disrespectful attitude.
If there comes a time when our teenagers begin to really resent our intervening in their life, that is the signal it’s time to leave home. But here is the catch. If they want us out of the decision making area of their lives, that is fine, it just means they need to be ready to support themselves. Our young adult children need to make sure they are ready to cut all financial ties (or almost all) with us before they move out on their own.
5 Conversations You Must Have With Your Tween
Enjoy the tween years with your kids. Yes, they are starting to assert themselves more, but they still enjoy being around us parents. So use the time to laugh and connect more, but also to talk about their future as a teenager.
What “must have conversation” would you add to the list above? Comment below and let us know!