How to get closer to your tween

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The years between childhood and adolescence have their own set of issues. Children are often just as confused as you are by their conflicting desires. One minute they're playing with dolls, the next minute they're worrying about menstruation. Writer Carol Weston, whose latest book is called Girl-Talk: All the Stuff Your Sister Never Told You, shares her secrets for how to get closer to your 'tween.

How to get closer to your tween

Being a parent is never easy, especially when your child is in those tween years (9-12) — caught between not being a young child, but not yet a teen. Here are a few tips to help you stay connected.

  • Don’t be a “helicopter parent”: Tweens are at an age they want their independence but may not be old enough to go places alone. Organize activities that let your child interact with friends but give them space so they don’t feel you’re hovering over them.
  • Explain the “No”: Tweens often want to enjoy privileges generally reserved for teens (e.g. wearing makeup, getting a cell phone, etc.) If you feel the need to say “no”, explain the reason and make sure they understand, that it’s not that they will never get to do those things, but rather, just not now.
  • Kids Crave Attention: While becoming more independent, your tween still wants to spend time with you—although they don’t always say it. Look for opportunities to spend time together and reach out. Ask if they want to watch a movie, play a game, bake cookies or cook together. Remember, it may not be the activity that matters to them as much as the chance to spend time with you.
  • Take Advantage of “Openings”: While pre-teens don’t reach out as often as they did when they were younger, take advantage of those times when they do seek you out. If they ask for your help or attention, stop what you’re doing and address those needs—even if just for a few minutes.
  • Adopt Their Interests: Use the time in the car to find out their interests. Talk about their day or listen to their favorite music—rather than what you might choose. Remember, time flies and your child will be grown up before you know it, so take advantage of the time you have now.
Transcript DENISE: Hi there I’m Denise Richardson and this is howdini.com. How do you get closer to your tween? Or pre-teen? Not easy to say by the way. We have someone here who can help us with that. Her name is Carol Weston, she’s the Girls’ Life advice columnist since 1994, author of a slew of books including Girltalk. You know it’s getting involved in your child’s extracurricular activities. There’s getting involved in your child’s school, but these days parents, in some cases, are overly-involved. We call it helicopter-parenting. How—what’s the line of demarcation?

CAROL:  Well I would say it’s a pretty fuzzy line because basically if you, if your kid doesn’t have a social life that’s independent from you by high school, you know, you’ve got a kid in trouble. Even middle school I would say. But, at nine you can’t let them go to the mall alone. You shouldn’t let them. So they are embarrassed because gosh they have these parents, these funny looking appendages that are called Mom and Dad, but you’ve got to point out to them, look he’s got parents too. You know it’s that funny year when they don’t want to go to—they’re too young to go to the movies along, but they don’t really want to be seen with you. So fine, let them go with their best friend, but you sit, you don’t sit right next to them, you sit two rows back. That would be, I would say, a good way to give them some space, give them some independence, but you still have to be kind of all over them. Helicopter-parenting, certainly there are lots of extremes, but in general I think if parents and kids can have healthy relationships that last a lifetime, you know, that’s fine.

DENISE: Now I know that kids complain about their parents, at least to each other. When they’re writing you what are the most complaints you get about parents?

CAROL: My parents are too strict. They won’t let me do anything. They won’t buy me a cell phone…Um… Everybody has a cell phone. You know, they want me to dress as a little girl. I don’t want to dress that way anymore. They won’t let me wear makeup. And a lot of times I’m saying, you know, hang it there. It’s going to get easier. And you the parent can also say, I’m not saying I’ll never buy you a cell phone. Some day I’ll want you to have a cell phone so I’ll know where you are and you can know, you can get, reach me, but just not right now. You can buy yourself a lot of time if you do it with a smile. And a lot of girls write me to say that their parents are so busy or their parents are never home, or that Dad just got a new girlfriend and he expects me to like her too just cause he likes her. It’s, that’s really hard so I think that parents would be surprised and delighted to realize that even their growing teenagers and growing, growing kids still want to spend time with them. So they may not say, ‘Mom I miss you, Dad I miss you,’ but if you sit down and say, ‘want to watch TV together; want to play Boggle together; want to play a hand of card,’ they love that. They want your attention. They still need it, they just don’t know how to ask for it anymore.

DENISE: Is there not enough attention across the board? Are they not respected? Do they ever talk about respect or lack of it from parents?

CAROL: Kids crave attention. They want more. When they’re little they’re always “Mommy, mommy, mommy watch this,’ because you’re watching by the pool and if you don’t watch them they’ll drown. Later they don’t say it as much so if your twelve year old happens to say, ‘wanna bake cookies’ or ‘wanna throw a ball around,’ just say yes. Don’t say, you know, just a minute cause in an hour if the phone rings, in five minutes if the phone rings they might be out the door. This was your opportunity so whenever you see an opportunity with a pre-teen or a tween take it. Just say bedtime is ten o’clock in your home and you’re going ‘lights out,’ and suddenly your kid says, ‘I just wanted to ask you a question.’ You know, answer the question. Don’t say sorry it’s ten o’clock. Some kids will sort of save their intimate conversations for the end of the day whenever it is, or in the car. When you’re in the car don’t turn on Garrison Keillor and have your kids say, ‘I hate Garrison Keillor.’ Why not listen to what your kid wants to listen to? Cause I promise you in five minutes, five years, you know your kid’s out the door and you’ll be all by yourself in the car and you can listen to whatever you want. I like Garrison Keillor, but I’m also glad our kids would make us mixed tapes and introduce us to their favorite musicians.

DENISE: The more you know, the better parent you can be. Carol Weston thank you so much for being with us.

CAROL: Thank you.
meet theexpert
  • Carol Weston

    Carol Weston Author, Girltalk Carol Weston has authored many books and has also been the “Dear Carol” advice columnist of Girls' Life since 1994. Newsweek calls her a “Teen Dear Abby.” Carol has been a guest on The Today Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and The View. more about this expert »

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