Family relationships in the pre-teen and teenage years

Family relationships change during adolescence, but they tend to stay strong. In fact, teenagers need family love and support as much as they did when they were younger. At the same time, teenagers usually want more privacy and more personal space. This is a natural part of adolescence.
Children also need more responsibility and independence as they grow towards young adulthood. How quickly you hand over responsibility to your child depends on many things – your own comfort level, your family and cultural traditions, your child’s maturity and so on.
Teenagers need your advice, support and monitoring as they develop independence and responsibility. The best monitoring is low key, although there’ll be times when it’s OK for you to ask your child for specific information about where they’re going and who they’re with.
Trust is the key to finding a balance between your child’s need for privacy and responsibility and your need to know what’s going on. If you and your child trust each other and stay connected, your child will be more likely to share what they’re up to, stick to the rules, and try to live up to your expectations.

Staying connected with pre-teens and teenagers

Teenage bullying can be hard to spot.It’s often less physical than bullying among younger children. Also, your child might try to hide it from you and others. Your child might feel ashamed and afraid or might not want you to worry. They might deny it’s happened if you ask them about it. Often teenagers just want bullying to go away. But there are signs of teenage bullying that you can look out for. For example, a child who’s being bullied might have problems with school, or show emotional, behavioural or physical signs.
  • Regular family meals.
  • Fun family outings.
  • Family meetings to sort out problems.
  • Simple, kind things – a pat on the back, a hug or a knock on the door before entering your child’s bedroom.

Pre-teen and teenage friendships

As children enter adolescence, friends become increasingly important. Positive, accepting and supportive friendships help teenagers develop towards adulthood – and you can play an important role in helping your child manage these peer relationships. For example, just having a warm and caring relationship with your child can help your child with their own social relationships. And praising teenagers when you see them being fair, trusting and supportive encourages them to keep working on those positive social traits.
Getting to know your child’s friends shows your child you understand how important these friendships are. One way to do this is by encouraging your child to have friends over and giving them some space in your home.

Listening and communicating with pre-teens and teenagers

Active listening can be a powerful tool to improve communication and build a positive relationship with your child. This is because active listening is a way of saying to your child, ‘Right now, you’re the most important thing to me’.
Here’s a quick guide to active listening
  • Stop what you’re doing, and give your child your full attention.
  • Look at your child while they’re talking to you.
  • Show interest. Asking questions is a good way to do this. For example, ‘What happened after that?’
  • Show your child that you’re trying to understand. You can do this by saying things like, ‘Let me check I understand …’.
  • Listen without interrupting, judging or correcting.
  • Concentrate hard on what your child is saying.

Negotiating and conflict management with pre-teens and teenagers

Your child needs to learn about making decisions as part of the journey towards becoming an independent, responsible young adult. Negotiating can help your child learn to think through what they want and need, and communicate this in a reasonable way.
There’ll also be times when negotiating doesn’t work out, and you and your child disagree – this is normal. Dealing with conflict effectively can make your relationship with your child stronger. It also helps your child learn some important life skills.

Difficult conversations with pre-teens and teenagers

Sometimes you and your child might need to have difficult conversations. Sex, sexual orientation, alcohol and other drugs, academic difficulties, mental health, work and money are all topics that families can find difficult to talk about.
Tackling difficult conversations together is a sign that you and your child have a healthy relationship. It also helps to keep your relationship with your child close and trusting.
Here are some tips for handling difficult conversations:
  • Try to stay calm. If you need a bit of time to calm down or gather your thoughts, make a time to talk later on in the day.
  • Reassure your child that you do want to discuss the issue.
  • Let your child know you’re happy that they want to talk to you.
  • Actively listen to your child’s perspective, even if you don’t agree with it.
  • Avoid being critical or judgmental, or getting emotional.
Your child might avoid difficult conversations. If this is happening, you could try setting aside some time each day to talk with your child. Ask your child open-ended questions, and let them know that whenever they do want to talk, you’re happy to listen.
Some teenagers might prefer to use texts, messaging apps or email to communicate. If your child finds it hard to talk with you face to face, one of these options might help you communicate about tricky topics.