Top 10 Tips for Parenting Preteens

Father and preteen girl talking
Raising preteens can be a difficult task that involves different skills and approaches than you might have used with your children before. See more parenting pictures.
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It's no secret parenting can be difficult at times, especially during the preteen and teen years. As your child begins going through changes and adapting to the world around her, it's important to maintain a level of authority while still garnering trust and understanding. It's a difficult balance -- one easily thrown off by your child's hormones, your lengthy lectures or simple misunderstandings.


Preteens are children ages 9-12, and although the age range is small, the amount of changes taking place during the time period is not. These kids will probably become more involved with school and social pressures will be a more important factor in their lives. Confusion may arise as parents can be pushed away by their children as often as they're called upon for help. Entertainment media will begin to have a stronger importance in their lives, and their interest in hobbies will begin to flourish. All of these things combined can make parenting a complicated and constantly changing task.

All that said, it can be a difficult time for parents and children alike, but it doesn't have to be. In this article, you'll learn about several different techniques for keeping your relationship with your child strong while still helping her to grow and develop properly.

10: Moderate Media Exposure

Depending on your age, this is likely something your parents didn't have to deal with as much as parents of today. There's no going back to the days when the only worry was what was on the radio. Preteens have access to a number of entertainment media: television, video games, the Internet, music and movies.

A common suggestion among professionals is to monitor and moderate media exposure for your preteen. This means understanding the ratings systems -- such as the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) for video games and the MPAA for movies -- in addition to keeping an eye on their media consumption. Many parents use a rewards system to keep track of how much their child uses such media. For instance, they may decide their child can play two hours of video games for every three hours he does homework.


It's important to find a system and stick with it across the board -- no exceptions for the finale of their favorite show or if they get to the top level of a video game at the end of their time limit. Standing by these rules establishes your boundaries and also teaches good time management skills to preteens.

9: Prepare Them for Peer Pressure

Preteen boy stressed at school
Peer pressure becomes even more prevalent at the preteen age, so having regular, open talks with your child can help him maintain his self-esteem.
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There is no way around it: When your child gets to the preteen age, he's going to be dealing with a number of social pressures. These come from both the inside and out, as children struggle to define themselves and control how they are viewed by others.

Have a conversation with your child early on in his life regarding peer pressure. To an adult, it might sound a bit clichéd to have a talk about thinking for yourself or not letting others get to you, but preteens will often seek approval from peers, even ones they're not particularly fond of. This can lead to dangerous situations regarding sex, violence, drugs or alcohol, so it's important to talk to your child often and early.


Ensuring your child's self-esteem stays and that his identity is solid can help him deal with peer pressures, but don't lay it on too thick. After all, parent's compliments can only go so far with a preteen.

8: Develop Trust

For better or worse, the preteen era marks the time when parents and children begin to disconnect a bit. This can lead to trust issues for both parties.

It might sound silly considering you've lived with your child her entire life, but once she hits the preteen age, you'll possibly need to reestablish your trust with her. This can come by a variety of methods, but allowing a bit of leeway -- in something like hanging out with friends, for example -- can enable your relationship with your preteen to grow and strengthen.


It's important to keep an open line of communication and to remain actively involved in your child's life. There are many ways you can do this, but be sure to keep yourself available during meals, games and other family activities. Maintain these family moments throughout the preteen years and make sure your child understands she can always come to you with any type of question or quarrel.

This will also be a time when you may feel it necessary to do some research about your child on your own. Although it's important to keep tabs on where you child is and what she's doing, many parenting experts believe that you should respect your child's privacy until she gives you a good reason to suspect she is using poor judgment in an important area of her life [source: Peters]. Although snooping on your child might seem like a good idea, it's generally best to begin allowing him to have his first taste of independence.

7: Leave Them Home Alone When They're Ready

Preteen girl looking out window
You can give your teen trial runs to see whether she is ready to stay home alone for an evening.
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One of the greatest signs of trust between a parent and a child comes from the first time you leave him home alone. Although different children will react in different ways, there are ways to tell whether your child may be ready to take on the head of the house role -- temporarily, at least.

Start by leaving him for short durations. Run to the store to grab groceries, for example, and see how you and he handle it. If he remains calm and collected, he'll probably soon be ready to stay alone for longer periods.


If you decide it's OK to give him the evening to himself, be sure to call and check in often and provide him with a phone number to reach you. You'll also want to ensure your child has access to neighbors or close relatives in case you can't be reached -- or in case you want someone to drop by to check on him. The first time you leave him home alone, you'll want to run through a few safety measures, such as who to call in case of an emergency, what to do in case of a fire, and which appliances are off-limits.

Make sure he understands that you're still ruling the house by proxy. This means all the same considerations of TV watching, computer usage, video game playing and eating are all set in stone. If these rules and boundaries are breached, make him understand there will be consequences.

6: Punish Them Effectively

A growing trend among punishments for preteens these days is to get creative. Instead of simply grounding your child or taking away a privilege, some parents incorporate the reason for the punishment inside the punishment itself. For example, you could remove the hinges of your child's door (or the door itself) if she is constantly slamming it. This can be a great way to teach lessons.

However, it's still important to follow a few simple guidelines. With preteens, be very clear with your rules, expectations and limitations. Cognitively, a preteen is beginning to understand the structure of sentences and ways to manipulate them to find loopholes, so speaking plainly with a clear message is important.


Many believe positive reinforcement of rules works the best. This means that when your child does something wrong, you talk about what she should instead be doing, as opposed to simply telling her "don't." Children can understand cause and effect, so pointing out what behavior they should be using and why can sometimes be more effective than simply telling them to stop.

As with children of any age range, being patient and consistent with punishments for preteens is key. Stick with the rules you set, and be ready and able to handle your child in a calm and collected tone if she breaks those rules.

5: Ease the Transition into Middle School

Mom and daughter high-five over homework
Your child's middle school course work will likely be more difficult than what she is used to, so she may need your help at first.
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You might not remember your own experience very well, but the transition into middle school can be a terrifying experience for a child. In many schools, this will mean a more open class structure or having to use lockers and get to classes on time.

Before the term starts, you should attend a tour of the school with your child. You'll be able to learn about scheduled break times, find classrooms and start organizing a routine. If he is taking a new bus to school, it might be helpful to walk the route with him and help him memorize the bus number.


It's not all logistics, though. Your child will be getting used to new and different peers in addition to dealing with a wide range of new courses and material. Also, he'll likely find himself with more social demands and having to balance complex homework assignments. As a parent, you should be involved: Make sure you've met the teachers and that you have access to a course guide so you know what to expect throughout the year. Doing so will help you help your child as he finds his way among new friends, group homework projects and new obligations.

4: Teach Good Learning Skills

It's easier said than done when it comes to teaching good learning skills. However, by the time your child has reached the preteen age, it should be more apparent which type of learner your child is. As school systems become more populated and teacher-to-student ratios drop, it helps for parents to figure out the type of learner their child is and help her develop her skills.

Different people learn different ways, so try various methods of studying a lesson to determine how your child learns best. She may intake new knowledge best by listening to a lecture, reading the material or practicing the theories. Once you know which method works best, encourage her to use those approaches when studying and completing assignments. In addition, be sure to point out how the concepts and ideas she's studying correlate to the world, and try to make connections to everyday events when possible.


As with everything else, remain positive and attentive to her needs. There is nothing wrong with being one particular type of learner, and recognizing your child's strengths early on will help her throughout her academic career.

3: Encourage Hobbies and Extracurricular Activities

Preteen boy playing guitar
Encouraging your preteen to explore different hobbies will help him to develop his interests and boost his self-esteem.
Alistair Berg/Getty Images

Without proper guidance, parents will hear their child utter the words "I'm bored" far too often. As your child begins to come into his own, he'll begin looking for new ways to spend time and energy outside of his schoolwork. While many parents are likely to push for a child's hobby to be reading, keep his own desires in mind while still teaching him life skills.

Whether it's music, video games, movies, art, sports or something else entirely, the cost of hobbies and extracurricular activities can be stressful. You'll worry whether it's worthwhile to purchase a brand new violin if your child doesn't end up playing it, and that's OK. Instead of buying it, you can simply rent one as a reliable and less expensive way to develop your child's interests.


If your preteen is struggling to find a hobby you consider useful, you might try offering a few suggestions. For instance, if he's interested in movies, pick up a cheap digital camcorder so he can try out his filmmaking skills. If he's interested in video games, introduce him to child-friendly programming software.

Keep your intentions and your child's interests in mind while helping him select extracurricular activities and hobbies. In theory, you can find ways to combine the two into something your preteen will benefit from and enjoy.

2: Talk About and Monitor Their Nutrition

Preteens are at an age when they start to strike out on their own, and it may be difficult to keep track of what they're eating. But you still maintain the decisions of what food to keep in your home, so keep your cupboards stocked with healthy foods.

As they begin to decide on their own what they want to eat, you can teach them techniques for healthy eating, such as the following:


  • Calcium is key for growing children, and it's easy to get from sources such as dairy products, leafy vegetables, salmon, broccoli and tofu.
  • Watch caloric intake. Preteens are going to have drastically different calorie needs as they get older: Boys need about 1600-2400 calories and girls need about 1400-2200, depending on how active they are.
  • Whole grains and brown rice are more nutritious than their white counterparts.
  • Iron-rich foods are important, especially as males begin developing muscle mass and females begin menstruating.
  • Drink plenty of water. Preteens need just as much water as adults.
  • Ditch the junk food. You've heard this one over and over yourself, so there's no reason to have your child eating it either.

[sources: Department of Agriculture, Lancaster General]

The preteen years are also riddled with growth spurts and weight changes, so be wary but non-confrontational if your child begins gaining or losing weight. However, if the weight changes become an issue, speak with him immediately regarding eating disorders or exercise.

1: Help with Health and Hygiene

Young Asian girl at dentist office
Braces are common at the preteen age, so good dental hygiene is especially important during this time.
Keith Brofsky/Getty Images

Health and hygiene are two pieces of the preteen puzzle that will become even more important as your child grows. With the onset of puberty, things will start to change, and you'll want to be aware of the following:

  • Exercise: Teach simple methods of exercise, such as walking up stairs or parking farther away from the entrance in parking lots. Children ages 6 to 17 need at least an hour of moderate exercise a day [source: Mayo Clinic].
  • Bathing: Bathing, hair washing and facial cleansing are all important. Many preteens are going to experience pimples and breakouts, so educate here as well.
  • Mouth care: Brushing teeth, flossing and using mouthwash are key to preserving all the time and money you've invested at the dentist.
  • Antiperspirant/deodorant: This will become even more important as their hormones become more active and sweating increases.
  • Shaving: Although boys may not be ready to tackle this one yet, girls may be ready to start shaving. Be ready to teach them how to do so safely.
  • Menstruation: This will come with a slew of different health and hygiene considerations, so be prepared to offer answers to a variety of questions.
  • Sex: Preteens might be more in the know than they seem, so talk about sex as soon as you feel they can understand it.

If you establish rules early, your preteens may take on many of these tasks naturally. As with all these tips, remain positive and supportive when your preteen does things right. Learn even more about parenting by visiting the links on the next page.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Bhalla, Sunindia. "Extracurricular Activities." One Tough Job. (Jan. 31, 2010)
  • Bhalla, Sunindia. "Helping Your Preteen Develop Interests -- Reading." One Tough Job. (Jan. 31, 2010)
  • Camarillo, Susan. "Helping Preteens Transition to Middle School." Preteen Alliance. (Feb. 1, 2010)
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Child Development." Sep. 20, 2005. (Jan. 31, 2010)
  • Diel, David and Stephanie Toelle. "Making Good Decisions: Media in the Lives of Young Children." Jan. 2009 (Jan. 31, 2010)
  • Griffith, Diane. "Your Teen's Privacy: Is Crossing the Line Ever OK?" My Optum Health.'s+Privacy:+Is+it+OK+to+Snoop+?archiveChannel=Home%2FArticle&clicked=true
  • Kerpelman, Jennifer and Phillip Thorsen. "Principles of Parenting, Communicating With Your Teen: Trust." Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities. July 2005 (Feb 2, 2010).
  • Kodu. "Kodu Game Lab." (Feb 1, 2010)
  • Lancaster General. "Nutrition for Your Preteen: Ages 9 through 12 Years." (Feb. 1, 2010)
  • Mayo Clinic. "Fitness For Kids: Getting Your Children Off the Couch." Jan. 24, 2009 (Jan. 31, 2010)
  • Mayo Clinic. "Menstuation: Preparing Your Preteen For Her Period." Aug. 8, 2009. (Jan. 31, 2010)
  • McDevitt, Teresa and Jeanne Ormrod. "Child Development and Education." Pearson Press. 2007.
  • National Child Care Information Center. "Children Home Alone and Babysitter Age Guidelines." (Feb 2, 2010)
  • Palo Alto Medical Foundation. "Parenting a Preteen." (Feb. 1, 2010)
  • Peters, Ruth. "Worried About Your Kids? It's Okay to Snoop." MSNBC. Feb. 24, 2006 (Feb. 2, 2010)
  • Safe Kids USA. "Protecting Your Kids When They're Home Alone." (Feb. 2, 2010)
  • United States Department of Agriculture. "My Pyramid" (Feb. 1, 2010)