When I say tweens, what comes to mind? High energy? Awkwardness? B.O.? A rollercoaster of emotions?
Ages 10-13, otherwise known as the “tween” years, is a critical stage of life. Youth this age are navigating the transition from childhood to adolescence, experiencing rapid changes in their bodies, minds, and emotions. So that we can know how best to meet their needs and guide them through skill-building and making good choices, it can be helpful to understand developmentally what is happening in these years, and how their changing social worlds are affected. In the Program Basics BLUEprint and the Torch Club Advisor’s Manual, we highlight some of the changes and challenges they face. Here are some to keep in mind as you work with this unique and genuinely fun group of youth:
- There is a wide variation in the onset of puberty, resulting in early and late maturity. Girls generally begin puberty earlier than boys.
- The physical changes of puberty become outwardly apparent, and children are more aware of their changing bodies. They may find the changes awkward or confusing.
- Body image and eating problems can sometimes begin at this age.
- Puberty can also trigger body dysmorphia and youth may begin to question their gender identity.
- Youth develop greater cognitive abilities for logic and reasoning. Gradually, they can think more abstractly about future possibilities, and consider more complexity.
- Changes in the brain make youth more sensitive to rewards (e.g. money, food, peer approval) and exciting and emotionally charged experiences. These changes lead them to engage in what adults would consider risky behaviors. These risk-taking behaviors can increase when youth are among their peers.
- Tweens have a weaker sense of self-esteem and fewer internal resources than older adolescents do, relying more heavily on friends, the media, celebrity culture, and other factors to shape their understanding of the world and where they fit in it.
- The parts of the brain responsible for emotional response develop more quickly than the parts of the brain required for self-control. This leads to strong emotional responses and increased moodiness.
- Youth become more self-conscious and worried about what others think about them. This also leads them to think that they are unique and that people don’t understand their experience.
- More parents are leaving tweens home alone for several hours a day. This unsupervised time means more autonomy for tweens, often leading to a false or inflated sense of empowerment.
- Media portrayals of body image and an idealized life create unrealistic expectations that distort healthy identity development and can lead to depression and anxiety.
- Peers’ attention and approval is very important. Young people feel intense peer pressure and may develop “best friends” or form cliques.
- A broader social network exposes tweens to more influences than ever before, and their peers are increasingly dominating their thinking, decisions, and behaviors.
- Youth interact and develop friendships with members of the opposite sex. They become interested in romance and may start dating.
- A highly sexualized and media-driven culture conveys unhealthy messages about sexuality and relationships and introduces youth to mature ideas and themes.
To learn more about Torch Club, chartered small-group leadership and service clubs for youth ages 10-13, visit BGCA.net. If you have any specific Torch Club or tween related questions, or want to start getting the Torch Club Corner newsletter, email firstname.lastname@example.org. This content is adapted from the Torch Club Advisor’s Manual and Targeted Program Guide.
Learn more about retaining tweens (because remember- today’s tweens are tomorrow’s teens!) in this ClubX Blog post:
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