Parenting pre-teens: A pivotal time for children and parents
Catherine Wade, Ann Seward, Alex Almendingen, Elly Robinson
- The pre-teen years (10–12 years) are a phase of rapid change before the increased independence of adolescence.
- Parents of children in the pre-teen years are well placed to meet the needs of their children.
- Parents of pre-teens increasingly use talk to guide their children’s behaviour – for example, around safe internet use.
- These years offer the opportunity for parents to influence their children’s behaviour before the challenges of teen years.
The pre-teen years (10–12 years) are a phase of rapid change for children, and include the onset of puberty, increased independence from parents and an increase in engagement with social media.
There has been little focus on the pre-teen years in child development research. In particular, we know little about the experiences of parents in guiding and supporting children through this phase of development. Understanding how parents are faring is critical to delivering better outcomes for children, as evidence shows there is a powerful connection between parent wellbeing and child wellbeing (Davidov & Grusec, 2006; Davis-Kean, 2005; Repetti, Taylor & Seeman, 2002).
The Parenting Today in Victoria Survey was a representative survey of 2,600 parents conducted in 2016. The survey was the first in a series of surveys to be conducted every three years, aimed at exploring the behaviours, concerns and needs of Victoria’s parents.
To explore the challenges and opportunities faced by parents of pre-teens, the Parenting Research Centre completed secondary data analysis of the Parenting Today in Victoria Survey. The focus cohort of parents of children aged 10–12 years were compared to parents of younger (0–9 years) and older (13–18 years) children.
Parents of pre-teens are confident about their parenting
Parents of children in the pre-teen years were well placed to meet the needs of their children. These parents reported using a range of strategies to keep their children safe, they knew where to seek help if needed and they were comfortable talking to their children’s educators. Most of these parents reported they felt confident in their parenting.
These findings are particularly important when considering the upcoming challenges of adolescence. The parents of teens reported that they:
- felt less confident about managing the transition into secondary school than parents of children transitioning into primary school
- were more concerned about the time their children spent using electronic devices than the parents of all other age groups
- were more concerned than the parents of 6–12-year-olds about their children’s sleep
- found it harder to know how to help their children do well at school compared to all other child age groups
- were less sure about where to get professional help for their parenting compared to parents of 6–12-year-olds
- experienced lower levels of confidence in their parenting compared to parents of younger children.
Signs of increasing independence
In guiding their pre-teens’ internet use, parents reported a trend towards ways of parenting that reflected increased expectations of responsibility and independence. These parents supervised their children’s device use less, had fewer ground rules and limited children’s time less than parents of younger children. They were also less likely to use internet safety software or locks. And a significantly greater proportion of parents talked to their children about safe internet use at this age compared with parents of younger children.
We also saw a trend towards these parents talking more to guide children’s behaviour generally, in preference to other strategies like giving treats for behaving well or smacking. Talking about problems increases with age, peaks at 10–12 years, then drops slightly for parents of adolescents.
In addition to talking more to their children to guide their behaviour, these parents also reported setting rules and limits on their children’s movements in free time. These rules and limits were greatest in the pre-teen years compared to any other age group, and they dropped off significantly in the teenage years.
Parenting opportunity in the pre-teen years
The pre-teen years represent an opportunity for parents to communicate expectations around personal safety and to establish patterns of behaviour while they still have some level of influence. It is also a potentially important time for governments and non-government service providers to support parents to learn and use new skills to prepare their children – and themselves – for the challenges ahead.
Service providers are encouraged to access the free resources on the Raising Children website to assist them in supporting the parents of pre-teens.
This short article is based on the longer paper ‘Parenting pre-teens: A pivotal time for children and parents’, by Wade, C., Almendingen, A., & Robinson, E. (in preparation).
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1 The survey was conducted by the Parenting Research Centre, with funding from the Victorian Government Department of Education and Training. More information about the survey methodology can be found in the Parenting Today in Victoria Technical Report available on the Parenting Research Centre website: www.parentingrc.org.au/publications/parenting-today-in-victoria/