THE TWEEN YEARS
They're too old for toys but way too young for boys - this period of transition can be a scary time for your 10- to 12-year-old. You’re still the parent - don’t let them forget that - but don’t come down too hard on them either. Keep things respectful both ways. Here’s how you can deal with their excuses for skipping family time:
EXCUSE #1 “I just don’t want to!”
WHAT IT MEANS They usually say this when you want to do things they are not interested in. It could be shopping, being forced to visit relatives or family friends; or doing activities with their younger siblings which they have outgrown.
It’s not that they don’t want to spend time with you – it’s likely that they want the outing to be at least partially their idea. They’re beginning to develop an identity of their own so they may no longer want to accept your plans without question.
YOUR STRATEGY Let your child have a say in what the family will do, to motivate them to want to spend time with you. It will also boost their self-esteem.
“Help them understand that just as they need their space, the family needs their love, time and presence,” says Eugenia Gajardo, psychotherapist & counsellor at Alliance Professional Counselling.
When you’re with your tweens, focus on enjoying their company rather than trying to correct them or give them advice. While it may not be easy to give up the teaching role, you can try using the time to build your relationship.
EXCUSE #2 “It’s boring!” or “We always do the same thing!”
WHAT IT MEANS Today’s tweens need constant stimulation. Weekends filled with the usual errands and activities can get monotonous for them.
YOUR STRATEGY Set aside time to do something new. Get creative: how about doing something nice for others together? Find volunteer opportunities that build on your child’s interests. It can give you time to talk and teach them the value of service. Take photos and later, discuss your experience: why you did it, how it felt and what you've learned.
Or, you can watch their favourite TV shows or movies together – it can open up lots of conversations later.
EXCUSE #3 “I’m old enough to stay at home.”
WHAT IT MEANS Your tweens want to test their wings - it's a signal that you need to try to understand their need for independence.
YOUR STRATEGY Give in occasionally - it sends the message that you are listening to them. Find a happy balance by agreeing and setting reasonable limits. You can allow them to stay home alone for a short while as you run an errand.
EXCUSE #4 “I want to be with my friends.”
WHAT IT MEANS If you’ve not made the effort to understand their world and what’s important to them, they’ll gravitate towards their peers or who they think ‘get’ them.
YOUR STRATEGY “Connect with them by being interested in what they’re interested in: music, sports or computers. Discover their world,” advises Eugenia.
Support their experimenting. For example, don’t comment on their fashion choices as long as they’re suitably covered up.
Show them you can be fun to hang out with, too. If your tween is into video games, offer to play. They often find it hilarious to see how shockingly bad their parents are at gaming!
THE TEENAGE YEARS
It’s easy to feel redundant when parenting teens, but remember: they still need you – just in a different way. You still need to be actively involved in their lives. Although they won’t always admit it, they appreciate the time you spend with them.
EXCUSE #1 “I’m too tired.”
WHAT IT MEANS It may or may not be tiredness, but it’s more likely that they don’t fancy running around the mall doing errands with you, or visiting Aunty Fran and her (noisy) twin toddlers.
YOUR STRATEGY When teens feel they’re just being told what to do and herded around like sheep, that’s when they’re most likely to withdraw from family activities. Sometimes, they need to be given a choice on what the family will do during the weekend. Chances are, if it’s an activity of interest and they’re looking forward to, you won’t have to ask them twice.
EXCUSE #2 “I already made plans.”
WHAT IT MEANS They are starting to have a social life so they may think it’s embarrassing to join family activities – they don’t want to seem like they have no friends.
YOUR STRATEGY They don’t like to be told what to do all the time. If you force them, the result may be conflict and arguments. They may cut off communication and stay away just to make a point, even if they’d rather go out with you.
So allow them to opt out sometimes. Respect the plans they’ve made with friends and work around these when you can. A family calendar where everyone marks their activities – including family time – helps avoid scheduling conflicts.
Eugenia suggests negotiating with your teen – for example, tell him that if he gets good grades and shows responsible behavior, he can have time to do what he wants.
Set clearly agreed boundaries for curfew times and so on, and negotiate one day a week for family time - like Sunday dinner. Emphasise too that with freedom comes responsibility: ask to be informed of where and whom they are with.
EXCUSE #3 “You just don’t understand.”
WHAT IT MEANS You’re not cool or you’re too rigid. You’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a teenager. You’re in two different worlds, and there has to be more of an overlap.
YOUR STRATEGY Do you know your teenager’s best friend? Do you know their favorite band? Knowing the answers to these types of questions will help you bond with your teen. Try conducting ‘family interviews’. You’ll be surprised at how little you really know about each other!
Teens appreciate the time you take to learn about their world. When they know you’re interested their lives, they’ll want to spend more time with you and be willing to share things that they may have kept hidden. Learn to enjoy the silliness that teenagers bring to your life.
EXCUSE #4 “I’ve got too much work – I don’t have time.”
WHAT IT MEANS Today’s teens have a lot going on. A busy curriculum, tuition plus activities such as sports or the arts mean very little spare time. Sometimes when they say they are overwhelmed, it may not be an excuse.
YOUR STRATEGY Acknowledge that they have a full workload but understand that they also need to unwind in the way that works for them. Agree to compromise: they get to stay home, finish their work and play Xbox while you’re out with the younger siblings, and then the whole family goes out for dinner later.
This article was originally published in Simply Her March 2015.