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Shelly Barnes: Life can be complicated for preteens and their parents

Preteens are experiencing a lot of change, physical change as their bodies start to develop, emotional change from the stress of all their new experiences and social change as their friends become increasingly important to them. These changes can be difficult to navigate for both the children and their parents

The preteen years can be a challenging time. The children may not recognize all that is going on, while their parents may not be sure what to say about it. 

With all of these changes, parents might start to feel as if they are losing touch with their child, but research shows that preteens still highly value their relationship with their family

When toddlers are seeking independence, parents try to offer safe choices and appropriate boundaries, such as ‘do you want the blue cup or the red cup?’ Well, our preteens seek independence, too. It looks a little different, but similar principles apply. 

Some suggestions include:   

• Listen. Preteens appreciate when parents show empathy for the experiences they are having. Let them know you are interested in what is going on in their life.

When challenges arise, preteens are ready to be a part of the problem-solving process. Encourage preteens to make healthy choices, while allowing them to make their own decisions.

• Plan to have some positive time together each week. Many preteens are involved in several activities and parents may feel as if they spend much of their time just driving their kids around. Make the most of those little moments together, but also try to find some time when you can give each other your undivided attention.

When you and your preteen have a conflict, be sure to be clear about your expectations: “I expect that you keep your room clean.” Then allow your child to have some input on the issue and on how he or she will meet the expectation: “Every night before bed I will pick up my room.”

• Finally, and this may be the hard one, check your communication style. A lot of sarcasm, name-calling or yelling can be harmful to your relationship with your preteen. Ultimately, our goal is to have more communication with our preteens as they gain more independence, and we have to be willing to check ourselves and make sure that we are modeling the kind of communication skills we want them to use.

You can find more information about preteen development on the Science of Parenting website at 

Through its mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture touches lives and provides real life solutions. Visit With an office in every Tennessee county, UT Extension delivers educational programs and research-based information to citizens throughout the state. In cooperation with Tennessee State University, UT Extension works with farmers, families, youth and communities to improve lives by addressing problems and issues at the local, state and national levels.

For more information on this or other family and consumer sciences-related topics, contact Shelly Barnes, family and consumer sciences Extension agent for UT Extension in Wilson County. Barnes may be reached at or 615-444-9584.