Here’s how to offer advice to tweens and get them to actually listen
While most everyone knows about the rebelliousness of the teen years, not enough is said about that period when the defiance and know-it-all-isms initially begin: the tween years. Also known as the pre-adolescent years (roughly between ages 9 and 12), tweendom can be a challenging time to parent through. For one, your kids often still look, act, and sound like young children. It’s hard to recognize that they’re growing up when they’re still cuddling teddy bears and asking for kisses on booboos.
But the truth is that as they are slowly shedding childlike tendencies, they’re also looking toward the future. They’re looking up to older siblings, cousins, and neighbors. They’re hoping to act more “mature” while not yet having the capacity to be. And even though they might start rolling their eyes more at doting parents, they still very much need tons of guidance and support. As parents and caregivers, you might be wondering how to talk to tweens so that they really listen. We spoke to a few experts on what words of wisdom or other advice for tweens we should be imparting, and these are some of the things they had to say.
“My job as your parent is to keep you safe.”
Sarah Baroud, a clinical social worker who focuses on parenthood, reminds parents that they need to let their kids know that they’ve got their child’s best interest in mind. “Sometimes doing what’s right is not fun or easy, but it’s necessary,” says Baroud. After all, as the adult, you have the benefit of being more aware of the dangers that kids (and tweens) just have very little understanding of.
“It doesn’t matter what your friends are doing. These are the rules in our house.”
Baroud reminds parents that comparisons start early, but that doesn’t mean we have to bend to our child’s will. “This goes against the often intense peer pressure that tweens feel,” says Baroud. “However, we know boundaries and structure are crucial for development.” Helping your child understand that the same rules don’t always have to (or should) apply to every person and that some parents may have different beliefs and values guiding these rules, can be useful in these situations.
“I know what it’s like.”
“Tweens may not want to hear (or believe) stories of our life experiences but we certainly learn a lot by growing up and can relate to what they are going through in many ways,” says Baroud. Being honest with our kids about our experiences (including mistakes we’ve made, and consequences we’ve faced as a result) can sometimes help tweens connect with us more.
“Establish a support system and don’t wait to ask for help.”
Susan P. Horton, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and bestselling author of “Raising a Resilient Family: How to Create Strong Connection and Communication in a Deeply Distracted World,” says that parents should talk with their tweens about building a network of friends, family and trusted adults at a time when they are on the precipice of so many big changes (like puberty and middle school). “Having emotional support and someone to talk to can make a difference when managing stress,” says Horton. She recommends parents encourage their tweens to “talk to a trusted adult, school counselor or mental health professional when struggling with mental health or overwhelming thoughts.”
Self-care talk is often marketed toward adults these days, but tweens should also hear these reminders from their parents. Horton says some ways to help your tween learn about self-care is by reminding them to “set boundaries online,” and “engage in offline interests that promote connection and personal growth.” Help your tween identify some of these interests (whether it’s sports, music, art, or spending time in nature) and find ways to support them.
“Set realistic goals and practice time management.”
You’ve been managing most things for your child up to this point, but while tweens might initially struggle with having to set their own goals and work on their time management, you won’t do them any favors by giving in. Teach tweens to “break down large tasks into smaller, manageable steps. This reduces overwhelming feelings and increases a sense of accomplishment,” says Horton. She recommends getting your child an agenda or planner and helping them create a schedule to stay organized and reduce their stress related to deadlines. They will appreciate it in time.
“Be kind to everyone, even if they aren’t your friend.”
Michelle Felder, a licensed clinical social worker and founder of Parenting Pathfinders reminds parents to let tweens know that the way they treat others matters. At a phase when cliques and bullying can become more rampant, it’s exactly the right time to show tweens that they should be striving for kindness. “Your words have the power to build people up or tear them down, and how you make people feel sticks with them,” says Felder.
“Peer pressure can be hard to deal with, so if you’re ever in a situation where your friends are encouraging you to do something that you don’t want to do or don’t think you should do, trust your gut.”
Tweens often face lots of peer pressure to say and do things they might not want to go through with. It’s a difficult phase when they’re navigating the idea of being liked and the fear of being ostracized, which makes it especially important for parents to discuss these matters even if tweens don’t want to hear it at first. Felder suggests telling tweens to listen “to the little voice inside of (them, which) will help (them) make the best choice.”
“It’s ok that friendships end, even when the ending hurts.”
The tween years are when friendships slowly start to become much more important in the lives of children. But while friendships are important, tweens need to know that “not every friendship is meant to last forever, and most of them won’t,” says Felder. Help your tweens recognize when a friendship is no longer serving them (e.g. if their friend is bullying them, pressuring them to do things they don’t want to do, or is generally feeding negativity their way), and let them know there’s always a choice. The same goes for reminding them that if a friend decides they want to end the friendship, it’s not the end of the world, and they’ll go on to make new friends.
“Feelings change, no matter how much your mind may try to convince you that they won’t.”
With the onset of puberty and hormone fluctuations come very intense emotions. For tweens, that can mean major mood swings and feeling like small problems are extremely huge ones when in reality, they might not be. Felder recommends telling tweens to “just give it time. The highs and lows will all come and go.”
“It’s easier to be yourself than to try to be anyone else.”
Be yourself is great advice for anyone at any age, but it’s especially important to cement that idea into the minds of tweens, who often worry about fitting in and what others might think. It’s especially difficult when tweens might still want to hold on to some of the things they loved as younger children but feel like they can’t because older tweens might think they’re being “babyish.” “A true friend will love you just the way you are,” Felder says.