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Prior to the tweenitis, Mihic’s son was affectionate. No more.

“I used to wait for him in front of school and give him a kiss. Now, if I try to do that, he gives me this look as if to say, ‘You’re really strange,’” Mihic said.

The “pull-away”—that slight jerk that prevents a parent from kissing a teen—is a classic sign of tweenitis. The velocity of the pull-away increases in public places. It’s warp-speed in a 43-mile radius of school, as if they mustn’t be caught by friends participating in PPDAs—Parental Public Displays of Affection.

“One moment, there’s a hug. The next, it’s as if he’s pushing me away,” Mihic added.

Jack Westman, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Child and Adolescent Psychology, clarified the difference between rebellion and independence. “The message of the former is ‘get out of my life.’ The message of the latter is ‘let me do it myself.’ The tricky part for parents is absorbing rebellion and encouraging self-sufficiency,” he said.

Yet I’m beginning to see the benefits of this stage. The growth spurt accompanying tweenitis enables my daughter to do more, think in more abstract ways, and have a larger worldview.

Add “initiative” to the list. A few months ago, we decided to host a children’s art fair on our front porch. She took over, making the signs, deciding how best to display the pictures, and organizing the tables. I sat back and took directions. Quite impressed with her leadership, I decided that she’ll chair the art fair committee in 2012.

Fostering such accomplishment in the developing youth can enhance family contentment. “The sense of achievement that comes from true independence makes everyone happy,” Westman said.

“I’ll let you know when—if—I need you,” seems to be a tween mantra, which can be a difficult one for parents.

“It’s my giving up control,” said Mihic, “but I let him know I’m here for him whenever he needs it.”

And, at this time of an uncertain growing independence in their years of tweendom, hopefully, they’ll seek help when wanted.

After all, parents and tweens alike are in the same boat, both navigating unchartered territory. For the younger generation, there’s a sense of excitement at being able to steer the boat. Meanwhile, as a first-time tween parent, I’m searching for the life preservers, just in case.

I knew I was looking for something.

John McCarthy, Ph.D., is a professor of counseling at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Contact: Tell us what you think about this article by e-mail at, or at Log in and you’ll find the comment section on every page of the online Magazine.

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