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Social Skills for Tweens: How Adolescents Differ from Teens

written by: Deb Killion • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 9/16/2014

When teaching young people social skills, it is important to remember that while there are similarities, adolescents are not teens yet and there are some differences. Here are some important tips for parents on handling their pre-teen child.

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    How Tweens Are Different

    • Social Skills Adolescents Differ from Teens Physical Growth Differences: Adolescents in the 8 to 12 year range are still growing rapidly, presenting a unique set of issues for this age group. Girls are growing faster than boys, creating a sense of awkwardness for the taller and more mature girl and her male peers. In addition, boys may start to experience some change in their voice patterns, making them self-conscious around others. This awkward physical growth period should be dealt with sensitively as kids go into their preteen years.
    • Emotional Growth Differences: Just as tweens are growing physically at different rates, they are also experiencing some hormone changes that may cause them to be more sensitive or short-tempered. Some research shows that preteens have periods of mood swings due to hormonal changes that occur not during but before the teen years. In addition, the normal growth process and adjustment period of the tween years is sometimes stressful as young people try to figure out how they fit in.
    • Achievement Differences: Kids differ in their abilities and interests. Some kids are natural achievers, always wanting to get ahead, while others barely make it. During the adolescent years, there is a lot of “trying and failing." Express to kids that it is okay to try something and decide not to pursue it, so long as it is a choice they make willingly based on their interest level or skill and not just giving up too easy.
    • Lack of Life Experience: Teenagers have some limited life experience that has taught them what is appropriate and what is not. Tweens or younger kids do not have such a knowledge base and often make mistakes due to this. They should be given a chance to learn from such mistakes and not feel it will be held against them in the long term. Erikson, in his “Stages" book called this period of time “Industry vs. Inferiority" in the 6 to 11 age range, a time in which kids are learning what they can do well and what they cannot. Older kids in the 12 to 18 age range are in the “Identity vs. Role Confusion" stage in which they are wrestling with becoming who they are going to be in life. As kids enter this teen stage, we start to see changes in focus of many kids from what they can do, to what they can identify with.
    • Stereotypes and Bullying: Unfortunately, at this age we see kids start to bully, attempt to stereotype and isolate others. Kids at this age learn whom they can push around and whom they cannot. Bullies often look for kids who are on their own who are smaller or less capable of defending themselves and try to take advantage of their physical size or situation. Both parents and teachers should watch this carefully so that it does not create a sense of desperation among preteens as they enter their teen years.
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    Providing Support

    The “tween" years, those difficult adolescent years between being a child and a teen, are among the most difficult kids endure due to their physical growth processes, emotional extremes and the way that they believe others view them.

    In addition, their level of achievement and abilities often dictate the self-image of these younger kids. Not only is it important that they be allowed to try and fail, but also that they have a number of positive experiences so that their overall concept of themselves will be one of acceptance and confidence. This helps determine their level of success as they enter their teen years and start planning their future careers so, for obvious reasons, it is of utmost importance that it is positive.

Social Skills for Middle School Students

How do you help your middle school child learn to make friends and get along with their teachers? Tips for parents on helping their child succeed in school and in life.
  1. Attitudes Count: Tips for Success in Middle School and in Life
  2. Getting Along with Teachers: Tips for Middle School Students
  3. Social Skills for Tweens: How Adolescents Differ from Teens
  4. How to Make Friends in Junior High