Parenting Preteens: Building a ‘United Front’

Preadolescence challenges preteens and parents. Let’s face these challenges as allies! Besides bestowing us with changes in appearance, attitude, mood, and behavior, preadolescence presents us some serious and difficult challenges.

What happened to my child? Preteens begin to redefine themselves in relation to parents and siblings — who may not welcome the changed roles — and develop new interests, which may not be shared by others at home.

Social Studies, or social scene? The school environment around the middle school years is stressful, as academic subjects become more complicated, and motivation toward studying may be affected by alternative competing inclinations

Dangers ahead! Preteens face powerful social pressures from their peers, the neighborhoods where they live, and from mass media. Parents may feel helpless in shielding their kids from the many influences that threaten their safety and well being.

Once we realize that preteens and parents are strongly impacted by preadolescence, and are on the same side, we can act in ways that show our disposition and determination to tackle the challenges as a united front. Following are some ideas for what may work for you:

  • Take advantage of daily occasions, such as suppertime, to talk.
  • Listen attentively with ears, eyes, and heart!
  • Talk with preteens (not at them!) about their activities and about delicate topics, such as sex and drugs.
  • Tell them about your experiences when you were their age.
  • Promote and model respectful expression of opinions and emotions.
  • Help preteens develop assertive communication skills: “I feel x when y; I’d like z.”
  • Treat preteens with respect and good manners: “Please, I’m sorry, thanks!”
  • Avoid verbal and nonverbal messages that may be construed as sermons, orders, threats, judgment, interrogation, criticism, and ridicule.
  • Emphasize their strengths more than their limitations.
  • Don’t compare preteens with others.
  • Praise efforts toward worthwhile goals, irrespective of the outcomes!
  • Show approval and affection through smiles and hugs, especially at home.
  • Show preteens unconditional acceptance of who they are, even when we disapprove of what they may do.
  • Offer guidance, and support them in making their decisions.
  • Reassure them that they don’t have to face difficult situations alone.
  • Encourage them to compete with good sportsmanship.
  • Allow preteens to make mistakes and learn from experience, accepting failures as lessons.
  • Establish and enforce routines, reasonable rules, and consistent consequences.
  • Remember that kids learn from adults about how to face challenges, overcome obstacles, and solve the problems that life presents at every stage, so teach them by example.
  • Seek support or professional help when needed.

Being a preadolescent and parenting preadolescents are not easy tasks. But we can accomplish them better together.