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Preventing Tween Behavior Problems

Find the Right Balance

You've heard the drill since your tween was a tot: Kids need reasonable limits -- and if they break the rules, there should be consequences. Discipline becomes even more important as kids get older. Teens who behave badly tend to have parents who are either too permissive or too strict. Slacker parents give their teens a long leash, which just gives them too many opportunities to get into trouble. And overly strict parents clamp down too hard, so kids rebel.

Need evidence? A recent study on drinking published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs found that parenting style affected how much a kid drank. The kids whose parents were permissive were three times as likely to drink heavily; those whose parents were too strict had double the risk. Those with the lowest risk? Teens who enjoyed a warm relationship with their parents but were held accountable for their actions. Other studies have found the same is true for sexual activity -- the more involved and supportive you are and the more you set limits, the less likely your child is to have sex at a young age.

For instance, once Anna hit sixth grade and was allowed to walk home after school by herself, I realized I had to start setting rules -- otherwise, she'd go off to a friend's house without permission. So now she has to let me know where she's going; if she goes elsewhere, she has to text first to check in. So far, so good, and her reward has been more freedom to go places alone with her BFFs, like the movies.

And that's how it should be, says Buchanan: "Rule setting is never black-and-white: You have to give your child the freedom she deserves based on past behavior." And if your kid breaks that trust, set stricter rules.

Stay Connected

Yes, it's hard to drag your tween away from the demands on her time (friends, homework, perfecting her hair), but that's why you need to schedule get-togethers. While family dinners are great, if you only have time to eat together a couple of nights a week, that's good enough, says Dr. Ginsburg. Then find other ways to check in: take a walk together, grab a Starbucks, go outside and shoot hoops. "I find that Taylor is more willing to talk when we don't have eye contact," says Leah Beckman of Boston, about her 10-year-old. "So when we're in the car, or walking to school, or sitting at the restaurant counter, he's more willing to share information."

What if your tween doesn't want to talk when you do? Try to be available when she is -- for example, knock on her door if you see the light on late at night, says Dr. Ginsburg. And let her know you'll listen without lecturing. "You want to be a good sounding board -- not solve her problems," he adds.

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