The moment we left the elementary cafeteria for our son’s fifth grade graduation, the nerves, worry and nostalgia crept in. Our little man was definitely growing up and eager to embark upon the next stage of life. Try as we might- there was nothing we could do to stop it. We had worked so hard up to this point to surround him with structured activities, to know his fellow classmates and teachers, and to protect his innocence. All of this changed on his first day of sixth grade.

The bus is perhaps one of the first places that children learn that there are all types of people, that gullibility is preyed upon, and that some children believe that talking about disgusting and shocking things is equivalent to popularity. The morals that you have instilled in your child will encounter their first true tests and your child will begin to morph the morals that are yours and develop them into their own based on their own life truths, developed beliefs and experiences. Prepare yourself.

With this being said, your child is also rapidly changing. They are having many bodily changes, emotional changes and social changes. Their strong desire to please their parents and teachers starts to give way in lieu of their desire to please their peers. Hormones are a real thing and as they begin coursing through your pre-teen they become distracted, sometimes strongly emotional over things that may surprise you, and cautious or embarrassed by things that used to be common place in your relationship with him or her.

Parents become frantic because of all the changes and they are afraid of losing their influence over their children’s choices, and they fear losing their relationship with their child. I have seen two ends of the spectrum that inevitably lead to problems. Some parents get trapped into changing their parental relationship to one of a friendship, and some change to a dictatorship. I’m here to tell you there is a better way.

Befriending your pre-teen in an attempt to maintain closeness and influence may seem to work well at first, but the boundary lines are blurred. While your pre-teen may pretend to detest your rules and parental advice, deep down they trust it because it is a natural division of the parent child relationship. When your child realizes that you have stepped down to a friend role they will slowly start to manipulate the relationship because they now hold some of the power to the functioning of the relationship. The parent then starts to feel as if they need to be sneaky or win over the favor of their child to stay in their good graces. Plus- no matter how cool you are in real life- you are not really that cool in the world of your pre-teen.

The dictatorship role is doomed in the structure. Pre-teens are starting to find themselves. They feel separation from their “old and out of touch parents” and already feel oppressed in their “dystopian” school and home environments. They are seeking independence, trust, responsibility, and are dealing with loads of peer pressure. Your child will make mistakes. Your child will fight for responsibilities they are not ready for. Taking a dictator role will force your child to take the extreme opposite position of anything you command to prove their maturity. Your child will also start to lie about the smallest things and will not feel comfortable coming to you with problems that arise in their lives.

The middle ground will work better to help your child develop safely and also to maintain a relationship of openness and trust with your child. Be patient with yourself. This evolving relationship takes time, patience, trial, error and a lot of faith. Some tips to ponder:

* Just because your child has been thrown into an educational environment that demands a huge increase in personal responsibility, doesn’t mean that they will immediately adapt to the change. They require help! Check with the school to find out if they have a website where you can track your child’s progress, assignments and homework. If not- contact their teachers individually and ask if they post these things somewhere online. After the first week of school- take your son or daughter to an office supply store and have them show you what they need to organize their school responsibilities. Use anecdotal stories of times when you were overwhelmed or unorganized and tell them what you found to be helpful. Check up on them DAILY to make sure that they are keeping up. After a couple months of your daily homework hounding and check-ups, let them go for a week  then check up again. If they are doing well then switch to a weekly check-up until they start to slip. Never ever believe at face value when your pre-teen says “I don’t have any homework”, or “I finished my homework at school.” There is always a test to study for or an upcoming assignment. Check the sites and see with your own two eyes. If your internal alarm tells you that your child is not telling you the whole truth always call them out on it. They will start to realize that lying to you is not an easy option. Trust me- an ounce of prevention here is worth a pound of cure.

* Create experiences that allow your children to show how grown they are. Give them ample opportunities to make decisions so they can begin to feel confident in their decision making skills. Slow and steady wins the race. For example- hand them your bank card and ask them to find a good deal for pizza online and put in an order for your family. Give him/her a spending amount and then leave him or her completely alone. You will be amazed at how seriously s/he will take this task. Every family member’s preference will have to be taken into account as will the budget and making sure there is enough food to feed everyone. They will have to fill out the correct information and complete the business transaction with the driver at the door. Act like it’s no big deal, but make sure you comment on how glad you are that s/he got XX type of pizza or act amazed at how good of a deal they got for the price. If they didn’t do too well- they will realize it themselves at the dinner table. No need to rub it in. They are taking their own mental notes.

* Keeping your pre-teen on track can be an exhausting task. After awhile you will feel like all you do is parent and direct. One of the best things we ever did was find a therapeutic horse riding ranch to volunteer at with our 12 year old son. Going there, doing hard labor together, benefiting other children who had severe disabilities, and gaining intrinsic pride were only some of the benefits. This helped our son realize the importance of philanthropy, helped him to see how blessed he was in his own life, and helped to teach him how good it feels to be a producer instead of just a consumer. He feels like he is an important part of something bigger than himself. He now begs us to take him down to go muck out the stalls!

* Hand over the leadership role to your child. Whatever your child is good at- have them teach you. At this point in time there are a multitude of things they can do better than you. If they play sports, or an instrument, or can draw an animal really well, or if they know some fancy dance moves, or a computer program, etc have them teach you how to do it. This helps them to develop leadership skills and helps to bind you together in a positive way. They will relish the ability to tell you what to do for once and will feel a sense of pride in their abilities.

* Take time to develop creative consequences- but above all else- NEVER EMBARRASS. Consequences are essential and necessary. Do not get upset that your weekend plans have to change last minute because your child requires a consequence. That’s parenting! Think up creative punishments that have a purpose. Your pre-teen is not going to responds to “time out” like s/he did last year. When they do need consequences-are driving you nuts-or have finally shocked you with something they did- resist the urge to vent to the whole world on your Facebook account or talk about their offenses to relatives at Christmas dinner. Just think about how much you would like your dirty laundry or life mistakes aired out to the whole world without your consent. What will inevitably happen if you do this is your child will resent you, it will be damaging to their sense of self-worth, and they will not trust you. Pre-teens pride themselves on the idea of “respect” and I guarantee that if you make it a habit of proclaiming to the world the faults of your child that s/he will never come to talk to you about relationship woes, ask for your advice about things that are private, pose embarrassing sex questions, or share concerns about a friend’s drug habit or peer pressure.

*Talk to your child about sex. I can’t be anymore blunt. By sixth grade, your son or daughter already knows that people have sex and how they do it. They learned that way back in third grade. Now- they are hearing about much more nefarious things that people do in the bedroom (especially with the advent and availability of handheld wireless devices.) Although you will feel uncomfortable, just do it. Perhaps you can start off reminiscing and talking to your child about how uncomfortable you felt when your parents talked to you about sex, but how glad you were that they did. Allow them the opportunity to ask you anything and answer them truthfully (within reason). Don’t just have “the talk” once- have it multiple times.

* Continue to protect your children from violent or immoral media. Think about the effect that spending 3 hours per day, 5 days per week shooting and killing virtual characters can have on your child. If you don’t want your child to communicate the way that the characters on Family Guy communicate then don’t let them watch it! Use your parental controls on all devices. Unless you want your son or daughter to learn about romantic relationships by typing in the keyword “sex” on you tube- this is essential. Tell them why you feel it is important that they do not view these specific things. By restricting these things is opens up opportunities for communication so you can tell them why you do not feel it is right for them. They may seem bigger and may act like they know it all, but do not let them fool you. They are still the same sponge that they were as toddlers and they are still emotionally young. They just assimilate information in a different way. My son will whine about his cheap flip phone- his lack of an I-pad that EVERYONE else has, the fact that he can’t play Black-Ops like EVERYONE else, etc., but the next day he will talk to us in shock of how other children’s parent just appear to not care about what their children do. He will incredulously relay a story of how some kids treat their parents poorly. This shows us deep down how he appreciates our rules and involvement because he knows that we love and care for him.

*Lastly, never forget that you are a role model for your children. When that person cuts you off- show self-restraint. When your significant other is on your last nerve, take a walk and model how to assertively get some space. When you are wrong- apologize and own up to it! Afterward applaud yourself. When you fail to be a good role model- tell your child what you wish you would have done instead. Let your kids know that you are human too. Tell your children about your own personal growth goals that you are working on. Let them know that we are all a work in progress and you are no exception.

The rest is just good ole luck and the passage of time. My parting words to you through these tough formative years is…best of luck and remember- this too shall pass. Till next time.

Be a great day today folks…. and don’t forget to check out my website!

-Grace Moran