Raising tweens and teens calls for special skills and understanding

Couples everywhere are confronting new demands for parental wisdom and judgment as their kids enter their tween and teen years.

10/14/2013 12:12 PM

10/14/2013 12:13 PM

As her two oldest kids move into their pre-teen, or “tween,” years, Beth Brekke-Rominski is facing challenges she didn’t foresee.

“The biggest problem we’re having right now is talking back, mainly because that’s all they see on TV … It’s drilled into them.”

On TV, kids are never punished for sassing back, she said. “And that’s not acceptable. We really struggled with that.”

She and her husband, Shawn Rominski, are raising Emma, 13, Mason, 11, and Henry, 8.

The Rominskis, of Stephen, Minn., typify couples everywhere who confront new demands for parental wisdom and judgment as their kids enter their tween (ages 10 to 12) and teen years.

“I did not think it would be as difficult as it is,” Brekke-Rominski said.

The way her kids act is much different than she did —or was allowed to — when she was younger.

“I would never have done the things that kids do now. It’s a constant ‘I want, I want,’” she said. “I would never have said that to my parents. If they said ‘no,’ that was it.”

But she realizes she and Shawn have been “facilitators.”

Her kids have a collection of electronic toys and games that she and her husband provided, she said. “We’re making the choice to pacify our children (with these toys). So, it’s partly our fault.”

Similarly, Bryan and Pam Shinn of Fargo, N.D., who are raising Daniel, 18, and Ashley, 15, have encountered behavior they don’t appreciate.

“When they hit those tween years, there’s the attitude,” Pam Shinn said. “It seems like they’re just mad.”

She finds it amusing that Daniel — who did the same thing — sees this in his younger sister and points it out, she said. “He’ll say, ‘You don’t have to be so mean about it.’”

“Kids are not going to always do what you want them to do,” she said. “I tell them, it’s all in the presentation. It’s the way they say it, the way they look when they say it.

“But they grow out of it.”

With Ashley, though, “I think it’s worse,” she said. “It’s the head-bobbing, the hand-gesturing.”

It gets her goat that Daniel has to have the last word, she said. “He’ll be talking to himself as he heads downstairs. And I run (after him) saying ‘No, no, no’” to get the last word.”

Even though Shinn swore she was “not going to become my parents,” she said, after having children, she’s noticed, “I sound like my mother.”

When her kids misbehave and she’s had to enforce the rules, Brekke-Rominski makes it a point to let them know that she’s still there for them.

“I’ll say, ‘You may be mad at me, you may have not talked to me for two days, but I’m still here for you, I still love you,’” she said. “I don’t think kids hear that enough.”

Too often, “parents don’t talk to kids. They try to be their friends.”

In the past, she and her husband slipped into that pattern, she said, and are now working to reclaim their power as parents.

“We’re trying to get control back. Our daughter doesn’t want to give that up. We’re paying dearly for having done that.”

At home, they have dealt with their daughter’s tendency to express herself by slamming her bedroom door.

They removed it.

“That helped,” she said.

The Rominskis respond to signs of their kids’ poor attitude or bad behavior by taking away TV or video game use — “any kind of screen-time” —for days at a time. Other offenses may result in losing their phone or Kindle device for a while.

“For my daughter, that’s just death,” said Brekke-Rominski. “The Kindle and the phone, that’s her world. To lose it is just devastating.”

In the tween and teen years, when a child is going through the process of self-discovery and searching for a distinct identity, experimentation with appearance (think fuchsia-colored hair, body-piercing) and social media can fuel parental anxiety.

When it comes to what they choose to wear, “we’ve never fought that battle,” Brekke-Rominski said. “We say, ‘Wear whatever you want as long as it’s clean.”

But that’s not to say the result is always stellar.

She does require her kids to wait until they’re 18 to get any tattoos or piercings.

“I have a small tattoo on my shoulder,” Brekke-Rominski said. “I tell them, ‘Once you have it, you have it.’”

Except for her daughter’s ears, Shinn prohibits her kids from piercings “until they move out of the house,” she said. “We had them sign a contract” at age 6.

The Shinns required Daniel and Ashley to maintain a “B” average in school in order to keep their cell phones.

“One of them lost their phone for a semester,” she said. “That was rough for that child.”

With technology, it’s getting harder for parents to stay connected to their kids, she said. “Texting? No, I want my kids to talk to me.”

When raising tweens and teens, Shinn’s bottom line is: “You need to be involved, you really do.’”

She recalled a “parents’ night” at her daughter’s school where they followed their daughter’s schedule, room by room.

“The most (parents) I saw in any of her classes was five,” she said.

“Even if the kid says you don’t have to go, don’t listen to them. There are always two sides to the story; you need to get that other side because kids lie.”

Allowing your children to make their own mistakes and face the consequences of their actions – or inactions – is “absolutely” a difficult aspect of parenting, Brekke-Rominski said.

“I think it’s harder for us than it is for them. We know the end consequences, and they’re learning it.”

For the most part, she and her husband “let their kids figure it out for themselves,” she said. For example, “if they miss practice, they don’t get to play in the game. It’s tough.”

Finding the best way to discipline “is a learning game,” Brekke-Rominski said.

“I wish I could say we have a plan, but we go day by day. What works for one kid doesn’t work for another.”

One of the most important lessons Shinn has learned, she said, “is to be nicer to my mother. Wow, my mom did a good job.

“Kids are not going to listen to you; they know everything. You appreciate your mother more.”

Raising tweens and teens “has its moments,” Shinn said. “My son has matured so much in last year or so.”

In the past, “he did some stupid stuff, but we got through it. It makes him the person he is today, and it makes me the person I am today.

“I’ve said to him, ‘We can look back at that and laugh,’” she said. “He says, ‘Yeah, Mom, let’s go with that.”

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