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How to Talk to Your Tween-Aged Kids

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It happened overnight, which I hear is really quite typical. My 11-year-old, Aden, got in the car after basketball practice. I expected to hear the usual: whether he'd made any half-court shots, how Drake was a ball hog, and their odds of getting to the playoffs. I got: crickets. I thought he was coming down with a cold. Later, the coach told me how exciting that practice had been: He'd announced that the championships were clinched, and they were going in number one in the eastern division. How was Aden not bursting with news that big? When I demanded “Why didn't you tell me?!” his murmured reply signaled the end of conversation as I knew it: “I dunno."

“The years from ten to twelve see a developmental push toward independence similar to the one from infant to toddler. The big difference is that you're afraid of this transition. Nobody's pulling out the camera to immortalize the closed bedroom door, like they did when the same child took her first steps,” explains Julie Ross, author ofHow to Hug a Porcupine: Negotiating the Prickly Points of the Tween Years.

There are other tectonic shifts afoot: Pleasing you is no longer top priority. “Budding hormones have begun to subconsciously signal that their future mate will be found in the peer group, not in the living room. Thus, they don't feel the same need to get your approval as they did when their survival depended on you,” says Annie Fox, author of the Middle School Confidential series. Ouch.

Yet chatting can unearth problems, like bullying. “If you give up on trying to talk to your tween, you may end up judging him only on visible markers—like grades—which can make him feel misunderstood,” says Neil McNerney, a licensed family counselor in Reston, VA. Try these tips on how to talk to your kids.

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