Raising Pre-Teens Is Tough - Here Are Some Tips from Psychologist Dr. Robert Erdei

The following is a piece on pre-teen parenting tips, co-authored with psychologist Robert Erdei. We partnered with Dr. Erdei to create a series of blog posts geared specifically toward the difficult parenting challenges we were experiencing ourselves. We call this series, "Memoirs of a Psychologist". We hope you enjoy this piece and please don't hesitate to leave a comment below with your thoughts.

The years between 11 and 14 are an exciting time in the lives of children. It is probably inappropriate to call them ‘children’ anymore, because they are far from the little ones who just started to walk, speak or had their first day of school. They are now called pre-teens, pre-adolescents or tweens.

No longer little kids, not quite yet adolescents, they are somewhere in-between.

Whatever the name, one thing is sure: they are in a transitional phase of their life. No longer little kids, not quite yet adolescents, they are somewhere in-between. They are stuck in the middle between childhood and adulthood. This is the time of their life when they start to disagree with parents, form the most important friendships of their lives and start falling in love for the first time.

Tween and pre-teen years come with very important developmental tasks, crucial for youngsters, but also for the adults in their lives. As parents, you should know about the the shape of things to come.

Need Help Overcoming Parenting Challenges?

Memoirs of a Psychologist is a series of post in partnership with Dr. Robert Erdei. Memoirs of a Psychologist doesn't just scratch the surface of your parenting challenges. We dig deep, seeking to help you create the change needed to be a better parent and have better relationships with your children.

Click below to visit the Memoirs of a Psychologist blog post series home page for more parenting tips and resources.

Physical Development Impacts Pre-Teen Behavior

First, tweens are developing physically, and often at an accelerated rate. It might be not as dramatic as for adolescents, but the signs of growing up are already there. Kids lose their cute, soft childish form: girls begin to look like women and boys like men. As they grow bigger, boys will be taller and more muscular, and girls grow breasts and start their periods around this age. Physical development can be scary for them, but the transformation of their bodies would cause less drama compared to adolescents.

Their Brains Are Growing, Too!

Their body develops and so does their mind. Tweens are able to understand abstract concepts and mentally manipulate objects that are not actually present. They become able to use hypotheses, planning ahead and develop a more thorough understanding of cause and effect. Their ability to rationalize increases, as does their attitudes in many cases.

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How They Value and Define Relationships Is Changing

Pre-teen emphasis on relationships changes as they age. The opinion of adults will be less important or evident and the role of family may change as well. The sweet little daddy's girl or mommy's boy is gone, but instead of them you have become a clever, curious and self-conscious (pre)teen. They will start to say "no" if they disagree with you and have their own points of view. Apart from their own perspectives, the viewpoints of peers will grow in importance as well. They no longer want to discuss everything with you, and in some cases, they'll try to make the argument that you are too old to understand it.

"Parents just don't understand!"

Well, perhaps not saying it so, but the meaning of their message is exactly that. Their friendships are not depending on the situation anymore, they are most likely to forge the friendships of their lives at this age.

Their Ability to Empathize Increases

Pre-teens begin to experience empathy and consider others’ perspectives. This skill will help them greatly in dealing with social issues and interpersonal conflicts. Of course, the picture is not all positive. Their enhanced interpersonal skills, empathy and developing sense of morality do not necessarily come along with the sophistication of their expressions. Despite their best intentions and moral justice, they might easily offend others with their harsh words. They develop their own ideology, but since it is just developing, it can be very far from a coherent and finished product. They condemn hypocrisy and evil deeds.

Yes, your hypocrisy too.

Tips For Helping Modify Pre-Teen Behavior

It is very important to debate and discuss with pre-teen children, but not from the position of power or authority necessarily. Their opinions might be strong and sometimes unjust, but saying ‘because I said so’ leads nowhere. As they (and you) will soon discover, they are not little children anymore who automatically accept the opinions of their parents. You may need to appeal to their growing intellect in order to get your point across.

Pre-teens are on the road of finding out who they really are.

They need to realize that the world is not black and white and (most likely) there is no absolute and universal truth. Their opinion can be just and true, but others have different factors to consider. Tweens start to experience a wide range of emotions, perhaps not that wide than an adolescent, but certainly on a greater scale compared to a primary school kid. From a psychodynamic perspective, the years of relative tranquility are gone. Hormones start their work, leading to adolescence and sexual maturity. Parents should understand this is a part of growing up. In fact, if you remember back when you were a child, I'm sure you can draw many similarities. Empathetic parents often help in parent - pre-teen relationships as well.

Pre-teens are on the road of finding out who they really are. This road will be very long and might be a dead end for some of them. A 12-year-old kid should not know what he or she would become as an adult. Did you?  This is the time for the first steps. They need to know what fascinates them, what their interests are and how they spend their time willingly. They find persons and groups to identify with, whether it is a role model or a sports team. All these steps point toward the creation of their own identity.

If you have not assigned any tasks and small duties appropriate for their age and development level, it is time to do so. It is a perfectly rightful expectation from the environment to fulfill more mature roles and take age-relevant responsibility. Do not treat them like adults though. The tasks you assign them should not be too hard. They need to learn responsible behavior, which is the purpose of such errands.

There are a lot of things parents can do. Tween years are a very sensitive period and they go away very quickly. As a responsible parent, you can do a lot of things for your child at this age, teach them a multitude of things, become a true role model, help to forge great, lasting friendships and accompany him or her on the road to their true self.

The next chapters of the series will discuss parental and family issues, school and academic achievements, the role of peers and friendships, the budding love life, barriers of a healthy development and available resources to deal with the challenges of life.

Other Memoirs of a Psychologist Posts:

Memoirs of a Psychologist: Divorce’s Effects on Children

One of the greatest risks for children who experience divorce may be that they learn it as the sole solution to marital problems.

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Memoirs of a Psychologist: Effects of Divorce on Men

Psychologist Dr. Robert Erdei weighs in on the effects of divorce on men with this newest piece in the “Memoirs of a Psychologist” series.

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Memoirs of a Psychologist: Raising Resilient Kids After Divorce

Another great piece from Dr. Robert Erdei writing about one of his passions and specialties: Raising Resilient Kids After Divorce. How do children of divorce survive and thrive?

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Memoirs of a Psychologist: Pre-Teen Parenting Challenges

Psychologist Robert Erdei weighs in with some pre-teen parenting challenges and tips for getting to know your son or daughter.

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Memoirs of a Psychologist: Help for Parents of Defiant Teens: Part I – Is My Child Defiant?

Part I in our “defiant teens” series: Help for Parents of Defiant Teens: Part I – Is My Child Defiant? Psychologist Robert Erdei sheds light on a common problem.

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Memoirs of a Psychologist: Pre-Teen Behavior Challenges and Solutions

Dadtography.com presents another guest post from Psychologist Robert Erdei where he helps parents deal with pre-teen behavior challenges and solutions.

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Memoirs of a Psychologist: On Childhood Obesity

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Memoirs of a Psychologist: Bedwetting Solutions

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Memoirs of a Psychologist: Asperger Syndrome in Children

An overview of Asperger Syndrome in children by Dr. Robert Erdei including symptoms, diagnosis and what to expect if you suspect your child has Asperger Syndrome.

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Memoirs of a Psychologist: Selective Mutism in Children

Another great Memoirs of a Psychologist piece is for parents: Selective Mutism in Children. What are the causes, treatments and what to expect.

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What do you think? Are you the parent (or step-parent) to a pre-teen? How do you handle this challenging phase? Leave a comment below!

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