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What's Special and Great About Kids in Their Preteen Years

The Preteen Years - A Time of Change for Children and Parents

Our Last Best Shot: Guiding Our Children through Early Adolescence

Cliques: 8 Steps to Help Your Child Survive the Social Jungle



by Louise Hajjar Diamond


Think back to your preteen and early teen years for a moment. Recall the feeling of longing to be accepted by your peers and to be unique while still fitting in the group. Remember wanting your parentsĦ support and approval yet expecting them to know instinctively when to back off. Remember falling in love for the first time with a classmate who you were too nervous to speak to. Speaking for myself, my friends and I spent hours on the phone reviewing and interpreting the events of the day. Boys our age were less talkative, but equally affected by their feelings and their place in the world.


Now youĦre the parent and youĦre not new at this; you have more than a decade of experience. But there are moments youĦre as confused as your preteen in dealing with her or his emotions and behaviors. What are you to do when the child you knew just one year earlier is acting so differently now? How can we ensure that our young teens will always tell us when something is wrong instead of turning to peers?

As a middle school guidance counselor, I talk to parents each day who are seeking ways to know their children better and guide them appropriately. Parents fear they will miss something their children are experiencing and lose them to negative influences.


As a counselor and parent, I am constantly exploring reasons why some kids make it through adolescence with more emotional scars than others. The factor with the most impact seems to be the unconditional love and consistent support from at least one parent or caretaker. Another crucial factor is the adolescentĦs ability to like himself or herself.


Children learn from the very beginning of life to imitate their parents. This includes everything from learning language to developing values. Modeling appropriate behavior is probably ninety percent of parenting. Parents who value people, the law, the importance of education, and honesty will most likely have children who value these things. Parent example is one of the best teaching tools we have to offer our kids. Adolescents who feel good about themselves and their home life will be far less likely to seek belonging in gangs or other destructive peer situations.


First, we must accept the fact that the preteen and early teen years are hard for kids, parents, and educators. Remember what these years were like for you while understanding your child may be going through different or additional challenges. These years are hard even the best family environment. Consider that boys and girls may have needs of their own and that each of your children is unique. Special challenges occur when there is a significant change in the home during adolescence.


Achievement in school is an expectation that most parents value for their children. However, it is important to remember that the transition from elementary to middle school can be a hard one for most kids. The stress associated with this transition can show itself in a variety of ways. Many students who had acceptable grades throughout elementary school experience a drop in grades once they reach sixth and seventh grade. Parents may also find that comments middle school teachers make in conferences donĦt seem to resemble their elementary school child. Adolescents seem less likely to want to please adults or to be praised by them in the company of their peers. Far from serving as a motivator, middle school teachers find that students may rebel after receiving a compliment in front of the entire class. A seventh grader is more likely to respond positively to your feedback when it is given one on one. A thirteen-year-old still values the opinions of parents and teachers but it will mean a lot more to him if he respects the adult that offers the opinion.


Parent-teacher conferences are crucial during the middle years. The most successful meetings are when the adolescent is a participant. Teachers and school counselors can provide information to parents about their child and they have a frame of reference.


Listen to your kids. Listen without interrupting. Listen without judgement. Try to understand their point of view (even if you donĦt agree with it). Validate their feelings. Let them know itĦs all right to be confused or angry. Discuss feelings of angry without judgement--guide them in finding appropriate outlets to release anger such as exercise, talking, or writing in a journal. Let them know your expectations of behavior. Set realistic rules and consequences to live such a bedtimes and curfews. DonĦt threatened or promise something that is out of your control such as the actions of other adults in the childĦs life.


Know your kids. Most eleven to fifteen years olds are a lot of fun to talk to individually. They can reason and understand humor. They see the world egocentrically. Adolescents may need to be guided and reminded to see the points of views of others. Give encouragement and support healthy choices and interests. Know how they spend their time when youĦre not with you. Talk to them about what music, sports, and hobbies they like. Talk to your kids about their friends without being too critical. Make sure the parties they attend are appropriately chaperoned. Let your kids know the things you donĦt approve of doing such as smoking, drinking, having sex, violence, and taking drugs. DonĦt assume that they understand the consequences of these things at their age. Encourage them to come to you even if they make a mistake.

 Parenting is a balancing act from the very beginning. By providing a good example, daily communication, and really knowing your kids as individuals can make the difference between your childrenĦs success and happiness during these challenging years. It may be encouraging to know that parents do remain the biggest influence in their kidsĦ lives, even through the teen years. Give them unconditional love and guidance and enjoy them.


(Louise Hajjar Diamond has eleven years of experience as a guidance counselor. She is a writer and mother of two.)



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