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5 things to talk about with your tween for the new school year

A father comforting his son. Photo Credit: iStock

A father comforting his son. Photo Credit: iStock Credit: iStock

My son started the sixth grade, so the following email recently caught my eye: “5 Essential Issues to Discuss with Your Tween or Teen.”

The tips are culled from Jay Scott Fitter, a family therapist based in California who advocates that showing respect for your children will help make you a better parent. Fitter, the author of the self-published 2010 hardcover book “Respect Your Children: A Practical Guide to Effective Parenting,” suggests talking about the following topics with a child.

1. Clothing: I never wanted my son to wear basketball shorts, but over time I’ve seen that wearing that latest fashion helps him feel more comfortable. Fitter suggests setting parameters, which we have done at home. Harrison is not allowed to wear them every day, but I also purchased some new pairs for the start of the school year. Fitter’s larger concern is if what a child wears is associated with high-risk behavior. Express your concern and then ask what the child thinks, he suggests.

2. Academics: We have a new schedule for the fall — Harrison gets to take off an hour when he gets home to relax and recharge, and he can fill that time with whatever he’d like. It is likely going to be video games. Homework is to start at 4:30, with some breaks built in. He has a quiet room with windows to let in light and air and can play music softly in the background if need be. The goal is to help him do the best job he can this year, and he is invested. “As parents, it's important to explain to our children that even though they'll be presented with many fun alternatives to studying … school academics will play a big part in shaping the rest of their life and career,” Fitter says.

3. Girlfriends/Boyfriends. “When hormones are raging, kids are more interested in the attention of a girlfriend or boyfriend than they are in school,” Fitter says. I have offered to chaperone my son’s first date whenever he wants one (not quite yet), but in the meantime I am going to take Fitter’s advice:  “Find out what kinds of clubs, athletics and extracurricular activities the school offers, and encourage them to get involved with at least one of these,” he says. “This will help them build up a resume for college, but it also keeps them well-rounded and socializing with like-minded kids.” Done.

4. Peer Pressure. This talk has gone on since Harrison was a baby when he used to sit in his high chair snacking on Zwieback toast looking at me as if I were insane. “Never do heroin or cocaine, don’t smoke marijuana, don’t smoke or drink,” I’d say. Over the years I have given him these reminders, explaining that he should make his own choices even when other kids might be doing it. I’ll have another conversation before the first day of school. “Talk with your kids about the fact that peer pressure exists and that people are going to encourage them to do things,” Fitter says. “Friends might push them to drink, use drugs, be promiscuous, cheat on a test, steal, or even be a bully to someone else. Remind your tween or teen that if it's an activity or behavior they don't want to do, or goes against what your family believes, they should say no and, if necessary, walk away from the situation.”

5. Rules and Expectations. “Part of being a tween or teen is keeping independence, but these kids still need rules and boundaries and consistent consequences,” Fitter says. “Talk about why these are your expectations and rules, so they don't just think you're being mean or strict for no reason.” Fitter says that these limits help create a sense of security and opportunity for growth. “When you give kids rules, make sure they know the consequences if they break them,” he says. “It's very important that you stick to the stated consequences and not give in to their complaints.”

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