So much focus is put on teens and the issues they’re dealing with that the impressionable ‘tweens are often overlooked. Too many parents think that their nine, ten and eleven year olds are too young to know about many of these issues. Don’t fool yourself – they’re hearing about them in school and in the media. Now is the time to start having open and honest conversations with your kids.
Dating – Parents don’t want to hear about this – dads especially – but ‘tweens are starting to notice the opposite sex and even think about dating. True, it’s probably not what we consider dating but it’s starting to get discussed on the playground. No matter what it really entails, kids as young as nine will start talking about sex amongst themselves. Now’s the time you need to initiate conversations about sex and relationships with your child so that they have the real facts, not whispered rumors from their friends.
Peer Pressure (Fighting conformity) – The ‘tween years are the time that they’re trying to figure out who they are and where they belong. Unfortunately too much of these thoughts are shaped by the media. From the lyrics in Katy Perry and Rihanna’s songs to the inappropriate behavior of former Disney stars such as Miley Cyrus and shows like The Secret Life of the American Teenager and Pretty Little Liars, the messages and images our kids are getting don’t necessarily promote the values we want them to embrace. And, as they see friends in school dressing in a certain way and behaving in a certain manner, the need to conform and fit in is tremendous. This peer pressure will only continue to get worse as they get older with sex, drinking and drugs. Talk to them about being a leader, having the courage to make the right choices and be their own person. Leading by example and discussing times when you needed to do what’s right rather than what was popular will go a long way.
Bullying (Becoming the Intervener) – The peer pressure can quickly move into bullying and having a strong level of self-confidence is undoubtedly the best weapon your child can possess to prevent it. But, not only can this help them to become “bully resistant,” it can make them a powerful intervener to stop someone else from being bullied. Numerous studies on bullying have now concluded that a peer intervener, more so than even a teacher or parent, can be the most effective ally for a bullying victim. Having conversations with your child about not succumbing to peer pressure and being their own person is the first step. Teaching them to get involved and stand up for someone else who’s being bullied is the next step. Once again, we need to lead by example. They need to see us standing up for injustice and helping others who cannot advocate for themselves.
Drugs and Alcohol – According to a study conducted by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that 51% of 8th graders have tried alcohol. The rate of prescription drug abuse is increasing as well with “pharm parties” becoming popular. These are parties where teens bring any prescription drugs they can find in their parent’s medicine cabinet, mix them up in a big bowl and take a bunch. My 9 year-old recently came home from school and informed me she had heard about this from her friend’s older sister. There’s something to be said for the “scared straight” method of communication here. Your tween needs to understand in very graphic detail the dangers of drugs and alcohol. There are great websites such as Students Against Destructive Decisions
When is the right time to talk? Let them guide you – pick up on cues and see what’s concerning them. This is not dinner conversation but quiet time like when you’re alone in the car or before bed.
The greatest compliment my daughter has ever given me was when she let me know that she’s happy she can talk to me about anything. I know that won’t be entirely true and there will be some things she keeps from me, but the important stuff – the dangerous and life altering things – those she knows she can tell me.