Ah, tweens! Where do we begin? That uncomfortable moment of life that all of us have gone through at one point or another, and wish we weren’t forced to live yet again. But, we do, the moment our children grow out of childhood and become tweens.

Julie Ross, author of “How to Hug a Porcupine: Negotiating the Prickly Points of the Tween Years”, uses this same metaphor to explain the psychology of a tween. She explains in her book, “[parents] have grown used to his habits, strengths, weaknesses, and energy level. They’re familiar with the ways they need to talk to get him to do the things we want him to do. But, then, sometime in the second decade of his life, he changes. Unexpectedly, the things [they’ve] done for over a decade doesn’t work…”.

Between taming the hormone monster; trying to come to terms with the child they’re leaving behind and the teenager they’re about to become; getting used to their eye-rolling going up several notches; and, trying to understand their newly complicated inner emotional life, it’s kind of difficult to empathize with the human beings they’re becoming now. But, we mustn’t forget that deep – very, very deep – inside, they are still your children. And, as such, they still need you to treat them with the warmth, playfulness, and compassion they’ve grown up to feel.

Here a few tips on how to play with your tween… and not die trying.

No cell phones allowed, and yes, that includes parents, as well.

I remember I was giving a lecture for parents and their teens a few months ago, and the time came to talk about digital boundaries and I burst out my recommendation there should be a “cell phone jail”.  That way, the cell phone use would be limited – as opposed to the 150 times a day that millennials check their phones. I don’t know who looked more frightened about this idea: parents or teens.

Without our phones, we have an opportunity to actually embrace the face-to-face. To talk to each other, to laugh with each other, and to enjoy the moments we have with each other. Studies have actually shown how detrimental an overload of “parental cell phone use” can be. This particular study from 2017 showed how cell phone use can be detrimental to early language acquisition, as it interferes with the parent-child interactions necessary to develop speech.

By mindfully and consciously putting our phones away, we can open the space to have real conversations and actually enjoy quality time with each other.

Meet them halfway

So, maybe your then-child-now-tween really enjoyed playing tag with you, or with the dollhouse, or playing with the toy kitchen. But, that doesn’t mean that’s what they want to play with you now. However, given that they’re at a special moment in their life where they are part child-part teen they do want to continue playing with you. You just have to learn how to do this. And meeting them halfway is a big start.

Board games are always a big success with tweens, as well as clay, puppets, art, among other things. Ask them what they like to play. Maybe it’s a game of Scrabble or a game of Monopoly or even a game of Charades. Or maybe it’s a strategy game that they might be into. The point is to ask them and open the space for them.  It makes no difference if you keep pushing the board games that you enjoy if it’s not something that’s appealing to your tween.

Make it relatable

In the same lecture I mentioned earlier, my co-presenters and I were talking about the “tough conversations” parents need to have with their teens. And, unanimously, we agreed that the only way these “tough conversations” become easier is if you have established a foundation. And that foundation might look different to every parent because each child is different. But, in a nutshell, your child will want to share their life with you if they have the experience that you enjoy to listen.

Making play relatable is along the same lines. If you know your child loves to draw, maybe play a game of Pictionary. If you know your child is very sociable, maybe cook their favorite meal and offer a game of Cranium and invite their cousins or their BFF over. If your child loves a specific TV show, try to find on Amazon a board game that’s related to that show. Whatever it is that you suggest, make it relatable to your tween.

Tweens can have fun and can go two minutes (or even two hours if they’re having a blast) without their phones. All we have to do is give them the chance to do so. Even if that means pushing through the excessive eye-roll which will inevitably come upon the first suggestion of playing together.