Your daughter has a new friend in school who she would like to have over for a play date, but her bedroom is a mess. She has Brownies and lots of homework the night before and no time to clean her room. What should you do? Clean her room for her? Postpone the play date? So many mothers will clean her room for her. It’s the easiest solution. The path of least resistance. But this behavior is exactly what leads to indulgences and supports a “something for nothing” mentality in tweens. With a little bit of fore-sight, strength, and follow-through this situation might be avoided.
Parents should think about why they are indulging their children, as explained in Part 2; but by setting clear rules about some common tween disputes in advance, parents can avoid allowing their weak emotional boundaries and/or family-of-origin issues interfere with good decision-making. “Family rules that are mutually agreed upon and clearly understood undoubtedly reduce conflict.” (Hartley-Brewer, 102) Consider the following issues and their possible rules:
- Treats: only go to Grater’s for special occasions, such as for good report cards, birthdays, recitals, and the last day of school.
- Sleepovers: only at homes where the parents are friends.
- Homework: must be completed before watching TV.
- Television: only approved channels for one hour a day after homework.
- Seatbelts: must always be worn; no front seat riding until the appropriate height and weight.
- Language: words like stupid or hate are too strong to be used; swear words are forbidden.
- Bedtime: lights out by 9:00 p.m.; practice piano and read for 20 minutes each before bedtime.
- Cell phones: not allowed until driver’s license is obtained.
There are many more issues to consider, and every family has their own guidelines. But by planning ahead “…life is not only calmer but filled with warmth of other people’s pleasure and approval.” (87)
Be a Team
Parents should regularly remind their children that their family is like a team. It takes everyone to make it work successfully (and happily). Tweens are inclined to be very self-centered, and it is a parent’s job to help their tween see beyond themselves. One way is by expecting tweens to participate in daily chores.
“Teens may be grouchy and grumpy when we insist on chores. They may be disappointed when we deny them their desires. But parents who cave to their teen’s demands are robbing them of the chance to develop habits of personal responsibility that can take them far in the world.” (Kastner, 88)
Consider the following benefits of chores, as listed on the Tween Parenting web site:
- Teaches preteens to recognize that, while not always fun, work is an integral part of life. It also reinforces the value of good work habits, especially if the payoff is encouragement (and the possibility of a reward!).
- Highlights respect for the work that parents do on a daily basis and helps to offset a sense of entitlement that comes with having everything done for them.
- Helps satisfy tweens’ growing need for independence. By sharing responsibility, we send the message that we know they are capable.
- Provides another opportunity to create routine and structure, which are important hallmarks of security as preteens seek independence in other areas of their lives.
- Promotes the practice of self-direction, task follow through, and understanding and meeting expectations of a job (all great life skills).
- Experts claim that children who are responsible and independent are more likely to succeed in school, in their careers, and in social relationships.
When identifying chores, start out simple (e.g., feeding the dogs, taking dinner dishes into the kitchen, setting the table, putting away laundry). Choose chores that are age appropriate and modify as the children grow. And keep track on a chart. Some (OK, most) kids need incentives. Try rewarding with allowances, which also teaches money management and provides an opportunity to save for that “must-have” something (i.e., delayed gratification).
Conclusion: Something for Something
It’s not easy, yet parents need to stop the cycle of indulgence for the sake of their sanity and their children’s self-esteem. Don’t be afraid to reach out for support. Work together with a spouse or partner. Talk to other parents and do some research. There are a lot of different perspectives, but by understanding them you will strengthen your own. And if you do clean your daughter’s bedroom, she owes you. Maybe she’ll vacuum this weekend.
Hartley-Brewer, Elizabeth. 2001. Raising Confident Girls: 100 Tips for Parents and Teachers. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.
Kastner, Laura S., and Wyatt, Jennifer. 2009. Getting to CALM: Cool-headed Strategies for Parenting Tweens and Teens. Seattle, WA: ParentMap.