Are you really communicating with your tween?

BEFORE a thoughtful parent can communicate effectively with a child in the tween years (7-14), he or she must understand the changes in their child during these years. For example, children of early primary school years form friendships of convenience perhaps because they are in the same class, or neighbourhood. But the mid to late primary or early secondary schoolers who mark the onset of adolescence tend to make friends due to shared values and perceptions of the world.

Thus communicating with these different groups of children require different approaches.

What to avoid

Dr Lawrence Kutner, co-director of Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health and Media, is one of America's best known psychologists. He is the author of five books on child development and parent-child communication.

Dr Kutner observes that the onset of adolesence in older tweens result in changing perceptions of their parents, a symptom that manifests itself as challenging their parents or interpreted as rebellious defiance. Parents then either tend to back off then or continue with the same authoritative approach that had served them well when their kids were younger. However, both approaches would tend to fail to address the real cry of the beginning adolescent for more information on how to cope with physiological and brain changes.

While the early adolescent does indeed communicate with his or her parents, most would avoid discussing sex, and other issues related to their friends/social community.

Approach you can adopt

As these mentioned areas are big topics and compounded by the child's increasing sensitivity, Dr Kutner advises parents that it is best to address this in an indirect fashion, say when you're peeling carrots or driving. Most importantly, your child doesn't have to face you, and you both can be doing something else. While girls feel more comfortable just talking, boys feel more comfortable talking while doing something else.

Spend more time communicating

A 1998 study by Philips Consumer Communications indicated that even though our internet-influenced culture forces kids to grow up all too often too quickly, parents do not spend enough time to talk with their kids about the stuff that really matters. The "Let's Connect" study examined the communication patterns and content of early adolescents (grades five to eight ie ages 11-14) and their parents.

The survey results are as pertinent today as it was in the late 90s. One survey result: that many parents spend no more than an hour a day communicating with their kids. Noting this alarming finding, Dr Kutner encourages parents to spend more time with their child to help reduce or prevent more serious consequences later on in life.

TV images of children grieving the violent loss of classmates and teachers are graphic reminders of the unique pressures children face today. Today's parents never really faced this in their heyday, and thus it is critical that today's kids are served by parents who really work hard to keep open the lines of family communication especially in the adolescent years.

Communication: A long term investment

Your adolescent child knows the difference between the perfunctory "How was your day?" or questions in similar vein, as compared to really sitting down and conversing with him or her about stuff important to them. More importantly, you must know how to read between the lines, not just hear the words, especially when a child of this age tend to use less words!

Dr Kutner advocates acknowledging your child's emotion. As the child is in the process of developing independent thinking, so ask their opinion, and listen to it. When you do, you'll find they are more likely to ask for your opinion and listen to that. Dr Kutner reminds us parents that opinions are easy and free, and don't require much of us.

Treat them with respect

Resist the temptation to interrupt your child, and let him or her finish their thoughts. This respect and attention serve as a reciprocal lesson to your child, that he needs to listen to be heard, that he must in turn acknowledge his parents' point of view. And that if he does, he'll find his parents are more likely to listen to him. In short, treating him as a little adult tend to pay off more often than not.


"Let's Connect" survey findings / Tips for parents