Do you have a boy between the ages of 9 and 13? Affectionately referred to as a ‘Tweenager’ or a pre-teen, parenting tween boys is a time where you will be navigating psychological, social and physical changes in your son.
You might just be noticing that your son is starting to close up and stop talking to you the way they used to.
Parenting tween boys has its own special set of challenges as well as joys.
Here, I offer some practical advice on how to prepare you and your son on the best way to adapt to the changes.
We cover some topics and themes that might come up for them during this transition towards the teen years.
Tween Boys: Understanding Brain Development
It’s fair to say that a child who is preadolescent is not the same as they were as 6, 7 or 8 year olds.
The sweet little boy you got used to is changing and heading towards the territory of a somewhat unpredictable journey – puberty and adolescence.
Some children actively notice some changes, but most experience less obvious or subconscious shifts that require some unravelling as they mature.
Just like their bodies, children’s brain development is unique to them. The teenage brain doesn’t fully develop until they become a young man of at least 25 years of age.
So even though your son may want to have increased independence and responsibility, actually they still need a lot of support from you.
Inevitably, this can cause a tension between what your child wants and what he is actually capable of.
Tween Boy: Increase Your Connection as a Parent
I won’t sugarcoat things. To be responsive parents and meet your son’s emotional needs, it’s critical to focus and build a strong parent-child relationship during this phase of development because so many big changes are taking place.
You will find it helpful to hone your listening skills and focus on truly listening to what he’s communicating both verbally and non-verbally.
Sometimes it may feel like an alien has inhabited your son’s body.
But what truly motivates him?
What is important to him?
Take time to inhabit his world, rather than expecting him to inhabit yours.
Parenting Boys: Coping With Emotions and Difficult Behaviours
Becoming a tween boy can be a time full of exciting adventures and opportunities.
Your child may love having some increased freedoms, such as getting a cell phone or walking to the shop by himself.
At the same time, there is also a chance that your son may struggle to adjust to new freedom and responsibility. They may become more withdrawn, anxious or irritable whilst they try to get their head around how life is changing for them.
Social interactions are also changing.
Friendships are becoming more complex and there may be friendship transitions associated with moving to middle school or secondary school.
Before puberty, younger children are typically more carefree but he is now entering a developmental phase of immense emotional changes and turmoil. This may include mood swings.
Lots of boys need guidance on how to express and manage emotions and regulate their behaviour, so how can you help?
Well, my main piece of advice is: Always try to look beyond the behaviour.
Why might your child have just responded angrily to your innocent comment?
Why might he suddenly reject friends that he once loved spending time with?
Parenting Tweens: Managing the Changes in Boys
Allow Emotional Expression in Your Tween Boy
Emotions are to be encouraged, so never tell your son ‘boys don’t cry’ or ‘stop acting like a girl’.
Instead, acknowledge and let your son experience his emotions, whatever they are.
Emotions are there to give you information, they are telling you something.
Suppressing emotions or controlling how they are expressed can lead to difficult behaviours as they need an outlet somewhere.
Parenting Tweens: Challenge Gender Stereotypes
Although a long time coming, gender stereotypes are being challenged in our modern Western society.
Boys don’t have to be ‘rough or tough’ in order to show masculinity.
You can encourage emotional expression in your tween boy by explaining an emotion and the feelings wrapped up with it. This can help to diffuse aggravation, emotional outbursts and assuage making bad decisions.
If your child is exploring gender identity, read our article by guest writer Dawn Friedman: Gender Identity: A Guide for Parents and Teachers.
Preteen Boys: Set Clear Boundaries
Don’t be afraid of setting very clear boundaries for your preteen boy. Rules and boundaries can help children feel safe, as they know exactly what is required of them and what they can expect in return.
Minimise the amount of anger or violence your son is exposed to on screens (in a video game, on social media, or on TV).
This should be a boundary you and your son are very clear about.
Normalising anger emotions is important, but it needs to be in the context of real-world situations with conversations around appropriate behaviour and consequences.
It takes a lot of skill for parents to shift their healthy boundaries from the childhood years into early adolescence, in a way which makes your child feel both understood and safe.
You will need to regularly review your house rules. Dr Lucy Russell’s article on managing difficult behaviour at home will help.
Tween Role Models: Ensure Healthy Role Models For Boys in the Tween Years
Family men in your child’s life can help by:
- Modelling healthy ways to express emotions and make good decisions.
- Sharing compassionate and caring attitudes.
- Showing strong core values such as the acceptance of others, selflessness, commitment and continuity.
- Demonstrating how to take responsibility for their actions and behaviours and encouraging behaviours that make them good men.
- Demonstrating positive conflict resolution approaches in your household. Try to avoid shouting, excessive punishment or threats. Instead, nurture the positive practice of listening, talking and resolving.
Parenting a Tween Boy: Keep Talking
Never underestimate the power of talking – keeping the lines of communication open is really important.
Let your tween know that they can talk to you, even if they sometimes choose not to.
Offer a variety of opportunities for talking, not just “deep and meaningfuls”.
For example, short chats on a car journey can feel less pressured, and direct eye contact is not required. They will help you check in with your tween boy’s emotional wellbeing.
If your preteen boy finds talking about his feelings very difficult, there are many strategies you can use instead.
Take a look at our article: When Your Child Won’t or Can’t Talk About Their Feelings.
Tween Years into Teen Years
Tween to Teen Transition: What Are the Challenges for Boys?
There are so many potential challenges to navigate as your tween moves from pre teen to teenager. Social media, relationships, peer pressure, bullying, academic expectations, transitions, body image and much more.
This transition phase is an important one for a tween boy. Rules and boundaries will shift as your son gains greater independence and takes on increasing responsibilities.
As a parent of a tween boy it’s vital that you maintain boundaries that are firm, yet flexible to their changing needs.
Teenage boys need to have clear boundaries as this will help them to stay grounded and feel safe. Parents of teen boys must maintain empathy and allow for natural consequences, yet remain firm and consistent.
Tweens & Social Media
Social media, for many tweens, is an integral part of daily life.
It’s where they find connection, information, and entertainment.
However, with its omnipresence comes the challenge of ensuring a balanced and safe online experience.
Platforms such as Snapchat, TikTok, and various gaming discussion platforms like Discord serve as more than mere pastimes. These are places where tweens can seek peer acceptance, build friendships, and gather knowledge.
As parents of tween boys, it’s essential to understand these platforms’ allure. Sit with your child, explore these apps together, and discuss their experiences openly.
Limiting screen time is practical, but fostering open communication about what they see and feel online is pivotal.
Weekly check-ins can help.
Ask open-ended questions that encourage your tween to share his online experiences, ensuring they know they can come to you with any concerns.
Tween Boys: Drugs and Alcohol
Education on substance abuse typically begins in middle school or high school. However, with early exposure to substances becoming an alarming trend, proactive conversations at home are vitally important.
As heart-wrenching as it is to accept, some children start experimenting with harmful substances at a shockingly young age.
The foundation to prevent this lies in open communication.
- Begin by educating yourself on the signs of substance use.
- Organize casual family talks, allowing space for questions and sharing.
- Share personal experiences and stories, showing real-world consequences but in a non-threatening manner.
- Emphasize the importance of peer choice and the influence friends can have.
- Reassure your tween boy that they can always approach you without judgment, ensuring they feel seen and understood.
The more informed and prepared tween parents are, the better equipped you are to guide your tween boy through these challenging areas.
Tween Boys: Relationships
Ensuring your tween son understands the difference between a bad and a healthy relationship as they approach the teen years requires teaching and modelling from early on.
The tween years are the ideal time to build on this to ensure your son has a good understanding.
Together, aim to explore what behaviours are and are not appropriate in a friendship or relationship, and why.
Focus on the importance of values in relationships (especially romantic relationships) and wellbeing.
What does your child look for in a friend?
Values which are important to them might include respect, honesty, listening to understand, empathy and showing support.
Tween Boys, Exercise and Food
Research shows that during adolescence there is a 30 fold increase in testosterone production in boys.
This surge can be linked to mood and behaviour changes. It is important to understand that this is normal.
Plenty of healthy exercise is recommended as this helps to release stress and balance extra testosterone levels.
Parents of boys will tell you that as their sons grow, so typically does their appetite!
So given this, and add in exercise, be prepared to keep the cupboards stocked with healthy high energy foods if you can.
Parenting Tween Boys: 7 Tips
The important thing to remember when parenting tween boys is that they are going through a completely normal and natural stage of maturing.
Try not to fixate on getting everything right all the time. Lean in and listen to what’s going on for them.
1. Foster a Strong Parent Tween Relationship
Your child still needs you for guidance and reassurance. They need to know they have your unconditional support and love. A great way to do this is to set aside dedicated, planned 1-1 time, doing an activity that you know your son has a really good time doing.
2. Pick Your Battles With Your Tween Boy
Power struggles will occur, especially if your child is experiencing peer pressure to be or do things a certain way to fit in. By all means maintain boundaries, house-rules and routines, but you may need to re-evaluate what areas of good behaviour are critical and which are behaviours you’re willing to let go of.
Try throwing questions back to your child rather than making a direct challenge. For example “Eddy, what is it that makes you angry when I ask you to tidy up?”. Or “what would help you to remember your kit on Thursdays?”
3. Spend Quality Time With Your Tween Son
Is your son happy to spend time 1-1 with you? This can be especially important through big transitions, or times of stress.
Help your son to feeling grounded, safe and heard with you.
Could you spend time together as an entire family?
Find activities that appeal to you all, maybe try out new experiences together.
4. Set Clear Expectations and Ground Rules With Tweens
When expectations are too high, parents of tweens can find their pre-adolescent can become demotivated and experience low self-esteem.
Family communication and relationships can break down.
Expectations need to be realistic and achievable.
It’s a good idea to make sure you talk to your son about what you expect of/from them. For example:
- No hitting or swearing.
- Homework needs completing before x-box time.
- Clear up after dinner without being asked.
Find out if they need extra support from you to enable them to meet these expectations.
5. Show Curiosity About Your Tween Boy
Be someone they can come to talk to and take interest in things that interest them.
Be inquisitive and allow them space to talk and share. Although, be wary of being over inquisitive of a resistant tween!
6. Parenting Tweens: Welcome Their Friends
Friends become more important as children grow up. It’s perfectly normal for boys to begin to favour friends over family!
The best way to keep a check on your son’s wellbeing is to allow him to invite over friends and make them feel at home.
7. Tween Boys: Give Them an Outlet
All work and no play…. Tweens need to let off steam and expel energy.
In order to help them manage emotions well and get the most out of life, encourage them to try different extra-curricular activities either at school or outside of school.
At the same time however, be aware of not over-stretching them. Some children need more rest and down-time than others.
Some great ideas for regular activities include:
- Music and theatre classes.
- Home-based pursuits like cooking or gardening.
- Learning a completely new skill like fishing or Tae Kwon Do.
Parenting a Tween Boy and Your Own Self Care
You might feel overwhelmed by the changes in your tween boy.
Change is constant but remember, you are enough.
Make sure you look after yourself. Prioritise your needs and mental health sometimes.
Perhaps you could write down thoughts and experiences in a journal, take some R&R time and stay connected with friends.
Parenting Tween Boys as a Single Parent
Your family circumstance may mean that you are raising your son as a single parent. You may be the mother or the father, or assuming the role of either of them.
Does the absence of another co-parent, whichever sex, make a difference to boys?
Of course, it’s different for every family and every tween. However, research shows that older boys whose fathers are absent may show more stereotypical overt behaviour, especially aggression, when compared to boys whose fathers are present in their lives.
So if your tween boy’s father is not an important figure in his life, it’s important to think about how you might be able to include some male bonding figures into your son’s life.
Core values transcend both genders and you can be a strong role model in your son’s life regardless of your gender. But it’s important to give boys a broad experience and access to male role models as they need to be able to identify with someone ‘like them’.
Young adults who are male and nearer to their age can be great role models, inspiring younger kids to aspire to a similar path. These young male role models could be older siblings, cousins or family friends.
As a single parent, it’s likely you are doing the lion’s share of the work in bringing up your son.
If you are having a hard time and you have access to support from family, friends or groups, reach out and take it. You will be a much better, ‘rested’ parent if you are able to set aside some time to recoup and meet your own needs too.
Parenting Tween Boys: Summary
Parenting tween boys doesn’t have to be daunting, it’s just another step along their developmental path.
The good news is that there’s no better way of helping your son than being prepared and this is definitely something you can do. I hope this article has helped!
Tween Boy: Recommended Books
The Boy’s Body Book by Kelli Dunham
The Ultimate Guide to Raising Teens and Tweens by Douglas Haddad
Hayley Vaughan Smith is a Person Centred Counsellor accredited by the National Counselling Society. She is the founder and counsellor at The Ridge Practice in Buckinghamshire, and Counsellor at Everlief Child Psychology.
Hayley has a special interest in bereavement counselling and has worked as a bereavement volunteer with Cruse Bereavement Care since 2019. Being a mum to 3 girls is hard work and rewarding in equal measure and gardening and walking in nature is her own personal therapy. Hayley believes being in nature, whatever the weather, is incredibly beneficial for mental health well-being.
Are you the parent of a 6-16 year-old? Join They Are The Future’s free Facebook group for regular tips on supporting teens and pre-teens with their mental health! Join the group: Parent Tips for Positive Child Mental Health UK.