I had the pleasure of attending a luncheon the other day sponsored by the Preteen Alliance and the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital called "What does growing up have to do with my future? Important questions on the minds of preteen and strategies for answering them." The speakers were Robert Lehman, MD and Julie Metzger, RN, MN, both specialists in adolescent health care and parent-child communication.
It was a nice reminder for the parents, teachers, health professionals, and juvenile justice workers in the room that being a preteen is as tough on them as trying to know what is best for them is on us. We are all involved in the process of moving from control to independence, and the more involved we are with them at this phase of their life, the better of they will be. It was nice to hear mostly moms sigh in relief when they realized they were not the only ones struggling with issues around homework, cells phones, curfews, and the struggle to remain engaged with a tween who seems to want you to disappear off the planet. I was very impressed that both speakers did reinforce the research that says "stay involved" - do not let go too early, as some of the pop psychologists suggest is better for kids.
Preteens need all of the health and information support they can get, and the speakers encouraged parents to welcome all of the adults in their tween's life - doctors, teachers, clergy, extended family - starting at about 11 to become providers of information and support. This means talking to kids about everything you are comfortable with, and maybe some you aren't, as well as helping them identify adults they might ask questions of, if they cannot talk to you. Parents also need to reinforce that tweens are going to find themselves needing support and information that will help them make good decisions about their health and heart, and that the adults in their lives are here to help!
Some strategies to help busy parents stay in touch included: 1) make sure you are looking at your kids every day - eye-to-eye contact is not as frequent as you might imagine; and 2) Spend one minute a day talking about an important subject that might not come up on it's own - add another minute every day, and the conversation will build. Finally, the speakers reminded us that we are always teaching by example - how we handle stress, work and communication are the skills we are passing on to our children.
Listening to the parents who asked questions did make me reminisce about the old days of the choices in my parenting - car seats, naps, breast feeding, family bed, safety limits - decisions that seem so easy now when facing teens who are driving, getting jobs, and falling in love. Every phase has joys and struggles - thank goodness I am along for the ride!