- Written by Lynn U. Nichols Lynn U. Nichols
Five ways to stay connected
Do you feel like a switch has been flipped with your preteen and suddenly you are on the outs? It’s a hard time for parents when they realize they are no longer the center of their kids’ worlds. When young, kids often jump at the chance to spend time with you. Now, you find yourself in second place to their friends and interests. You may know, intellectually, that they are doing just what they need to be doing—separating—but you can’t help but feel a bit hurt. You may no longer be their primary go-to, but you are still the biggest influence in their lives. Here’s five ways to stay connected with your preteen or teen.
“It’s absolutely normal for preteens to pull away. I find that preteen girls start separating when they discover their mom or dad has flaws. They see that we make mistakes, and that we are human. That’s when they decide to make their own choices and seek more independence,” says Kristin Glenn, parent educator with The Women’s Clinic of Northern Colorado.
While it may feel hurtful to realize you have taken this fall from grace, try your best to not take it personally. In some ways it frees you to become even closer to your preteen, allowing yourself to relate to them on a more grown-up level, and respect them as the individuals that they are.
1. Let go
Encourage your child’s independent choices by letting go of your expectations of who they are and who they should be. Accept that it’s healthy for your preteen to seek advice from friends and even other adults like uncles, aunts, coaches and friends’ parents.
“Let go of what you think her personality and talents are, or what you want her to be. Maybe you always saw your daughter as a soccer player, but she really likes art, instead. Let go of those images that we all carry in our minds, and let her show you who she is becoming,” Glenn says.
This also applies to how she chooses to dress or wear her hair. While you can set rules around when she can start wearing makeup, dying her hair, or getting tattoos, try not to put too much weight on controlling your pre-teen’s appearance and dress. Remember, they are experimenting with ways of being to see what fits. Eventually, they will settle on what feels most natural for them.
2. Choose your rules
The old “choose your battles” saying applies to parenting preteens and teens just like it did when your kids were young. Too many rules become overwhelming for kids, and they are left feeling controlled and possibly disrespected—especially teens.
In her workshop, Girl Talk (see box), Glenn finds that the biggest mistake moms make is having too many rules.
“When a mom is super rigid with rules and everything has to be exactly as mom wants it to be, I see girls get repelled and pull away. It’s human nature when someone constantly tells us who we are and how we should be that we don’t want to be close to that person. If you don’t allow your son or daughter to self-express, it could damage your relationship,” she says.
She and other parenting experts recommend you pick the top five things that are most important to you and make rules around those, then let the rest go. A good litmus test when deciding on your top five is to see if they are focused on safety, rather than control. If so, you are on the right track.
3. Be there
Glenn says preteens tend to focus on the here and now. That means, when they want to talk, be there. Stop what you are doing and listen. Be prepared for your preteen to want to talk at the most inconvenient times, like when you are rushing out the door, trying to make dinner, or late at night. Being available sends the message that you are there for them, you respect them and you care what they have to say.
“Truly take the time to listen. Your preteen or teen might be testing the waters to see what feels safe to share. If you respond with anger, judgement or shock—or jump to advice rather than helping them come up with a solution on their own—there’s a good chance they won’t share next time,” Glenn says.
4. Get real
Since your child has decided you are not perfect and that, yes, you do make mistakes as all humans do, you are freed up to establish a new way of sharing. You can be more open about your own vulnerabilities and emotions.
“Don’t be afraid to be real. Revealing that we as parents are constantly working to maintain relationships, finding out who we are, and facing challenges in life, helps preteen kids relate, and allows them to feel like they can open up, too,” Glenn says.
Know that it’s also good to state, and restate, your values. You may receive an eye roll or a slammed door, but know that your message is sinking in. Parents are still the number one influencers when it comes to determining a person’s beliefs and values.
Stay connected by planning one or two outings a week with your preteen, where they get to choose the activity. Make it a rule that phones must be turned off, and that your time together is free of media. Also, set limits around media use during key times, such as no phones at the dinner table, and no media before bed.
“Social media is phenomenally challenging for preteens. They get a constant barrage of messages without a break. Social media tends to set kids up to compare their lives to others and make them feel like they are not good enough, or doing enough,” Glenn says.
Her solution? Take little vacations from social media. For example, take a 24-hour text vacation with your kids. Go old school and hang out together without the interruption of always checking your phones. It frees you up to really connect.
Girl Talk: Mother Daughter Workshop in Fort Collins
Moms, bring your daughters (ages 9-12) and join Kristin Glenn in a safe, interactive and fun environment for some connection and sharing around the topics of self-esteem, peer pressure, bullying, body changes and image and friendship and empowerment. Upcoming dates include Saturday, Dec. 16, from 1 – 3pm, and Jan. 23 from 6 – 8:30pm. Women’s Clinic of Northern Colorado, Fort Collins. Call (970) 493-7442 or go to fcwc.com for more. $40.