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Preventing Tween Behavior Problems

Raise Your Expectations

"Teenagers live up or down to our expectations," says Dr. Ginsburg, a dad of teenage twins. "If you expect negative behavior, kids will behave accordingly. But if you expect compassion and thoughtfulness, that's what you'll get."

Sounds too good to be true, right? Research even bears it out. A study by Bucha nan published in the Journal of Research on Adolescence surveyed 250 sixth- and seventh-graders and their moms and found that the moms who expected their kids to take risks and test limits later on tended to get what they bargained for. And while parental expectations are just one of many influences on a teenager's behavior, Buchanan says raising yours can make a difference.

Why? Buchanan has several theories. First, our assumptions may tend to become self-fulfilling prophecies because of the way we interact with our kids, she says. So if you think it's inevitable that your child will get into trouble, then you're probably less likely to believe that what you do matters -- and you may not try as hard to monitor or discipline him. Buchanan also thinks that parents with low expectations could be sending their kids that message, either subtly or explicitly. For example, if your tween hears you say "Drinking is something all teenagers do eventually," when he finds himself in a situation where he's being pressured, he may be more likely to give in because he wants to be like everyone else.

Don't Blame It All on Hormones

It's true that older tweens and teens are hormonal -- and that their brains won't develop the ability to control impulsive behavior until they're in their early 20s. But Buchanan says attributing all irritating behavior to hormones may be a cop-out -- the effects are small for most kids, and there are often more important causes. When one of her teens gets grumpy, Buchanan tries to see it as a reaction to something else (academic stress, say, or a problem with pals) and asks if anything's going on. "You need to say to yourself, there must be a reason for this behavior, and I need to take the time to ask," she notes. Of course, we all have our bad days when we snap back when barked at. But you can get back on track. Ask your tween: "You don't seem like yourself today. Is something going on?" Maybe your tween will respond with "Nothing," but at least you've shown her you care enough to listen.

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