A Parent's Guide to Understanding Preteens

Tweens are complicated but you can help them through the changes to come

You knew the teen years were going to be a challenge, but before you even get there you have to conquer the in-between years, also known as the tween years. Preteens can be difficult to parent, and even more difficult to live with, but preteens have a lot going on and they need your guidance and patience. As your child grows and changes he or she will need guidance to help deal with emotional and physical changes, new challenges, and opportunities. These next few years will help determine the teen your preteen will become, so make the most of them.

Make sure your tween continues to take on age appropriate responsibilities at home and school.
Your tween is old enough now to help around the house. Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

Even the word "puberty" can be a turnoff to preteens. With all the changes preteens experience physically and emotionally, it's no wonder they can get grumpy and angry from time to time. This phase of development will test your patience, but don't fall short now. Preteens need their parents to guide them through puberty, help them understand their changing bodies and all the social and sexual changes that are also taking place. This is perhaps the greatest challenge for parents of preteens, but take it one day at a time and you'll see your tween through to the end.


You may remember you own days in middle school or junior high school. Today's preteens face even more challenges in middle school than you did, and social pressures can also be a challenge. Begin preparing your preteens for middle school long before that first day of school. The transition should take place during the final year of elementary school, and also in the summer months leading up to middle school. Keep an eye on your child's emotional health as tweens may keep to themselves if they are facing challenges or bullying.


Backtalk, eye rolling, cursing, staying out late, failing to finish chores or family responsibilities. Preteens will push your buttons frequently, and you'll find yourself wondering what's happened to your sweet child. Don't worry, you didn't break your tween. This is all normal behavior for preteens, but that doesn't mean it's acceptable behavior. Parenting requires that you take the time to set limits for your children, and teach them about those limits and why they're in place. It's also important to enforce rules and consequences when your tween doesn't follow your expectations.


In some ways, life for preteens hasn't changed that much since you were young. But there are aspects of the preteen years that have changed a lot since you were in the transition between childhood and the teen years. For example, preteens today have the Internet and social networking sites to keep them busy (and sometimes distracted) from their lives. In addition, preteens today are far more knowledgeable about sex and other adult issues than they were years ago. All of these changes bring challenges to parents and confusion to preteens. Be sure your guide your child through his or her online life. Prepare a social media contract and stay on top of your child's online behavior and habits.


Understanding Social Pressures

Preteens worry about bullying, fitting in, making friends and beginning the whole dating scene. Remember, although your child is growing up, he or she is still not prepared to handle many social pressures without your assistance and guidance. Be sure your preteens understand that they can come to you with questions about bullying, peer pressure and other social problems that might be bothering them. In addition, keep in contact with other parents of preteens in order to stay up-to-date on what's going on in the community.

Preteens are going to get into trouble. Period. But you can still minimize trouble and prevent some of the bigger problems by frequently chatting with your preteen about his life, what's troubling him, and what his friends are up to. It's OK to allow tweens a little freedom, and if they keep your trust they may earn more freedom in the coming years. But now is not the time to let your guard down with your preteen. Make sure he or she understands your rules and consequences. Be sure you explain why he's not allowed to hang out with teenagers who are much older, or go places alone at night. Be specific about your family's values concerning smoking, drinking, and other drug use.


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