The tween years is a period of remarkable growth in every way – Physically, emotionally, mentally and even socially. As your tweens hit puberty, you may find yourself surprised not just by their height but by their emotional outbursts and interest in new subject matters. This is all part of a period of intense growth and discovery, as they learn more about the world and decide what they are passionate about as individuals.
By this age, you may have already explained where babies come from, how does a girl get pregnant and touched on boy-girl relationships.
If you have not shared your family values and beliefs on love and relationships with your tween, this is a good time to do so. One possible way is to use scenes that you may come across in the media to talk about it, so you can help them connect their internal values with external behaviour.
It is important to remember that you have great influence over your child. So if they come to you with statements expressing their confusion over their gender identity, it’s good to stay calm and ask questions to help you understand where these thoughts are coming from.
Explain what romantic attraction is: A desire to be physically close with someone and not just liking someone and wanting them to like you. Share with them that sometimes in growing up, we may greatly admire someone of the same gender, and that is not the same as romantic attraction.
Help ask thinking questions – How do you want them to like you? What activities do you hope to do with this person? Is this someone you see yourself dating or marrying in future?
Some of these questions may seem “heavy” to a tween and you don’t need to overly dwell on them but they can help your child understand the difference between a crush and serious attraction.
We are all social beings and influenced by many sources including friendships and media consumption. If you don’t already know what your child is watching or their favourite celebrities, it may be good to find out.
In their early teens, our kids are gaining further independence and part of this growth involves figuring out their own personal convictions on family values.
Topics to have by this stage include: when they can have a boyfriend or girlfriend, physical boundaries and sexual boundaries within relationships.
Romantic feelings open up a whole new (and at times, confusing) world for your child. Your constant love and care - not conditional upon grades, behaviour or even sexuality - is a grounding influence. Keep seeking opportunities to keep the parent-child connection strong.
Keep an open door with your teen about all topics and matters. If your child brings up questions or even announces they have an alternative sexual orientation, remember to stay loving and unfazed.
A parent’s love is stronger than their children’s choices. Loving someone doesn’t mean accepting all their choices. A difference in opinions cannot negate love that is established on a strong foundation of trust and openness.
Be honest in your conversations with your teen, ask thinking questions, while also making your stand clear. Reassure them on how your love for them remains unchanged.
In sharing your own emotions, be frank but not judgmental. Use “I” statements such as, “I feel worried” instead of “you are worrying me”.
Set boundaries for safety without fearmongering. You may also want to factually explain the repercussions of big decisions like this and ask your teen to give him or herself time to evaluate how they feel. It may be helpful to set regular check-in times but make it clear that it’s an ongoing conversation you are happy to have.
As our children reach their late teens and grow into independent young adults, our role becomes more like coaches or guides. However, that doesn’t mean we take a hands-off approach. On the contrary, we become more intentional in nurturing the connection with our teens.
Staying interested in their world, wanting to meet their romantic interests, weighing in on decision making processes and yet respecting your teen’s wishes… all this can feel like a huge balancing act!
Some topics to cover include: sexual abuse and sexual consent. Some of the points in this article – What If I Think I Am Gay? - are also helpful to explore.
When you and your teen disagree on a topic, it is important to be the one who reaches out in love. Try not to shut your teen down out of fear; rather, practise non-judgmental listening. The ability to toss around different ideas and explore pros and cons, while maintaining mutual respect, can help you empower your teen to make good decisions.
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