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Top Tween (9-12) Questions

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Q: My daughter wants to dress too provocatively. What do I do?

A: She walks out of her bedroom on the first day of sixth grade sporting a micro-mini and a low-cut tee. Your husband's response? "Dang that freakin' Paris Britney Lohan! She's such a bad influence!"

The pediatrician says:
"This is an easy one: Say no. It is not appropriate for tweens to act like teens. Your daughter is just asking for trouble. As parents, we own the purse strings and have to set a good example."
--Dr. Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe, MD, FAAP, is the CEO and Chief Editor of Pediatrics Now

What to do
Dr. O'Keeffe suggests the following:

  • Monitor how you dress and make sure you're being a good role model.
  • Point out to your daughter media images of fashions that are more appropriate for her age.
  • Start paying attention to (and controlling) what your daughter is viewing and reading.

Mom•Logic Moms say:
"Tell your daughter that showing a little skin is attractive, but if she shows one area, she should cover up the rest," says Pam, Mom of three. "She may as well learn now that overkill in this area doesn't attract the right kind of boys."

Other Moms say:

  • "Tell her you love it! She'll take it off immediately, trust me." (Ah, the old reverse-psychology ploy....)
  • Invest in some classy fashion mags and give her some fashion 101 tips.
  • Inform her that as long as you're paying for her clothes, they have to meet your approval.
  • Make her school the bad guy. "Most schools have clothing guidelines," says a Mom of two. "Tell your daughter, 'It's not my rules, it's in the school handbook! Sorry!'"

Q: My fifth-grade daughter wants a bra, but I think she's too young. Should I get her one?

A: they even make 27AAAAAAA bras?

The pediatrician says:
"Yes, you should get your daughter a bra. Many kids this age wear 'training bras,' and if your daughter feels she's ready, then she's ready. Your daughter is expressing her femininity; as long as the rest of her wardrobe is age-appropriate, it's fine. It will help her fit in with her peer group. As parents, we need to go with the flow when it comes to some of these puberty rites-of-passage."
--Dr. Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe, MD, FAAP, is the CEO and Chief Editor of Pediatrics Now

Mom•Logic Moms say:
"Yes, get your daughter a bra," says Pam, Mom of three. "There are some good ones out there for AA girls, so you might as well let her jump in on the lingerie thing. (Most of her friends probably have.) Choose your battles: This one's a non-issue. She's just wanting to explore her femininity. It's coming, and there's no denying it!"

Other Moms say:

  • She wants it; she feels she needs it...isn't that enough?
  • No one will be able to see it anyway.
  • It will be good for her self-esteem.

Q: What's up with my tween's mood swings?

A: Welcome to the Wonderful World of Hormones! You're going to love it here, lol.

The therapist says:
"What's up? I'll tell you: Hormones, relationships, school pressures, body changes, confusion--you name it. There isn't much about a tween's life that doesn't contribute to moodiness. Your tween is changing in ways she's never experienced before, and having feelings that are unfamiliar. Her body's changing, her friends are changing, her world changing...and all of this change is frankly alarming. She's no longer a little girl but not quite a teenager, so who is she? That's what she's trying to figure out. She's navigating in unknown waters and not feeling sure about anything. This is a really hard time for kids, because they're building new identities--whether they want to or not. They begin to strive for independence at the very time they need support. They can feel crowded by you and alone at the same time."
--Rosanne Tobey, LPC, is a New Jersey-based therapist who specializes in individual, couples and family therapy.

Coping with your tween's mood swings
Rosanne Tobey has the following advice:

  • Try to view your child's behavior with compassion. Ask yourself what it must feel like to be that upset and confused.
  • Understand that although your child may be pushing you away, she needs you now.
  • Take her concerns and feelings seriously and treat her with respect.
  • Expect the same from her: Set limits as to what behavior is acceptable and follow through with consequences when she crosses the line.
  • Hold her when she cries if she'll let you; if she won't, just quietly sit with her.
  • Assure her that everything will be all right and that you'll be there to help her through this phase. (She won't always want your help, but she will want to know you'll be there.)

Mom•Logic Moms say:
"My father has a good saying," says Pam, Mom of three. "It's this: 'When kids hit adolescence, they descend down a long, dark tunnel. Make sure you don't go down that tunnel after them.' In other words, you're the adult. Keep a level head and don't let your child's mood swings trigger your own leftover adolescent feelings. If they do, seek therapy."

Other Moms say:

  • Listen to your child and repeat back to him or her what you think they're trying to say. "Most of the time they just want to be heard," says one Mom.
  • Get used to it, because it isn't going away any time soon.
  • Be kind. You've been there yourself.
  • Inform your child that moodiness doesn't give her a free ticket to be crabby. Says one Mom, "I told my daughter, 'This will happen with your period, but it doesn't make it okay to bite our heads off. Listen to your body, know that you're going to go through this, and learn to deal with it. If you can't say something nice because you're feeling moody, don't talk!'"

My tween borrows my clothes and wrecks them. How do I deal?

A: Man--either your child must be playing dress-up, or you're really tiny. Lucky!

The parenting expert says:
"This is never the only problem--it's a symptom that your child is either generally uncooperative and disrespectful or, worse, is so angry at you that she's bent on revenge and is deliberately wrecking your stuff. (When kids do things like this, it's usually not because they don't know or don't care. Even a 5-year-old knows how not to wreck clothes!) The most efficient and least exhausting way to handle it is to focus on motivation and prevention rather than correction. If you focus on correction, there will be way too much misbehavior to correct! Besides, if consequences were that effective, our prisons would be empty."
--Noel Janis-Norton, founder and director of The New Learning Centre in London, is a learning and behavior specialist with over 30 years' experience in Britain and the United States.

To motivate your child to behave well
Janis-Norton has the following tips:

  • On a daily basis, appreciate all the nice things she does--no matter how small. "As kids get older, their parents take them more and more for granted," Janis-Norton notes. "Give her lots of regular praise."
  • Make allowance something that has to be earned. "At this age, the only money your child has is what you give her," Janis-Norton says. "Parents nowadays keep giving allowance regardless of how a child behaves, but it didn't used to be that way: Allowance used to have to be earned. Make your child 'earn' the things she wants with good behavior. If she wants a cell or whatever, she has to follow your rules. Give her a list: She has to leave your clothes alone, say 'please' and 'thank you,' go to bed when you say, stop rolling her eyes at you and saying, 'Whatever'.... Give her several things you want her to improve on."
  • Slow down and spend more quality time together. "The assumption to start with here is that your relationship with your child has deteriorated, probably because you aren't giving her a lot of positive attention," Janis-Norton says. "This occurs when kids get involved in too many extracurricular activities. When that happens, the parent basically becomes a chauffeur and is always in a rush. The result is often lots of scolding and criticism!"

Mom•Logic Moms say:
"Don't let her borrow your clothes. Be the parent and tell her no," says Krista, Mom of two. "This is what irritates me the most with parents: They act like they can't tell their kids no. No wonder our youth are so messed up! They need guidelines, and it's our job to make them. We have the right!"

Other Moms say:

  • Make sure your child understands that what she's done is not okay and that she has betrayed your trust.
  • Padlock your closet if necessary.
  • "Buy more clothes!"

I think my tween is masturbating. Is that normal?

A: You thought nothing would be more embarrassing than the time you caught your parents doing it. You thought wrong.

The pediatrician says:
"Yes, this is very normal exploratory behavior for kids aged 9 to 12. Hormones are budding; sexuality is stirring. You don't need to do a thing unless it becomes public or your child comes to you with questions."
--Dr. Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe, MD, FAAP, is the CEO and Chief Editor of Pediatrics Now

Dr. O'Keeffe recommends the following:

  • Be cool and calm. "Keep in mind that the only way our kids will come to us with their sexual questions is if we remain calm and open, regardless of our own personal views," says O'Keeffe.
  • If your tween is doing it in his bedroom, respect the fact that he's attempting to be private about it. "That's the appropriate place for this behavior to occur," notes O'Keeffe.
  • If your tween's masturbating starts to interfere with other activities, talk to your pediatrician.

Mom•Logic Moms say:
"It's only a problem if your tween is doing it in public places," says Julie, Mom of two.

Other Moms say:

  • Talk to your child about the fact that desire is natural.
  • Don't make your child feel like masturbation is nasty.
  • If you "catch" your child, carry on as if nothing happened--but in the future, knock before entering his or her room.

Q: I'm worried my daughter has an eating disorder. What are the warning signs?

A: Today's celebs are really putting the old adage "You can never be too rich or too thin" to the test. It's all giving young girls a really unhealthy message: "Pretty" means "extremely skinny." If your tween is showing signs that she's fallen prey to that kind of warped thinking, take action now. Her body image--and good health--are in your hands!

The dietician says:
"If you notice any of the following signs, talk to your pediatrician. He or she will advise you how to go on from there."
--Debi Silber, RD, Whole Health Coach and author of "The Lifestyle Fitness Program: A Six Part Plan So EVERY Mom Can Look, Feel and Live Her Best"

  • Strange food behaviors
  • Skipping meals
  • Eating only small portions
  • Ritualistic eating (eating foods in a certain order; eating food in strange combinations)
  • Not eating in front of others (i.e., eating at night when no one else is awake or in the kitchen)
  • Eating a limited variety of food or just eating one kind of food (such as grapefruit)
  • Chewing food and then spitting it out instead of swallowing it
  • Spending more time in the bathroom than usual (which can indicate vomiting or laxative abuse)
  • Being in the bathroom with the door closed and the water running
  • Wearing baggy clothes
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Increased exercise
  • Mood changes (i.e., behavior indicative of blood-sugar highs and lows)
  • Expressing that she's unhappy with her body

Mom•Logic Moms say:
"It's gross, but that's one of the easiest ways to tell," says Pam, Mom of three. "If she has an eating disorder, you'll see stains or chunks of vomit in the toilet. Check under the seat, under the rim, and around the bowl--all the places she might miss when cleaning up after herself."

Other Moms say:

  • Check her room for signs of secret eating. "When my daughter was bulimic, I found lots of candy wrappers in her room and in her pockets," says one mom.
  • Note whether she goes to the bathroom immediately after eating.
  • "I caught my daughter eating while standing on the scale. That's when I knew."
  • For more information, check out the National Eating Disorders Association website

Q: My son is getting acne. Help!

A: Remember how pimply-faced boys repelled you when you were a tween? Now the shoe's kind of on the other foot.

The pediatrician says:
"It's very common for acne to develop in kids this age. Most of the time it can be handled by over-the-counter acne medications and soap. I like to have tweens start by using Neutrogena soap twice daily and Clearasil pads one to two times a day. If that strategy doesn't help, call your pediatrician to discuss other options. One word to the wise: Having acne will be very stressful for your tween. Even a small zit will look huge to him! He'll need a great deal of support to get through this, and teaching him how to take care of his skin is just one piece of the puzzle."
--Dr. Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe, MD, FAAP, is the CEO and Chief Editor of Pediatrics Now

Recommended Site:

Mom•Logic Moms say:
"My son had severe acne and we put him on Accutane," says Linda, Mom of four. "It was the best decision I ever made. I know it's controversial, but it gave him his life back. He was so self-conscious before--and he was always getting teased. Now that his face has cleared up, he's confident and secure. I think it's a miracle drug!"

Other Moms say:

  • Take your son to a dermo.
  • Teach him to wash his face in the morning and before bed. (Make sure he rinses the soap off really well, as any residue can clog pores.)
  • Change his pillowcases often--they absorb oil from his face and could exacerbate the problem.

Q: How much sleep should my tween get?

A: Hint: If she falls asleep in school, she's not getting enough.

The sleep expert says:
"Tweens need approximately 10 hours of sleep at night. If a tween (or any child) goes to sleep too late, their body becomes overtired and starts producing the stress hormone cortisol. That makes the child feel wired (like he or she just drank a pot of coffee), so falling asleep will be much more difficult. Teach your tween the importance of a good night's sleep. He or she may resist an early bedtime at first (especially if friends are allowed to stay up late), but if you explain the negative ramifications of sleep deprivation, you might convince your child to get to bed at a decent hour."
--Jill Spivack, MSW, is a psychotherapist and co-founder of Sleepy Planet, where she provides pediatric sleep consultations, leads general parenting groups for first and second time mothers

Signs your tween is sleep-deprived
Jill Spivack says the following clues are a dead giveaway:

  • She has difficulty paying attention in school. (Talk to her teachers and find out if this is the case.)
  • She can't concentrate.
  • She's put on some weight. (Cortisol increases abdominal fat.)
  • She's anxious, depressed, or having mood swings.

Helping your child wind down at night
Spivack recommends the following tricks:

  • Encourage her to exercise daily--it will tire her body out. (Make sure she finishes a few hours before bedtime, though, so her heart rate has plenty of time to slow down.)
  • Limit your tween's nighttime snacking--especially on foods or drinks containing caffeine.
  • Have her turn off the TV, computer, cell phone, and/or video games at least an hour before bedtime.
  • Create a calming, comforting bedtime routine for her (one that lasts 15 to 45 minutes and involves her spending time with you or her dad).
  • Assign her some nightly reading to do in bed.

Mom•Logic Moms say:
"My tween goes to bed around 9, but stays up for another hour or so reading," says Mary, Mom of three. "She really enjoys that, but sometimes she's up until 10:30 and then has to get up at 6:30 for band practice. I just try to stay on top of it."

Other Moms say:

  • Know your child's routine.
  • Encourage your child to take a short nap when she gets home from school. "I think my tween needs more sleep than she's getting," says one mom. "She's always perkier after a nap."
  • Buy her some good window shades--people sleep more soundly in a dark room.

Q: My tween wants to be a vegetarian. Is this a good idea?

A: Fact: Fish are animals, so vegetarians can't eat them. Inform your tween that henceforth, fish sticks, lobster tails, shrimp cocktail, and crab cakes will be out. Ditto McDonald's Filet-O-Fish sandwiches.

A dietician says:
"It depends on what her reason is. Find out--and make sure it's a good one. (Kids between the ages of 9 and 12 often switch to a vegetarian diet as a means to lose weight.) Make sure she knows that a healthy vegetarian diet must be flexible, balanced, and include enough protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals. She can use foods such as tofu, eggs, nuts, beans, peanut butter, milk, yogurt, and cheese as protein sources, but you'll need to plan her diet carefully to make sure she gets adequate amounts of the other nutrients."
--Debi Silber, RD, Whole Health Coach and the author of "The Lifestyle Fitness Program: A Six Part Plan So EVERY Mom Can Look, Feel and Live Her Best"

Mom•Logic Moms say:
"My 12-year-old decided to become a vegetarian, so we talked to her pediatrician," explains Sandy, Mom of four. "She said it's fine as long as I monitored my daughter's diet to make sure she got enough iron and protein. I've started cooking tofu, too!"

Other Moms say:

  • Make sure she takes a multi-vitamin daily.
  • For more information, check out Kids

Q: How can I keep my tween safe online?

A: If you've seen To Catch a Predator, you know exactly how dangerous cyberspace can be for kids. (Shudder.)

The safety expert says:
"The risks our children take online are very real. The Internet can be a media story waiting to happen for many tweens and teens. Don't think it can't happen to your kids! Unfortunately, they are going to go into chat rooms, MySpace, and Facebook without your knowledge. (Even though they're supposed to be 14 in order to go on MySpace, they'll still find ways to get onto the site.) While you don't want to spy on your kids, you do need to make sure they're safe."
--Ross Ellis, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Love Our Children USA

Protecting your child
Ross Ellis recommends the following:

  • Keep your computer in a central location.
  • Use your parental controls. (Invest in a great Internet-monitoring software program.)
  • Talk to your child about which sites are appropriate and which aren't. (Her friends' parents may be more lax about Internet safety; your child should follow your rules no matter which computer she's using.)
  • Talk to your child honestly about strangers online; make sure she understands the dangers.
  • Monitor how much time your child spends on the computer.
  • Make sure your child knows she must never give out her real name, address, or other personal information.
  • Know all of your child's usernames and passwords--not to spy, but in case of emergency.
  • Have your child read and sign a child/parent Internet-safety agreement (you sign it, too). There's a good one at Love Our Children USA
  • For more information and advice, visit Love Our Children USA

Mom•Logic Moms say:
Says Krista, Mom of two, "Use your parental controls, set guidelines, set time limits, watch over her shoulder! If she doesn't like it, no computer!"

Other Moms say:

  • Question your child regularly about what she's doing online and who she's talking to.
  • Don't let your child use her laptop in her bedroom.
  • Use news stories about kids victimized online as teachable moments.

next: Top 18 and Beyond Questions
93 comments so far | Post a comment now
Jane June 29, 2008, 6:15 PM

What about the girls that are skinny?
That don’t want to be but can’t gain weight? Seriously, I’m 13 and I can’t fit into any Hollister, A&F, aeropostale. I have to alter clothing. Fat people complain how they have trouble getting clothing, well what about us? And do not say, well, there has to be something.

Brianna Kinsey July 11, 2008, 1:51 AM

I’m fat and people tease me about it. That stresses me out…How am I supposed to lose weight when I’m so stressed?

Tristen August 6, 2008, 1:27 AM

Same for me as Brianna. I mean, there are people in my school who don’t care and want to be my friend because I’m fun to hang out with. But there are some who tease me about how ‘fat’ I am. I know I am over weight, but how can I lose it when I am stressed and my parents are always “It’s okay. Don’t worry about it. You are who you are.” BLAH BLAH BLAH!

Anonymous September 10, 2008, 2:24 PM

My daughter is 13, is she a tween?

Tracy September 17, 2008, 2:02 PM

Tristen and Brianna - I am 45 and overweight (200 lbs). I was about 20 lbs overweight in high school. I have lived through what you are currently going through. I have 2 messages for you.

1 - Love Yourself. We all have flaws, some are visible, some are not. Teens are means. Everyone is trying to make themselves important and popular to boost their self-esteem, even if that means hurting others.

2 - Losing weight is a lifestyle change. You need to eat healthy and increase your activity. This is a long long change. I have lost 20 lbs. It really works. Watch the new season of Biggest Loser for ideas and support.

Elizabeth November 1, 2008, 9:16 PM

I’m 11 years old I can’t sleep but everybody thinks I’m gay because I’m a jock.I need info fast to answer both my questions!

lindz February 6, 2009, 11:23 PM

hey, i am 11 years old and i am a jock and a little muscular on my legs and no one likes me cuz i look big, i am 115 pounds and and 5 foot 3 inches! Am i overweight!?! i have been called a fat-A and i dont really know, i am pretty in the face but i dont really have a nice body, i lost seven pounds this month but how do i lose more faster?

kamara March 16, 2009, 4:35 PM

I am 9 probably the youngest on here but if i am it does not change a thing anyway i can’t sleep like last night i was up playin my nintendo i was bored please answer me this is so funny please i am begging this is Kamara on deck

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