How to Parent Tweens and Teens Without Losing Your Mind

How to Parent Tweens and Teens Without Losing Your Mind

From social media to weird hairstyles, are you freaking out about the tween/teen years?


By Wendy Robinson

When I married my husband almost a decade ago, I became the stepmother to 11-year-old and 14-year-old boys, which is probably why, now, being the parent of a toddler doesn’t stress me out too much. I’ve already survived the hardest part of parenting: the middle and high school years.

Parenting during the tween and teen years can be stressful as you try to figure out when to hold a firm line and when to allow your children to have some space and freedom to engage in the important developmental work of experimenting with their identity.

According to Michelle Icard, author of Middle School Makeover: Improving the Way You and Your Child Experience the Middle School Years, parents of tweens and teens need to recognize that now is the time to shift from micromanager to assistant manager of your child’s life. Making that shift can be challenging though, especially when it comes to certain hot button parenting issues like risk taking, friends, social media, and clothing choices. Here, Icard’s advice on how to navigate four particularly tricky aspects of your tween or teen’s life.

1. Taking risks: One of the most important developmental tasks for tweens and teens is to learn problem solving and resiliency, something that they can only do by making their own mistakes and learning how to fix them. Icard notes that kids who don’t take some safe risks (like going to the mall with friends by themselves or having the freedom to ride their bikes outside of their neighborhood) in late childhood are more likely to engage in negative risk-taking behavior once in high school. Parents can encourage healthy risk taking by making sure their kids have an increasing amount of freedom, in terms of time on their own and with friends.

2. Friends: Many middle school students’ biggest fears and concerns are about their social lives. Friendships during this time can be intense, and your kids might switch social groups as they figure out their own identity. Remember, you can’t pick your kid’s friends and you want to beware of creating forbidden fruit by banning some friends entirely, says Icard.

That doesn’t mean you have to put aside genuine concerns, especially if they involve safety. Instead of banning certain friends, make rules that put you in charge of the time and location of social interactions. If you don’t trust a friend to make good decision, invite him to your house or volunteer to do pick-up and drop-off for activities like hanging out at the mall or going to the movies. This allows you to make sure your child is staying safe, and helps you maybe get to know – and feel more comfortable with – the new friend in your child’s life.

More from P&G everyday: 5 Things You Should Never Say to Your Teenager

3. Social media: For many kids, the desire to be engaged in social media greatly increases around fifth or sixth grade. Social media is an important part of how today’s kids interact, and it can provide creative ways to learn about hobbies and interests. Many parents are rightfully concerned about their kids making smart decisions online, so Icard suggests allowing tweens to experiment by creating hobby accounts (related to a movie, band, or sports team, for instance). You can let your child create her profile under a pseudonym like “Soccergirl” that doesn’t have any personally identifiable information but will give her the chance to learn how to accept or reject followers, what kinds of posts are acceptable, and how to keep social media popularity in perspective. Once the child gets older and has demonstrated good decision making with that account, she can graduate to a more personal account.

Icard suggests that parents not only make sure they have the user names and passwords to all accounts for their kids but that children understand that the no. 1 rule for social media is, “You are not allowed to humiliate yourself or anyone else online.”

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Parents should also make sure that they are demonstrating respect by never using their child’s account to connect with their friends or to embarrass them (no pretending to be them online!) and by being mindful of their own social media behavior. For instance, don’t post pictures or stories online about your older kids without clearing it with them first.

More from P&G everyday: The Secret to Surviving the Teen Years

4. Appearance and clothing: Icard notes that parents whose tweens/teens are experimenting with clothing, music choices, and things like hair dye/cuts should feel grateful that kids are being open with their explorations of identity. Clothing is a relatively safe way for kids to try on different personas. As long as they are wearing clothing that isn’t degrading to themselves or others, let them have the freedom to look terrible. It really is likely to be just a phase.

My stepsons are grown now and are fabulous young men, but I’ll be honest in saying there were some really rough times. It helped to remember that time fixes almost all parenting problems, OK, and maybe a few deep breaths and a lot of patience.

How are you managing the tween and teen years?


Wendy Robinson is a writer, working mom, and graduate student. Someday she'd like to sleep in again. She also blogs at www.athleticmonkey.com.

Image ©iStock.com/doble-d


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