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Survive Your Middle Schooler's Changing Behavior

Loosen up — but don't let go — when dealing with the whirlwind change of the teenage years.
 

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It's common for your once-cuddly preteen to turn red when she sees you approaching in the mom-mobile. And you might be equally freaked out by her sassy new vocabulary and wardrobe, not to mention her resistance to rules. So how should you respond to your tween's changing behavior?

Consider communication a priority. Without a respectful dialogue, you risk being shut out from her new life and new friends altogether. Shift gears from the direct involvement you have with a younger child to the support system a teenager needs. Try these strategies to cope with common issues:

  • Dating
    Middle school romances typically need little interference from parents, beyond setting basic rules about curfew and keeping you notified about where he is and who he's with. He'll share details when he feels it's necessary and appropriate. Remember, tweens handle tricky situations best when they feel supported by committed, approachable parents.
     
  • Peers, Cliques, and Feeling Left Out
    Wondering how to make your child feel special, even if she is not a part of the unofficial sorority that rules the school? Just knowing how much you love her helps a lot. As always, take cues from her behavior and know that if she wants to talk about it, she will. If she has a couple of close friends, and that's all she needs, there is no need to worry about her popularity.

    What can you do if your child is the one putting on the pressure? Not much. When your 12 year old is catty and mean to her friends at school, it's tough to intervene. A good goal is to improve the communication and respect in your relationship at home. Because a 12 year old is still developing, your bond with her is essential in shaping her development. That being said, it is her life to lead, so your role is to be supportive and encouraging. Your values have a big impact on the friend and student she becomes.
     
  • You're Wearing That?
    The combination of newfound independence, a developing body, and the desire to fit in can lead your tween to try out clothing and accessories that seem inappropriate (or just plain ugly). But it's best not to forbid an outfit unless it is absolutely unacceptable. Set standards and stick to them, but also try a creative approach, such as asking your child to pay for clothing you disagree on.

    If a struggle ensues over a last-minute veto or because everyone else is wearing it, don't stress. Your child will soon forget the wardrobe war — but not the tone of your interactions. It's better he reflect back on the time Mom was honest, not the time he had to wear dorky pants to the big dance.
     
  • Joining — and Quitting
    Worried about letting your child drop an activity? Try not to micromanage. Some extracurriculars she once loved may take a lesser priority in middle school. It is a common part of breaking away from parent-directed activities on the way to discovering new pursuits. She may need or want to devote more time to academics, friendships, or dating.
     
  • The Wired (and Wireless) World
    With busy social lives to worry about, your preteen might slip into a habit of frequent instant-messaging or cell phone calls. While these chats can be time-consuming, it's time for your tween (not you) to begin prioritizing his own obligations to schoolwork and other commitments. When possible, let him learn from his own mistakes.

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