Staying connected as kids approach the teen years and become more independent may
become a challenge for parents, but it's as important as ever — if not more
While activities at school, new interests, and a growing social life become more
important to growing kids, parents are still the anchors, providing love, guidance,
And that connection provides a sense of security and helps build the resilience
kids needs to roll with life's ups and downs.
What to Expect
Your preteen may act as if your guidance isn't welcome or needed, and even seem
embarrassed by you at times. This is when kids start to confide more in peers and
request their space and privacy — expect the bedroom door to be shut more often.
As hard as it might be to swallow these changes, try not to take them personally.
They're all signs of growing independence. The best way to weather them is through
balance: allow growing room by expanding boundaries, but continue to enforce important
house rules and family values. For example, a child who asks for more privacy might
be allowed to earn the privilege getting a bedroom door lock by doing some household
chores for a set amount of time.
But you don't have to let go entirely. You're still a powerful influence —
it's just that your preteen might be more responsive to the example you set rather
than the instructions you give. So practice what you'd like to preach; just preach
it a little less for now.
Modeling the qualities that you want your preteen to learn and practice —
respectful communication, kindness, healthy eating, and fulfilling everyday responsibilities
without complaining — makes it more likely that your son or daughter will comply.
What You Can Do
Small, simple things can reinforce connection. Make room in your schedule for special
times, take advantage of the routines you already share, and show that you care.
Here are some tips:
Family meals: It may seem like a chore to prepare a meal,
particularly after a long day. But a shared family meal provides valuable together
time. So schedule it and organize it just as you would any other activity. Even if
you have to pick up something pre-made, sit down together to eat it. Turn off the
TV and try to tune out the ringing phone. If it's impossible to do every night, schedule
a regular weekly family dinner night that accommodates kids' schedules. Make it something
fun, and get everyone involved in the preparation and the cleanup. Sharing an activity
helps build closeness and connection, and everyone pitching in reinforces a sense
of responsibility and teamwork.
Bedtime and goodnight: Your child may not need to be tucked in
anymore, but maintaining a consistent bedtime routine helps preteens get the sleep
needed to grow healthy and strong. So work in some winding-down time together before
the lights go out. Read together. Go over the highlights of the day and talk about
tomorrow. And even if your preteen has outgrown the tuck-in routine, there's still
a place for a goodnight kiss or hug. If it's shrugged off, try a gentle hand on the
shoulder or back as you wish your child a good night's sleep.
Share ordinary time: Find little things that let you just hang
out together. Invite your preteen to come with you to walk the dog. Invite yourself
along on his or her run. Washing the car, baking cookies, renting movies, watching
a favorite TV show — all are opportunities to enjoy each other's company. And
they're chances for kids to talk about what's on their mind. Even riding in the car
is an opportunity to connect. When you're driving, your preteen may be more inclined
to mention a troubling issue. Since you're focused on the road, he or she doesn't
have to make eye contact, which can ease any discomfort about opening up.
Create special time: Make a tradition out of celebrating family
milestones beyond birthdays and holidays. Marking smaller occasions like a good report
card or a winning soccer game helps reinforce family bonds.
Show affection: Don't underestimate the value of saying and showing
how much you love your preteen. Doing so ensures that kids feel secure and loved.
And you're demonstrating healthy ways to show affection. Still, preteens may start
to feel self-conscious about big displays of affection from parents, especially in
public. They may pull away from your hug and kiss, but it's not about you. Just reserve
this type of affection for times when friends aren't around. And in public, find other
ways to show that you care. A smile or a wave can convey a warm send-off while respecting
boundaries. Recognize out loud your child's wonderful qualities and developing skills
when you see them. You might say, "That's a beautiful drawing — you're really
very artistic" or "You were great at baseball practice today — I loved watching
you out there."
Stay involved: Stay involved in your preteen's expanding pursuits.
Getting involved gives you more time together and shared experiences. You don't have
to be the Scout leader, homeroom mom, or soccer coach to be involved. And your child
may want to do more activities where you're not in charge. That's OK. Go to games
and practices when you can; when you can't, ask how things went and listen attentively.
Help kids talk through the disappointments, and be sympathetic about the missed fly
ball that won the game for the other team. Your attitude about setbacks will teach
your preteen to accept and feel OK about them, and to summon the courage to try again.
Stay interested: Stay interested and curious about your preteen's
ideas, feelings, and experiences. If you listen to what he or she is saying, you'll
get a better sense of the guidance, perspective, and support needed. And responding
in a nonjudgmental way means your child will be more likely to come to you anytime
tough issues arise.
Manage electronic devices: As kids get older, they're more likely
to have (and increasingly use) their own tablets, laptops, or phones. While some electronics
use is a helpful way for preteens to stay connected with their friends, excessive
or unrestricted use can lead to challenges and reduce the quality and frequency of
family time. Set limits consistent with your values while allowing freedom within
those limits. For example, don't spy on social media and text conversations unless
it's necessary for your child's safety and well-being. Apps, programs, and modems
(like Circle with Disney) can help you enforce boundaries. Finally, make sure that
you model healthy electronics use.
Shift your communication style: Your preteen's newfound independence
will probably lead to some important changes in communication. While a young child
might appreciate you solving a problem with his friend by calling their mother, a
preteen will find this solution hard to swallow. For many preteens, the point of discussing
a life challenge with a parent is no longer about parent problem-solving; it's about
listening and support. You might feel the urge to solve every problem your preteen
mentions (or call their teachers or friends to deal with it directly), but for small
problems, remember that they might be looking for a place to vent and the support
to figure it out on their own. When you hear about a problem that doesn't need an
adult solution, try saying something like, "That sounds really tough, I can see why
it would make you angry. I'm here for you if you need anything or want to talk about
it a little more." If they want help, they'll ask you for it. But your support, listening,
and empathy will help them feel empowered to find solutions on their own.