Tween Out of Control

Dear Sharon,

Our 12-year daughter has changed so much this year. Her behavior seems out of our control. She’s “hanging out” with her friends, all the time, (including boys) and is looking and acting like someone completely different. We’re feeling concerned and don’t have any idea how to effectively regain some control over her. Do you have any concrete suggestions for us? We’ve already spoken to her guidance counselor and school and don’t want to alienate her by too much intrusion or concern, but we are worried on a lot of levels.

Dear parents,

I am sorry to hear about the changes in your daughter. Although this is not uncommon with teens and pre-teens it usually warrants some significant attention from parents.

You are right to be concerned about alienating your daughter with too much intrusion or concern. It is difficult for almost all parents of teens to sort through how to juggle their very legitimate worries with their child’s demand for privacy and respect as they grow older. Even though an adolescent is capable of sorting through many things I believe that 12 year olds are still young and needs time, attention and perspective from parents and other adults for their lives to go well.

Here are some of the concrete suggestions I have made to other parents in similar situations.

Set limits on your teen’s behavior, some of the ones that I commonly recommend are:
1. Reasonable curfews. 2. Specific times to turn off social networking sites and/or cell phones especially on school nights 3. A firm requirement that parents know who their teens are with and what they are doing when away from home.

There usually need to be consequences for not following parental guidelines. Some possibilities that can be useful are 1.“Grounding” or restricting teen’s out-of-home activities for a set period of time. 2. Further limiting access to TV, or Internet, etc.

As you have mentioned in your question it is also important to keep in regular touch with guidance counselors and school personnel who can be thoughtful. Some school officials are happy to get help from Moms and Dads and can have private conversations with parents.

I believe that guidelines, consequences, and sharing parental concerns can easily backfire if parents don’t spend some significant time attempting to work on their relationships with their teen. As parents try to deepen their communication and care it can help to remember that the lives of teens are often difficult as peer, hormonal and academic pressures usually increase at this age.

Sometimes when a parent is successful in setting up and enjoying some relaxed moments with their teen it is more possible to talk through difficulties. Arranging for this kind of time may mean hanging out in a teens room at night, joining them while watching a TV show they enjoy, listening to some music or watching a movie that a parent ordinarily wouldn’t choose, going on a shopping excursion (even one that has been done many times before), or cooking some food a teen especially liked as a younger child. If a parent and child are relaxed and relatively calm it can be easier to begin difficult conversations about such things as parental rules and concerns.

I believe that if your daughter needs you right now. If she only gets advice and love from people her own age her ability to sort through the complex challenges of her life will be harder to do well.