How much independence does a tween need? Is it the same as how much they want? And how do you balance that with the needs of the whole family?

As my son gets older and pushes for more independence and time away from us, I’ve been pondering these questions.

His need for independence became apparent on our recent holiday to Padstow Holidays are very important to us. I’ve said it before, my husband works incredibly hard Add this to my job, the pressures of school and the quite ridiculous number of extra-curricular activities my kids do, we really need holidays. They are our only time to unwind and spend time together relaxing as a family.

But my son always wanted to be off on his own or doing something else. If he wasn’t stupidly off on his own climbing rocks in his Crocs, he was asking to go for a walk while we waited for the bill in the restaurant. His best friend came down for a few days, which helped him to be independent and spend some time away from us.


I respect his need for independence and to stretch his wings, but I feel sad that it comes at the expense of the rest of the family. It’s not really a family holiday if four of us are trying to enjoy it, while one is constantly trying to get away.

I know how he feels, because I remember feeling that way too. I was 14, going on 15 (whereas he is only just 12), and two school years older than him. I was on holiday in Devon with my parents, my grandparents, my younger brother and my little sister. My head was full of photo stories from Jackie and Just Seventeen about foreign holidays with friends and holiday romances. I didn’t want to be in Devon with my family and I was a sulky cow. But, in my defence, that was my ONLY week of teenage behaviour in my entire teenage years, so I think I did pretty well really.

So why does my son want to pull away at a much younger age? Is it that kids these days grow up faster? Is it that he’s a boy? Or is it that kids these days had less independence than we had in our day?

Now I don’t buy into the whole ‘stranger danger’ thing – the chances of being abducted now are miniscule and are now different to what they were 50 years ago. I think my kids have played outside more than most, but I admit I wouldn’t let them stray as far as I used to wander, even with mobile phones.

In my day, you made arrangements to see your own friends, simply by knocking on their doors. Your parents didn’t arrange ‘play dates’ (that phrase makes my skin crawl). If your friend could play, they came outside to play (you never went into their house) and if they couldn’t, you went and called on another friend.

Is it because we had this level of independence from around 5 years old, that we didn’t need to be constantly dragging away from our parents by the time we were 12?

I don’t have the answers. I’m just putting it out there. If anyone has any suggestions on how we can enjoy family time and accommodate this need for independence, I would be very pleased to hear them! In the meantime I guess I need to enjoy my son when I can and embrace my younger two before they start pulling away from  us too.

Author: Sarah Mummy

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  1. I don’t know the answers to this but my eldest two are the same and chloes only 10! Jake is 11…

    I find they want to be doing their own thing more and more, they do like each others company if no other friends are available, but that doesn’t help much when they would rather do soemthing together than with me, dad and mikes..

    I think its just more fun without a parent watching – no matter how fun we parents try to be

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  2. What a fantastic post 🙂 My son is 12 too but he looks 16 – and acts it. I’ll tell you what’s working for us (working imperfectly, but enough of the time to warrant including it here, I think). We are giving the Boyo freedom but also expecting him to take part positively in the reduced amount of family time we expect him to spend with us. For me it just comes down to good manners. I don’t expect him to let me hug him in public anymore but I also don’t expect for him to look at me as though I’m shite on his shoe if I bang into him with his friends, or give them all a lift somewhere. I think all too often parents can give each other scripts of how things are meant to go with kids – labelling the ‘terrible twos’ or saying that ‘teenagers are always foul’ whereas I think when we expect good, even amazing, from our kids, they pretty much deliver if they feel they’re understood. I am passionate about not ‘letting go’ of my kids too soon. I was ‘let go’ at 12 and it put me in grave danger on a number of occassions. The things I was able to do made me streetwise but also they robbed me of the last of my childhood and my ability to do well in school. We are their parents, not their pals and I make a huge deal of privately thanking my kids, sometimes with gifts, that clearly acknowledge their part in compromises that allow us all to keep spending time together even when we have started wanting to be more individual. What I have found in this older phase of parenting is that technique and strategy have to be constantly reviewed and updated as they change. My husband could tend toward wanting policies/frameworks that last years but we have both worked out now that that approach simply doesn’t work anymore if we’re respecting everyone and trying to laugh a fair bit together too.

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  3. Looks like we’re all going through the same thing. My son is a great lad and has good friends but I am often the one to say he cant go somewhere with them if I feel it’s too far. I need to let go a bit. He plays out all the time, they all love football. You are so right about family time he never wants to come anywhere with us so thats quite normal. Teens/tweens if they’re in a good mood they’re great fun.


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  4. It is hard to find a balance, because if you force them to do something, they just sulk and you wished you hadnt bothered! I think encouraging independence is good, but it is hard when you are on holiday! Perhaps deals can be made, you can go and do …. as long as you join in with …. later! Also, everyone having having a @brilliant’ time without them reminds them they are missing out!

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  5. Great post Sarah and some great comments too. I am a year behind as my son has just turned 11. We are giving him more independance and at the moment I am happy to do this and he is happy to take his new found freedom. We are not at the stage where he does not want to do things as a family but I know this time will come probably in the very near future. Gosh it seems to be more of a minefield parenting as they get older. Take me back to the sleepless night stage (JOKE). Great post as always x

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  6. I feel your pain, my son is also 12 and strives each day for a little bit more independence than I am ready to give. Having an older sister is tricky for him as he sees her doing a lot of stuff on her own. She then comments how he has more freedom than she ever did which is true. I don’t know what the answer is only to follow your heart and compromise on freedom and family time. Your not alone my darling xxx

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  7. It’s funny isn’t it went they get to this stage as they really are ‘Tweens’ they are still your babies one minute and then the next they are these grown up young people. I found it hard with O and now he is completely independent. It doesn’t get any easier and I don’t have the answers either but can only advise to make the absolute most of the time with him and the younger ones as they grow up so so quickly

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  8. I’m not sure what the answer is but I vividly remember going through this same phase when I was about 14. Suddenly I just wanted to be with my friends all the time and not really like family outings anymore. I did come out of it by about 18 and became ultra close to my parents. I think hopefully your tween will come out this phase too and suddenly you’ll have this friend that is your son and who is close to you x

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  9. So every since reading this yesterday, I’ve been mulling it over. Essentially I agree with the advice of Beta Mother – finding things you can all do together (and insisting nicely that he does those things), whilst giving him space to grow in his independence. My girls are quite as independent as your boy sounds but they both love being allowed to do slightly more ‘grown up’ things eg. walk to the swimming pool with a friend and walk home, stopping at Costa on the way back from school to grab a drink (using their own money!). Perhaps start treating him slightly more grown up and make suggestions of ways in which he can branch out and be more independent – giving mine an allowance has really helped them gain respect and learn some life skills at the same time 🙂

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  10. Thank you, everyone! These are all such amazing comments and you have all put so much time and thought into them, I really appreciate it.
    Betamother – some really great suggestions. I think giving him his independence, but expecting him to behave properly when he’s with the family is a great idea. You definitely have to keep changing your parenting technique when they get to this stage!
    I know so many friends who became close to their parents again in their late teens, Tas. It gives me hope!

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  11. there are some weeks honey that Beth barely talks to me never mind does anything with us a family. its such hard work

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  12. That’s a good point, Jaime, although it makes me sad to read that. At least our son talks (grunts) to us and grudgingly joins in with us.

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  13. Looks like you have a tonne of great advice. I think it is a case of balancing what he wants and what you all want, allowing freedom sometimes but expecting him to join in too. Sometimes he’ll get to join you on something you want to do and sometimes you can do something he wants to do. learning that you can’t always do whatever you want whenever you want is just part of growing up. whenever I hear ‘I don’t want to do that ‘ from my two i just reply “and I don’t want to wash your dirty pants but I do, that’s just part of life!”

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  14. Thanks, Lou! Everyone really has given me great advice! I do the ‘well I don’t want to do your washing/ make your tea etc’ thing too! I love to see photos of your big boys still joining in with the family.

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  15. Gosh, I sound just like you when I was a teenager! I have to say I really agree with you on this (I had that phrase too!) and I am constantly wondering how I am going to handle this as Grace gets bigger. Thanks for linking to PoCoLo x

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  16. It’s scary thinking about how you will handle it as they get older. My son has calmed down a bit over the past few days, thank goodness. I was starting to dread the thought of all three of them being like that!
    A pleasure as ever to link up with PoCoLo x

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  17. I’ve found another hater of the word “playdate”! My 11 year old is the same and is desperately trying to be more independent, although this seems to be characterised by screaming the house down at the moment when she doesn’t get her own way. I do agree though that we had more independence at a younger age and I certainly remember knocking for friends rather than having people over. I know things change and perhaps we have to move with the times, but sometimes I wish things were simpler for our children, like they were when we were kids.

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  18. Thanks, Mum Reinvented, I thought I was the only ‘playdate’ hater! I don’t suppose you hate counting ‘sleeps’ too, do you? That’s a real pet hate of mine!
    Sorry to hear about your 11 year old screaming the house down – it’s a challenging age! I think this seems to be how girls deal with it. I’m kind of glad I have two boys to practice on before I have to deal with the tween years girl-style!

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