7 Things Every Parent Should Know About Their ‘Tween’s Health
7 Things Every Parent Should Know About Their ‘Tween’s Health
A few months ago, my oldest daughter started gleefully announcing that she would soon be a ‘tweenager. Wait a minute. A what?
What is a ‘Tween?
A quick search informed us that children between the ages of ten and thirteen are now considered ‘tweens. Benioff Children’s Hospital acknowledges how difficult this time can be for both parents and children, “Young adolescents are continuing to explore their community and world and beginning to develop unique identities separate from their parents. Although it's not often acknowledged by the child, parents are still extremely important in the life of a young adolescent. Your child needs your encouragement, teaching, discipline, as well as your ability to model social interactions and decision making.”
Local pediatrician Amber Denham reminds parents, “Parents should remember to bring preteens and adolescents for yearly checkups. Vaccination against HPV starts between 9-11. Often parents don’t think they need to bring their tweens in if they’re not sick and they’re up to date on shots for school.”
Nutrition also plays a big part in our health. Habits that are made in preteen years can last long into adulthood. Be sure to limit access to low-value foods that are high in fats and sugars and stock up on snacks like low-fat cheese sticks, fruit and veggies, and proteins.
Mental Health & Self Esteem
“Mental health!” was the immediate and enthusiastic answer of local mom Brittany R. when asked about her most pressing preteen’s health concerns. “I have watched my child go from a happy healthy girl to an anxious tangled mess of emotions over girl drama that was not mediated through school or parents. I tried to reach out and no one wanted to talk about it because their child wasn’t affected. I explored all avenues to help my child, pediatrician, therapist, and school counselor. I want her with a clear head and a strong sense of self worth heading into the teen years.”
Bullying, bodily changes, acne, the size of their social group, peer comments, and other external factors such as access to money and brand name clothing can play a huge part in a preteen’s view of themselves. Local mental health counselor, Tara Dixon, shared, “The emotional and social habits learned during these developmental years will be the ones brought into adulthood. It's important that families work together to develop healthy, effective habits and strategies that will aid their tweens in coping with emotions and challenges.”
I have decided that my parents were very lucky that this was not a factor when I was a tween! Now, our tweens have access to the internet via cell phones, video games, ipads, laptops, and even school computer labs. A recent poll released by UNICEF reports that one in three young people have reported being a victim of cyberbullying and one in five have skipped school due to cyberbullying and threat of violence!
Online resource internetsafety101.org highlights the connection between social media use and ill mental health, “Of children currently experiencing a mental health problem, over 2/3 (68%) say they experienced cyberbullying in the last year.”
How can parents help? Parents should have access to their tween’s online accounts at all times, including being informed of passwords and password changes. Parents should “friend” their tween on all social media platforms. Teach your tween that their voice matters, including when telling others to stop undesired behaviors. If the response isn’t favorable, empower your tween to distance themselves from the situation and not retaliate. Make sure your tween knows that information, including pictures, that are posted online can never be erased. Screenshot and share with a trusted adult anything that seems questionable.
“Sleep.” shared mom of four and teacher Megan S. “Sleep plays into academic performance, social behaviors, etc.”
Our ‘tweens have so many competing interests that sleep can be sacrificed to texting, watching videos all night, gaming, and social media. Online resource sleep.org reports, ”The blue light emitted by screens on cell phones, computers, tablets, and televisions restrain the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep/wake cycle or circadian rhythm. Reducing melatonin makes it harder to fall and stay asleep. Most Americans admit to using electronics a few nights a week within an hour before bedtime. But to make sure technology isn’t harming your slumber, give yourself at least 30 minutes of gadget-free transition time before hitting the hay. Even better: Make your bedroom a technology-free zone—keep your electronics outside the room, that includes a TV!”
Drugs & Alcohol
When it comes to conversations about drugs and alcohol it is important to be very honest with your tween. Answer their questions as best you can and don’t hesitate to let your child know that you may need an additional resource or two.
Drugfree.org offers the following tips for speaking with your tween about drug and alcohol use:
Make sure your child knows your rules — and that you’ll enforce the consequences if rules are broken. Research shows that kids are less likely to use tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs if their parents have established a pattern of setting clear rules and consequences for breaking those rules.
Kids who don’t know what to say when someone offers them drugs are more likely to give in to peer pressure. Let her know that she can always use you as an excuse and say: “No, my mom [or dad, aunt, etc.] will kill me if I smoke a cigarette.”
Preteens aren’t concerned with future problems that might result from experimentation with tobacco, alcohol or other drugs, but they are concerned about their appearance — sometimes to the point of obsession. Tell them about the smelly hair and ashtray breath caused by cigarettes.
Get to know your child’s friends — and their friends’ parents. Check in by phone or a visit once in awhile to make sure they are on the same page with prohibiting drug or alcohol use, particularly when their home is to be used for a party or sleepover.
Puberty & Sexual Health
Dawn B. simply stated, “The hormones.” Her tween is 10 and has already had a few mood swings and her developing breasts hurt.
“Sex!!” shouted mom Brittney B. “Are they knowledgeable about sex and the dangers or outcomes of being active? Pregnancy, STDs, emotional and physical state. Are they currently active? Do you have an open line of communication with them so they can talk about these things from you or are they getting advice or misinformation from their peers? If active, what types of contraceptives, regular testing, and doctors to use. Sadly, it seems kids are learning much more much sooner these days. It’s a discussion that’s needed by preteen years so that when they are teenagers, they are more likely to feel comfortable to discuss it before becoming active.”
“During puberty, male and female bodies transition from childhood to adulthood and become capable of reproduction. Puberty usually begins between the ages of 9 to 13 in girls and 10 to 14 in boys,” reported by Benioff Children’s. “Pre-teens also experience emotional changes and may quickly go from excitement to sadness, without being able to explain why.”
To be totally honest, when I moved out of my parents’ home, I had pretty terrible financial health. When the first water bill arrived, I was totally perplexed. I had to pay for water? I also fell into the lure of free credit card offers that filled my mailbox. Now, as a parent, I am proactive in teaching our girls about financial health. Whether your family believes in giving an allowance or having children perform chores for payment, tweens should be given the responsibility of managing small amounts of money. Understanding the value of money, that it is a limited resource, the importance of setting a budget, and saving versus spending are all crucial lessons for tweens who will, in just a few short years, enter the job market and contribute to the economy.
Need More Resources?
Dr. Denham concluded, “Several places in town, such as Woman’s Hospital and Our Lady of the Lake Hospital offer classes for parents and kids on some of these topics. Talking openly and honestly in an age-appropriate way with tweens is very important. The classes can sometimes facilitate that discussion for parents who are uncomfortable or less knowledgeable.” Or, parents like me, who just want to make sure all the bases are covered!
Published in Baton Rouge Parents Magazine.