How to help your child through the painful tween years: Alyson Schafer
Alyson Schafer is a parenting expert and author of books including Honey, I Wrecked the Kids
If you want a better relationship with your tween play more video games.
That might help. It's one bit of advice from parenting expert Alyson Schafer. Schafer is a parenting expert, author of Honey, I Wrecked the Kids and other books that offer advice for parents.
She says the tween years are full of awkward and difficult changes for your pre-teen child and you'll need to change the way you parent to help them through it.
CBC Hamilton's Conrad Collaco spoke with Schafer. Here's an edited and abridged transcript of that conversation. You can listen to the full interview by clicking the image at the top of this page.
Alyson Schafer, author and parenting expert
During these years shifting from tween to teen, in their mind and body what are these kids going through?
They do tend to get a bad rap. Everyone thinks the teen years are going to be just awful. I really enjoyed the teen years. With a little education and information they don't need to be painful.
Parents are good at paying attention to developmental milestones when their kids are very young but they kind of forget that there is still development happening throughout the entire life cycle.
They're going through puberty so, yes, you're going to have hormones. You may have that moody child who is suddenly interested in their peer group so that when they get a pimple on their forehead on the first day of school that is a catastrophic event.
We have to remember that when we were that age it was a catastrophic event for us too. We don't want to diminish it or poke fun at their moodiness.
The brain undergoes a massive change in adolescence. In childhood we have this big explosion of all these neural connections and that's how we grew and became smart.
That's when most of brain development happens. In adolescence the brain decides that it may be very smart but is also very inefficient so it makes these neural bundles. It does this thing called neural pruning.
Their brain is literally under construction. This is not your kid being boneheaded. They literally have a head that is not functioning well. So, have empathy and workarounds.
Do parents forget how tough the middle school years are for kids?
I would never do teen years again. Parents say the most difficult parenting years are in middle school. When you get to the tween years one of the developmental tasks is to find your personality as different from your parents.
They suddenly have opinions about politics and social justice. You get to know them as these burgeoning adults. I love that part. You have to be willing to be comfortable with the fact that they are going to explore and experiment.
A child's core being is set when they are about five or six years old. If they are a good person they're going to be a good person. We have to be calm and give unconditional love and regard to our kids as they find themselves.
As kids pull away from their parents and become more independent, what can parents do to strengthen their relationship with their kids?
I've got a series of videos on the topic of the teen years. There's a developmental piece with the child but now there's a developmental piece with you and your style of parenting.
Now we've got to use our relationship, not to control our kids, but rather to influence the decisions they are making. How are we going to stay in their lives in a way that is meaningful to them?
Don't bang your head against the wall because your kid doesn't want to play board games with you anymore. You've got to switch it up. Now my kids like to go get manicures. That's great. I love it.
If your kids like to play online gaming, play with them. Find out what's so exciting. You may love it. Find new ways of being involved in their lives. You've got to stay close so that they care about what you think of them.
How should parents manage their kids' use of technology during these years?
We need to keep up to speed. I know that sounds so daunting to parents. You don't have to know everything, you just have to stay on top of certain things. You can go to a site like socialmedia.org and they will tell you what you need to know about keeping kids safe on social media.
Admit your ignorance to your kids. Teaching them to be a good digital citizen is like teaching them to ride the bike. You're riding beside them. You're holding on and then you give them a little bit more freedom.
Then they prove to you they know how to be responsible online.
I don't think you can say to a teenager "one hour of screen time" because they re doing their banking, they're doing homework research. It's more about balance. Are you exercising? Are you staying committed to your real life relationships? Are you able to put the phone down and come to the dinner table?
You have to be as authentic as possible with teens. They will sniff you out. Just be authentic. Respect them. Show them some faith. Don't talk down to them. Those are key issues for kids.