Things to tell your tweenagers

Talk about mental resilience rather than mental health

Photo credit: Samuel Muigai | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Explain that working hard will increase their IQ.
  • Explain that alcohol has bad effects on the developing brain.

Parenting tweens isn’t easy. No longer children, not yet teenagers, hormones rising, secretive, moody, prickly - and desperate for the latest smartphone!

So how should you talk to them?

Start with their phones. To tweens, their phone is every toy they’ve ever wanted and a huge status symbol.

Help them understand how apps are designed to suck up their time. And how that means they miss out on learning to deal with the real world. Help them see the signs that they’re online too much: tiredness, irritability, feelings of inferiority…

Tweens are naturally curious about sex, so get in there first by welcoming their questions and making conversations about it feel completely normal. Be open about porn as soon as they encounter it - probably through their friends. Explain that it’s nothing like real life and designed to shock and make money. And don’t worry about putting ideas in their heads. They’ll have got there before you.

Talk about body acceptance. Tween girls in particular start thinking about their bodies as objects that get rated by others. And they all start comparing themselves to media images. So explain that although they’re all developing at different speeds, they’ll all get there in the end. If specific issues come up, don’t dismiss your tween’s worries. Instead, just listen, and explain how advertisers and influencers make money by encouraging them to believe that there’s some sort of ‘ideal’ body shape.

Increase their IQ

Explain that working hard will increase their IQ. And that there are many types of intelligence, ranging from musical to emotional to spatial. Help them find their unique blend of different types of intelligence, especially those not recognised in class.

Help them find their strengths by asking them what they love doing, whether it’s athletic, artistic, intellectual, or relating to others.

Help them to develop emotional awareness and to manage their feelings better. For example, by predicting bouts of anger or anxiety by noticing bodily changes like their heart rate.

Explain that alcohol has bad effects on the developing brain, and that the longer they avoid it the better.


Talk about friendships. Explain how conflict is inevitable and that learning to navigate it is an essential adult skill.

Help them to deal with kids who are unkind to them. Just listening is enough, they just want you to understand. Avoid offering solutions, though you can help them brainstorm what to do next. Don’t go fighting their battles for them.

Talk about mental resilience rather than mental health, so they develop the idea that they can do things that will help themselves feel better.

Explain that feeling stressed is not simply something to be avoided. Because it also provides the motivation we need to do difficult things, like revising for exams.

Talk about money, so that they begin to learn financial skills. And encourage them to question the racist or sexist language they hear from friends, online or in current events.

S mag small drop: And eventually they’ll grow into really nice adults!