Your child has entered her tween years, and she is blossoming before your eyes into an individual with her own likes, desires and opinions.
Sometimes those opinions are stronger than you expected, though. ("Hannah Montana's skirt is not too short!") You understand that, as difficult as it is at times, setting boundaries is a key part of your job as a parent. If you don't provide direction to your child, then someone else -- namely her peers -- will, right? That's an unsettling thought. Then again, if you clamp down too hard on her, she'll be both miserable and rebellious. No one will be happy.
So how do you strike a balance? How do you show your tween you love her by setting healthy boundaries, while still letting her be herself? Here are 10 limits your tween still needs.
Since you probably didn't have the Internet as a tween, it can be easy to overlook this limit when it comes to your children. But beware -- researchers say 10 percent of tweens have frequent online conversations with total strangers, and 16 percent have thought they were talking to another child, only to discover that their online buddy was an adult posing as a child.
Talk to your child about Internet safety; you tell her not to talk to strangers in person, so make it clear why it's a bad idea online, too. Have your child regularly show you his or her social networking pages and other favorite Web sites, and check your Web browser's history to see where your child has gone online (also forbid erasing the browser history). Consider investing in a software package that lets you monitor your child's time on the computer and keep the computer in a "public" part of the house. Today's tweens are tech savvy, but they 're still kids without an adult's ability to assess risks.
Next up, we consider when a call to the fashion police is in order.
"You're not wearing that, are you?" Those words have probably been spoken in every language in every household with a teenager in the world. Today the conversation -- or, um, "debate" -- starts in the tween years.
Clothing, hairstyles, makeup and accessories give tweens a means to express their individuality, which is important as they search for their unique identities. As the parent, though, you need to guide your child and help him or her make choices that won't result in a trip to the principal's office.
Talk to your child about how appearance affects the way the world sees us. Explain family rules, such as no bare midriffs or purple hair, and stick to your guns. Go over the school's dress code carefully with your child, and remind him or her that students must follow it just as you follow the dress code at work. Set a budget before you go shopping. Within these limits, encourage your child to choose the colors, patterns and styles that fit his or her personality. Your child can have fun experimenting with fashion without being sent home from school -- or scaring the dog.
Next up: It's 11 o'clock, do you know where your tween is?
Mom always said that nothing good ever happens after midnight -- this is especially true for tweens. Children want to assert their independence and feel grown-up, but tweens still very much need your protection. Plus, your child needs sleep. A lot of it.
Feel free to adjust the curfew depending on your child's age and the activity. For example, if your child's middle school dance ends at 9 p.m., 9:30 is a reasonable curfew. If he or she is watching DVDs at a friend's house with parents present, you might feel comfortable stretching it to 10 or 11 p.m. Check local ordinances to see if your town has a curfew for juveniles. And remember, groups of bored kids just aimlessly hanging around are a recipe for trouble.
Should your tween have a mobile phone? We'll answer that call on the next page.
Cell Phone or No Cell Phone?
You love your new smartphone, but is your 10-year-old mature enough to handle one? Tweens these days see cell phones not only as fun gadgets, but as status symbols, too. Many of your tween's friends probably already have one.
Cell phones help you keep in touch with your child and are great for emergencies, but they come with risks. Many parents have horror stories about cell phone bills with $1,000 surprises, the result of excess minutes, texting or downloads. And a phone that keeps you in touch with your tween can also put him or her in touch with strangers.
Since tweens are still too young to predict the consequences of many of their actions, it's a good idea to wait until your child is older before buying an Internet-ready smartphone. If you decide to get your tween a phone, talk to her about rules such as who she can call or accept calls from. If your child's phone allows texting, tell her she may only text friends and family. Talk to her about the dangers of inappropriate texts. Consider an unlimited texting plan or a prepaid phone; many children send hundreds of text messages a month, and you don't want any surprises on your bill. Ask your service provider what parental controls are available, and let your child know you'll be monitoring her cell phone use.
What constitutes a healthy bedtime? Click ahead to learn about another limit tweens still need.
A Healthy Bedtime
Your tween probably wants to feel more grown up by staying up later, but sleep deprivation will damage her health and school performance. Tweens live in the moment, and aren't fully able to appreciate what the consequences of staying up too late will be, such as falling asleep in class the next day.
Letting your tween stay up a little later on weekends and during summer break won't do any harm, but keep in mind that, while adults need about eight hours of sleep and teenagers need about nine hours, the average tween needs closer to 10. Sleep deprivation can lead to mood swings, trouble getting up in the morning and even learning and attention problems. And we know you have enough on your plate already raising a tween, without all that.
If your child is really eager to try a later bedtime, push his bedtime back half an hour on a trial basis, with the understanding that you will change it back if he shows signs of too little sleep. He may think you're being "lame," but this is about his health and well-being. (Don't expect him to understand that though.)
Should limits extend to your tween's friends? We'll weigh this one next.
Going Out with Friends
Your tween is at an age when her focus is shifting from family to friends. She's probably told you "You don't understand!" This is perfectly normal for a child who is trying to figure out where she fits in the world. It's a natural thing but that doesn't mean parents should take a hands-off approach to their tween's friendships.
It is possible to protect your tween while still allowing her to be an individual. Set limits such as not allowing her to hang out with older teens who may push her toward growing up too fast. Know who your child is with, what they will be doing and where. If you don't like your child's friends, talk to him about specific behaviors that are unacceptable rather than repeatedly criticizing his friends, which will only push him closer to them. And remind him that going out with friends is a privilege, not a right.
Making good grades is another important tween limit that we explore on the next page.
Few children ace every class, but requiring your child to do his or her best is a reasonable expectation. After all, the self-discipline and study habits your child develops during the tween years will help prepare him for college and even his career.
If your child's grades are slipping, try talking to him first and asking him what he thinks is affecting his performance. He may just shrug his shoulders, but he could have valuable insight into the problem. Next, talk to his teacher. If his grades are falling because he doesn't turn in his homework, ask the teacher for an assignment list and help your child make a planner so he doesn't forget assignments. If you think your child may have learning problems, seek out his teacher or even a school psychologist to have his needs evaluated.
Nutrition is next on our list.
Chances are, your tween has strong opinions about what foods she does and doesn't like. That's OK, but there are plenty of foods that can ensure she stays healthy.
Too much sugar can lead not only to dental problems but also to obesity; high-caffeine energy drinks can cause jitters, insomnia and heart palpitations; and tweens' calcium intake is very important for bone density in adulthood. Talk to your child about proper nutrition, and introduce her to resources such as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's tween nutrition page, which has games that teach tweens about good food choices. And here's the toughest part -- if you lead by example and keep your kitchen stocked with healthy foods, you'll have more success enforcing this tween limit. Remember, good eating habits can last the rest of her life. Likewise, eating disorders can threaten her future.
Ka-ching! That's the sound of the next tween limit we'll tackle.
The recession of 2008 to 2010 made many of us very aware of the importance of financial responsibility, and the tween years are the perfect time to get your child on the right track. Let your child earn money by doing extra work around the house; this will teach him the pride of earning his own money. Include your tween in discussions about purchasing things he'll use, so that he can learn by your example about choosing how to spend money. For instance, if we get the new gaming system, we'll have to wait to get the DVR. Begin teaching your child to save, either using a piggy bank or by opening a savings account. This will put your tween on good footing for a financially secure adulthood.
Your tween is focused on fun, but even fun stuff like an iTouch or Nintendo DS needs to be regulated. Click over to the next page to learn how.
TV and Video Games
Today's tweens live in a techno-centric world that their parents never would've dreamed of at that age, back when video games were still in the primitive stage and the word "tween" didn't even exist. While the parents of today's tweens spent a lot of time playing outsidewhen they were growing up, today's children face a temptation to spend more time in front of an electronic screen of some sort than doing anything else. All of this screen time not only has the potential to expose your child to inappropriate images, it also takes up time that he or she could spend socializing, getting some exercise or studying.
To rein in your tween's screen time, talk to your child about why it's important to make room for other things in her life. If she wants to spend part of a weekend afternoon playing video games, encourage her to invite a friend or two over to make it a play date (but don't call it that!); this makes the game into a social activity, instead of an isolating one. Steer your child toward video games that involve physical activity, such as dancing. If your child shows interest in something such as computer art, introduce her to the physical version and encourage her to try different materials, like watercolors or charcoal, for example. There is joy and movement so encourage your tween to explore the world around her.
Your tween is growing up -- but with some reasonable limits, he can grow to be a much happier and well-balanced adult than he would have without your guidance.
Lawnmowers parents mow down obstacles and hardships before their children can face them. HowStuffWorks talks to experts about the style of parenting.
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