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Connecting with your kids: Navigating the terrific, turbulent tween years

Dr. Laura Markham is a clinical psychologist and the founding editor of the parenting web site YourParentingSolutions.com, featuring a popular advice column and parent-tested solutions you can use every day to connect with your kids and ...

connecting with teens

Tweens are emerging teens, but they're still children. They'll astonish you with their ability to conceptualize, to argue brilliantly, and then to do foolish things.

6Know the culture

Be aware that the more popular culture your child is exposed to, the more risk she runs of drug and alcohol use, depression and teen pregnancy. Tweens want to grow up, so naturally they ape adult popular culture. Yes, they have to fit in with their friends, but they count on their parents to keep them safe and set limits. They aren't ready for the attention they get when they wear revealing fashions or sing that inappropriate song at the recital. They need you to enforce strict rules regarding internet use and what movies are appropriate. Tweens want and need your guidance, even if they can't show it.

7Understand identity

Tweens are actively shaping their identity. Support their experimenting and exploring, even when they're into a new fad every few weeks. Don't comment on their fashions as long as all body parts are covered, and keep an open mind about their music. Especially support the deep passions into which they really pour themselves; those are protective during the teen years.

8Stay involved

Stay involved with your teen's school, offering help as necessary in developing time management skills, insuring that homework gets done and big projects are worked on over time. Be aware that how hard your tween works at school will depend on whether his peers do, and try to have him attend a school where the kids consider good grades cool. Maintaining high expectations and insuring that homework doesn't get neglected in favor of evening IMing is critical.

9Teach self management

Teach your tween good physical self-management: at least nine hours of sleep every night, regular protein and low glycemic snacks, regular exercise. Instilling these habits can take real creativity on the part of parents, but they greatly reduce moodiness and you'll be happy they're well-established when your child hits the teen years.

10Know special needs

Be aware of the special needs of your son or daughter as they grow into adults in a culture that perpetuates unhealthy attitudes about men, women, and sexuality.

Girls

Girls will need your help handling media images of women, the pressure to be sexy, cultural expectations about attractiveness, her relationship with food, and her body. Remember that girls naturally fill out before they shoot up, and be careful not to impose society's insistence that only thin is attractive. Notice any issues you have as her body blossoms. Be aware of the research showing that most tween girls are anxious about the the sense they get from the media that becoming a woman puts them in danger from men.

Boys

Boys need help integrating their sense of connection, tenderness and vulnerability -- which are a part of all human relationships -- with societal images of manliness. It's important for boys approaching their teen years to act cool, indifferent, and invulnerable with their peers, even when they're actually highly sensitive kids. A responsible, affectionate father or uncle can be a critical teacher as a tween boy learns how to be a good man.

More ways to communicate with your teen or tween

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