Big Picture Parenting: Let Your Tween Have a Say

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The perfect Saturday afternoon: My almost-10-year-old Lila and her BFF come home from soccer and spend hours playing in the yard, OUTSIDE, without being asked or told to leave the house. It’s a rare Minecraft-free day. Nobody once whines for an iPad.


Except this: While I’m intentionally not monitoring their every move, letting them just be kids, they’re jumping from the top of the doghouse onto the roof of my neighbor’s van. When he asks them to stop, they build a fort in our shared yard from “sticks” that are actually his construction materials and destroy about $50 worth of his stuff.

They don’t clean it up.  Mortifying. Because of course they know better. Or at least, I think they know better. I mean, I hope they know better.

The thing about tweens is that they are still little kids in so many ways.  Just bigger. Bigger bodies, bigger attitudes. They still play without thinking.

“You need to write an apology and offer to do chores to work off the value of what you broke,” I say.

“Why? I said I was sorry,” she says. “I don’t like writing. Why do I have to write a note when he said it’s OK? I am not writing a note.”

I’d like to say that this arguing and back talking came with her new tween age, but I tell my kids not to lie and I’m no hypocrite. I tell them to own their mistakes. Take responsibility for actions even when they’re ashamed, especially when they’re ashamed.

So here’s mine: Setting boundaries is not my strong suite. They’ve always talked back because they’ve always been allowed to talk back.

Most of what I tell them, what I’ve always told them, is a move toward the big goal: raise good humans.

I want them to one day leave with the confidence and competence to make it on their own, the conscience and compassion to do right by others, the humility to ask for help when they need it, and the faith and trust in me to bring their problems home at age 20 or 30 or 50.

First, I just want to get us all to and through the teen years.

Despite the eye rolling, arguing and back talking, I love parenting my new tween and almost teen. Their posturing and pushing is about trying to figure out who they are and how they fit into the bigger world. This isn’t news.

They’re searching for a voice and taking the first (irritating) steps toward all out independence.

Why not give them a say?

Be proactive. Outline your family philosophies and household expectations together. Ask your kids for input. Even if you’ve never done this, they are experts. They’ve been creating classroom communities this way since preschool. They know what it takes to be good citizens.

Hold them accountable. Maintain your authority and hold them accountable to the house rules you establish together. When they cross lines that they’re involved in setting and they lose screen time or phones or time with friends, it’s easier for them to accept responsibility because they were part of the whole process. The rules and discipline aren’t just things arbitrarily happening to them.

Find the middle ground. Research shows adolescents from overly strict and too permissive homes are most likely to rebel and take big, dangerous risks. They need a balance of rules and nurture.

Give them a chance to do the right thing. Lila didn’t want to write an apology note because it’s scary to face someone you’ve wronged. And embarrassing. Hiding is so much easier. I didn’t force her to do the right thing, I gave her a choice: Write the note or lose electronics for a month. She had an active role in the consequence.

Help them see the picture. As adults they will be part of a community. There will always be rules and breaking them will always have ramifications. Being an individual doesn’t mean you get to be an asshole.

Believe in them.

And in yourself.

We were all teenagers once, too. We did things
More from Holly Goodman

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On Kids’ and Independence: Are We Parenting to Our Kids’ Past Instead of Our Present?

Photo credit: Getty

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