My two children nearly badgered me to death in their pre-teen years. They were desperate to fit in and were furious when I refused them what they wanted. Being a middle-school teacher made it a little easier to say no. I had learned that at about age 8, students stop soaking up their teacher's every word and follow their friends instead. I had also seen how quickly tweens get over (and forget) things that only a short time before had been among life's greatest disappointments or injustices. But still, I admit to feeling pleased when my daughter later declared, "It was good you wouldn't let me have a GameBoy. My friends waste so much time on them." And I'm probably not the only mother whose teenage son thanked her for not allowing him to get an earring when he was 10, because it wasn't "like, cool, now."
What to Expect
For many parents, the scariest part of the tween years is that it's the beginning of the end of your total control. When your child is younger, you're the ultimate "decider." At about age 10, however, the power starts to shift as your child spends more time with his peers, experiments, and becomes his own person. Most significantly during the tween years, your child will want to prove that he's capable of being different from you (which, of course, he is), and as a result, he will become more likely to assert himself, even if it causes conflict.
You'll probably find that your 10- or 11-year-old daughter will want to dress in the sexy teen fashions that are now marketed to younger children. Your 11- or 12-year-old son will play music that offends your ears and your taste. And older tweens will beg you to let them pierce their ears or belly buttons or buy them the latest cell phone, MP3 player, TV, or computer, despite the fact that the one they already have works just fine. Any tween is likely to want to watch movies or play video games that are rated above his chronological age because "everyone" else is doing so.
Even more difficult than being pestered by your child to buy a particular item because it's the current fad is having your values challenged. As the mom of one 10 year old put it, "My daughter is now aware that there's another world out there. She sees that other families do things differently, and she prefers their way because she thinks there's more in it for her. It can be hard to stick to your principles in the face of the pressure." But it's important to do so as best you can. Although you understandably want to please your child, giving in is not helpful to her in the long or short term.
How You Can Help
The inevitable battles you have with your tween can actually boost his sense of being loved and cared for, if handled sensitively. However angry your child may be at the time of your refusal, deep down he will prefer having a parent who has his best interests at heart and who has clear and consistent principles. A parent who frequently bends and then gives in to a child's demands is less able to provide him with that beneficial sense of security and clarity.
Don't be afraid to say no. Experiencing disappointment and learning that one can survive happily without a "must-have" item or activity is a necessary part of growing up. While such experiences may be painful to your child in the moment, they will ultimately help strengthen his self-esteem. Conversely, always giving your child what he wants may seem like the way to ensure his happiness, but it often ends up feeding his anxiety, and encourages him to define success and happiness in terms of possessions and getting to do what he pleases. At this age, children don't hold grudges long, and you can rest easy knowing your relationship with your child will not be destroyed by garden-variety parent-child disputes.
Be firm, but understanding. The best way to help your tween cope with your refusal is to express it in terms of your beliefs and values rather than discipline and disapproval. If your child feels like he's being punished or that you're scornful of his desires, he may feel put down and become defiant. It's possible to show your child you understand his feelings while still saying no: "I know you're worried you'll be left out, and you want this really badly, but your friends will soon be into something else and they'll forget. Trust me." Or, "Every family's different. I believe our way is right for us, and I don't want to change it simply because your friend's family does it another way. Just tell him your parents won't let you."
Remain in charge, yet flexible. Chances are, there will be times when you concede on what feels like a string of things. When this happens, it can be helpful to use even an unimportant issue as an opportunity to stand your ground. You want to retain some authority with your child at this age, as he's still young. On the other hand, the answer shouldn't always be "no." Sometimes, merely stating your concerns can be enough to make your child aware of where you stand: "You can see I'm not happy about this, but because it's important to you, I'm going to allow you to do it."
Don't sweat the small stuff. When it comes to music, tweens typically like to explore and experiment — and to shock. It's usually not worth fretting or fighting over. Next week, they'll probably like something different, anyway. Rather than "Don't you dare listen to that stuff in this house," opt for the less confrontational — and judgmental — "Better you than me!"