Five Tips for Parenting your Pre-Teen

Guest Post by Julie Johnson, Parenting by Connection Instructor, Berkely, CA, USA

Pre-Teen sisters smile at the camera.

Sisters, by Jenn Durfey, [CC-BY-2.0],

My colleague, Julie Johnson and I both have pre-teen children.  We recently recorded a Teleseminar for Hand in Hand Parenting called “Navigating the Preteen Years Without Tearing Your Hair Out”.  You can find details of how to listen for free at the end of this article.

Over the next few months, Julie and I are planning more work with parents of Pre-Teens. Today I’d like to share her recent post about some research into just what Pre-Teens and Teens want from us, each other, and the world.

Five Tips for Parenting your Pre-Teen

Parenting a preteen sometimes feels like we’ve gotten lost in a new neighbourhood without our trusted GPS.  What used to make our five-year-old laugh doesn’t work anymore with our ten-year-old. A preteen’s maturity can seem inconsistent and unpredictable, as the journey through child development is not a linear one.  What parents learned about parenting their child in the early years doesn’t always apply to the older set and we find ourselves needing a new road map.

In preparing for our teleseminar, Navigating the Preteen Years, that my colleague, Madeleine Winter, and I recorded recently, I came across some excerpts from interviews with young people and their parents conducted by Ellen Galinsky, the President and Co-Founder of Families and Work Institute*.

Galinsky, has spent years listening to parents and their children.  Interviewing children ages 8-18 for a study titled, “Ask the Children”, she learned what helps bring families close and why. Here are just a few highlights from the interviews she conducted in her comprehensive study of families and work.

Family of mother with teen/preteen children lounging with pillows

Pillow Family, Courtesy of Hand in Hand Parenting

1. More Time

Older children in their preteens and adolescence want more time with their parents—even when they act as though they don’t. Although they are becoming more independent and you may be sending them off to sleepovers more, preteens still want time with you. Not just time spent driving from one activity to the next, or from one friend’s house to another, they want time to hang out together with you when there is no specific agenda or no particular place to be.

In an interview with PBS’s Frontline, Galinsky said “I found in this study, by listening to young people, that not only is the amount of time the parents spend with their kids important, but what happens in that time is also important. And particularly important to young people is that there’s time to hang around together. It’s not always planned; it’s not always scheduled…but there’s just time to be together.”

2. Hang in There!

Even when they push you away, preteens and adolescents want you to stay close. They may be grumpy, moody, irritable, or sad, and they may look like they want to be left alone. But often they want you close by and they want you to notice how they are doing. They want you to ask them how their day went, or what’s bothering them when they’re not feeling well. They want you to be curious, and they want you to care.

Galinsky says, “In a video that I made of them [older children], they said, ‘Well, you know when we’re teens, we’re so busy pushing our parents away that when we want them, it’s hard to ask.’ One girl said, ‘I’m more comfortable if my parent just notices that there’s something wrong and says it, because I find it hard to break that barrier. But I really do want them.’ And another child said, ‘Your friends can be there for you, but it’s really your parents—particularly when you’re older, you have a little bit bigger problems—it’s your parents who are really important to be there for you.

3. It’s the Small Things That Matter

Children love the small, sweet things that parents do for them on a regular basis and they love the rituals that make each family unique. According to Galinsky, it’s not the family vacation to Hawaii or the big family reunion that your child will remember most when they are older. It’s the small things that parents do on a regular basis to show their children how much they love them.

Galinsky recalled her interviews with older children, “…One child talked about that when she came down the stairs to go to school, her dad said, “You go, tiger, you go get them,” and that was what she was going to remember most from being a young person. Another child talked about being in bed and the wake-up song—this was not a little kid. But his mother always sang a wake-up song, and that’s what he was going to remember most. That says to parents, ‘Have those rituals, have those traditions. Those are important, even with teens.’”

4. Tell Me About the World

Another finding from Galinsky’s research is that young people who felt heard and respected by their parents, wanted to continue learning about the world from them—even as they got older. They want their parents to tell them about their world-views and how the world works. They want their parents to remember that just because they are older, they still want to learn from them. And young people want to hear about their parent’s work lives, not necessarily just the complaints and conflicts that parents often bring home with them, but the insights and interesting things that are happening at work.

5. Take Care of Yourself

Galinsky asked children what would be their one wish for how they would change the way their mothers or father’s work affects their life.  Even more than the desire to spend more time with them (and that’s paramount), children want their parents to be less stressed and less tired.

Young people actually worry about their parents a lot. Galinsky found that, “One out of three [children] worries about his or her parents often or very often, and two-thirds worry some of the time.” And one of the things they worry about the most is how stressed their parents are.

Where to From Here?

There’s a lot to learn as we venture into the world of preteens and adolescence. We are often the ones that our children want the most when times get hard, but we get triggered easily by their surly attitude and push/pull behaviour.

At this stage of parenting, we tend to spend less time at the park and don’t drop into playgroups anymore as our children get older. Often we have less contact with other parents and fewer conversations about the challenges and triumphs of parenting a preteen or adolescent. But as parents of older children, we still need support and strategies to get them through the teen years.

We need to take the time to appreciate the hard work we’ve already done as parents, and remember that our work is not finished. Our children still want us to remind them how much we love them, to really notice who they are, and to take an interest in their lives.

By Julie Johnson. You can find out more about Julie by visiting her web page HERE.

This article was first published, with minor variations, on Julie’s Blog on March 25, 2015

For tips and strategies, listen in to Julie and I talking about how to stay close to your Pre-Teen in “Navigating the Preteen Years without tearing Your Hair Out”. Follow THIS LINK to listen to a free recording.

I regularly run phone based Groups for Parents of Pre-Teens. I sometimes run in-person groups also.  You can find out more HERE

* If you would like to listen to the interview Ellen Galinsky did with Frontline, you will find it HERE.

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