Have your children reached that age where they aren’t really “kids” but they aren’t yet teenagers? If so, you might be facing very different issues than you were when they were little. As a parent, you can help your tweens make smart choices.

Children often grow up faster than their parents would like or expect. Your tweens probably live in a less sheltered and reserved world than you did. Because of this, they’re exposed to all kinds of experiences.

You want to keep them safe, but you don’t want to keep them from enjoying all that life has to offer. At their age, they need both guidance and freedom. This can be challenging, but it is possible.

Relationships with Friends and Loved Ones

Helping your young one navigate relationships is just one of the important duties you’ll have as a parent of a child who’s almost a teenager. The peer relationships that adolescents have can be volatile at times. Best friends can seemingly hate each other overnight and then go back to being best friends a few days later.

To help your tween with relationships that don’t involve a dating or a “crush” component, there are several things you can do, including:

1. Ensure your adolescent has someone to talk to. This might be you, another trusted family member, or a leader in your spiritual community.
2. Be willing to listen, even if you don’t always agree with their opinion.
3. Try not to judge your tween’s friends too harshly unless there’s obvious danger.
4. Make time for loved ones to be part of their life, especially those who are aging.

Relationships with the Opposite Sex

In the years right before a child becomes a teenager, the idea of a boyfriend or girlfriend will probably start to appear. For some tweens this is a serious issue. For others, it’s not even an interest. Either way is normal so don’t assume that your child has a problem based on his or her level of interest in having a romantic relationship.

For these kinds of relationships, parents can be both a help and a hindrance. Too much pressure to avoid these interactions can mean that a tween feels smothered and tries to rebel. Too few limitations may encourage your child to do something they’re not yet ready for.

To avoid these extremes, consider these tips:

1. Allow your tween to spend supervised time with his or her “love” interest.
2. Talk frankly about relationship issues, including respect for their body, at the appropriate time.
3. Avoid activities that provide unsupervised time with their romantic interest.
4. Ensure you know where your pre-teen is and what he or she is doing.

It’s impossible to know what your tween is doing every second, of course, but you still need to pay attention. Just because you can’t be everywhere all the time doesn’t mean you should give up entirely. Staying emotionally close to your tween can be hard, but the effort is important and worth your time.

If you continue to be involved in your tween’s life and don’t back down on issues where you really feel strongly, they’ll learn to respect that. They might not always like your decisions, but there will be an understanding that abiding by them is required. Consistency in your approach can go a long way toward helping your tween make positive choices now and in the future.