Talking with a tween can be like walking on eggshells. Any moment you could be asking what you thought was a simple, sincere question only to find it triggering an explosive response and you wondering what the heck happened. In all fairness, these middle school years are like an emotional roller coaster brought on by peer pressure, bullying, stress, school, raging hormones, and just trying to fit in. So how do you survive those minefields and still stay connected? The first step is to avoid these seven big tween “turn offs.”
1. NEVER SAY: “How was your day?” DO SAY: “Tell me about your day.”
Tweens see generic parenting remarks as “so-o-o predictable” and actually insincere. Besides you’ll get nothing more than “fine” as a response. Instead, ask more open-ended type questions that require more than yes/no answers and appear that you are interested. Do take note about the specifics in your child’s life: “Hey, how was that baseball game? Where did you play in the field?” Your tween will appreciate your more sincere interest.
2. NEVER SAY: “Tell him to leave you alone!” DO SAY: “Where did it happen?”
Bullying is strongest during the middle school years today’s bullies are vicious. Tweens need strategies to deal with bullies. So take your kid seriously and get specifics (who, what, where, when). The data will help you and your child create a safety plan. And then don’t promise you won’t tell (you may have to step in to advocate for your child), and do remain vigilante.
3. NEVER SAY: “What was she wearing?” DO SAY: “What do you enjoy about her?”
Materialism is huge with this age group and is mounting. This is also a time when tweens are forming identities and are most impressionable. So halt the comments about clothing and appearance (as well as popularity)! Instead emphasize those traits that grow from the inside out like talent, loyalty, character, and friendship so your tween knows your values.
4. NEVER SAY: “Toughen up!” DO SAY: “You seem really upset.”
Puberty. Hormonal changes. Mood swings. Tweens will be “very touchy” and extremely sensitive. So don’t tell your kid to get thicker-skinned—he will take it personally. Instead, respect your tween’s those ups and downs and acknowledge his feelings. Tweens are trying to make sense out of their mood swings as well. Do refrain from sarcasm teasing, and watch your non-verbal cues such as smirks or raised eyebrows.
5. NEVER SAY: “Why did you do that?” DO SAY: “What did you hope would happen?”
Let’s face it: tweens are impulsive and do act a little crazy, and for good reason. The part of the brain that regulates decision-making and impulse control is still forming which is one reason they look so blank when you ask, “Why did you do that?” A tween really may not know the reason for their actions. So instead of “why,” ask “what.” They’ll be less likely to say “I don’t know response” and may even help them learn what to do the next time.
6. NEVER SAY: “Relax!” DO SAY: “Let’s find ways to help you de-stress.”
Don’t take your kids stress for granted. Thirty-five percent of tweens say they are but don’t know ways to de-stress. Monitor your kid’s stress levels and offer specific coping strategies as needed.
7. NEVER SAY: “Get over it!” DO SAY: “I’m so sorry. You must hurt!”
Peer relationships are critical and play a big part of a tween’s self-esteem. When there’s a friendship tiff or “first love” breakup ah the pain! Though the anguish may seem juvenile, don’t dismiss your tween’s hurt. It is very real and especially hard because a top tween’s concern is “peer humiliation.” Not only is your kid concerned about her own pain but also what “all the other kids are saying. So show a little empathy! Be supportive and fill her social calendar with something to do especially on those long weekends.