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Preventing Tween Behavior Problems

Smoking, drinking, huffing, sexting: it's a scary world ahead. Start now to build the bonds that will keep your kid on track.

Last summer while we were visiting family, my then 12-year-old daughter, Anna, and her cousins went to a neighbor's BBQ to hang out with their friends under the watchful (or so we thought) eyes of the adults there. Less than an hour later, they were back at the house. What happened, we asked? "Some kids were sneaking beer and getting drunk, so we decided to leave," the girls said.

Yes, we were relieved -- and grateful that our kids told us what happened. Still, I couldn't help but worry: Could Anna resist the same temptations when she was a teenager? After all, at 14, I was smoking, drinking, and going out with the biggest pothead at school (who, luckily for my mother, dumped me after a few weeks). Sure, I came out all right in the end, but who wants to go through the lying and sneaking around again -- this time from a mom's perspective?

It also doesn't help calm a parent's fears when every stat about teen behavior is scarier than the last (like the ones from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that one in every four teenage girls has a sexually transmitted disease and more than half of all teens have engaged in oral sex). Your tween is probably already spending more time with his pals and less time with you. Sooner or later, he'll face pressure to try a beer (or five), a joint, or "hook up" with a girl. So are there things you can do now to prepare your tween for that? You bet, say moms and experts. The key: building a close relationship. "That way, you'll have more resources to draw upon later, especially during conflicts," says Christy M. Buchanan, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Wake Forest University and the mom of teens.

"It's completely normal for kids to spread their wings and test their limits," adds Kenneth R. Ginsburg, M.D., a professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of Building Resilience in Children and Teens. "They need to figure out who they are -- and who they are has to be different from you." Although you can't control the conflicts, you can maximize the chances that your soon-to-be teen won't get into the really bad stuff. Here's how:

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