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Connecting With Your Tween


Ask any parent and they’ll agree: Trying to connect with your tween can be difficult.

Kids in this age group need quality family time, but overly reject it—especially if it’s perceived as childish. This is normal for junior high kids. But parents oftentimes try to “be cool” and befriend their child, or become a strict and harsh disciplinarian.

The reality is that extreme methods don’t work. There is a fine line between being your child’s friend and being the disciplinarian. To walk this line, parents should be flexible and match their response to their child’s situation and need—especially when it comes to creating quality family time. Parents that take a flexible, collaborative and respect-based approach are usually successful.

This isn’t to say that parents should be permissive. Rather, parents who are democratic, and establish and follow consistent rules can develop a quality relationship with their child. As parents, we should treat our tweens with respect, understand that they are moving towards independence, and not violate their boundaries—while still seeing to their safety, health and well-being by helping them avoid dangerous situations.

Instead of spending time with your junior high child doing daily tasks, try more meaningful activities like exploring a museum, reading books, or learning a new language or instrument together. Include them in activities in an age-appropriate manner to develop a closer, more mature relationship. Research shows that middle school-age children that have warm, respectful and safe relationships with their parents tend to seek guidance from them in difficult situations. 


Effects & benefits

More likely to engage in hobbies and after school activities for fun, rather than obligation

Able to withstand stress with less emotional distress

Performs better in school

Is happier and less irritable

Develops an internal focus of control

Fewer expulsions, suspensions, and disruptive or conduct-related behavioral challenges 

Less likely to experiment with substances like alcohol, marijuana and cigarettes

Less likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors at an early age

Less likely to steal, lie, cheat, or engage in aggression and violence


What you can do

Get to know their friends and their friends’ parents. 

Get involved in the school PTO/PTA. Coach their sports or go to rehearsals. Get involved in their activities.

Cook with them. Let them take the lead in developing the menus for the week.

Read the books they are reading. Visit the websites they are visiting. Follow their social media feeds—don’t post, just follow and show interest.

Go to the movies or bookstore together. Do whatever fits with your families values and budget, but try to do the activities together.

Establish or continue your family rituals. Rituals create and maintain family relationships in easy and healthy ways.

Ask them to teach you what they are learning in school. Kids love being the teacher and being perceived as competent and independent.

Share your thoughts and joys with them – engage them in real conversation about developmentally appropriate topics like how proud you are of their accomplishments, positive memories about your family, their genealogy and family history, or successes you have had currently or in you past.

Be there for them in a nonjudgmental way when they make a mistake or come to you for advice. Listen, ask them what they think, and then problem solve together. 

Laugh with them, not at them. Help them see their funny side and use humor with them appropriately.


Conversation starters

“Show me how to do this. You probably understand it better than me.”

“It looks like you had a bad day. Talk to me when you’re in the mood; I will be here.”

“I’d love to get ice cream with you soon and just catch up. When do you have time?”

“I know you love spending time with your friends. Spending time with family is just as important. Why don’t we plan something that would be fun for you that all of us can do together?”

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