Alyson Schäfer is a renowned parenting expert and Canadian media personality. She’s the resident parenting expert on CTV news, the Marilyn Denis show and Canada AM, parenting contributor for ParentDish, Huffington Post, and the “Ask the Expert” columnist for Today’s Parent Magazine. As if that wasn’t enough, Alyson also sits on the Healthy Advisory Board for Chatelaine Magazine, is a highly sought after speaker (she spoke at TEDxKids in Brussels, Belgium) and is the author of three bestselling parenting books – Breaking the Good Mom Myth, Honey, I Wrecked the Kids and Ain’t Misbehavin’.
Having received an MA in Counselling from the Adler School of Professional Psychology, Alyson’s approach to parenting is one of mutual respect and social equality between parent and child.
Having successfully navigated the tween years with her two daughters, we recently took the opportunity to ask Alyson some questions about parenting tweens.
1) In your book “Honey, I Wrecked the Kids” you show parents an alternative way of parenting to avoid power struggles. Can you explain what “democratic parenting” is and how it can be effective with tweens?
Democratic parenting has a goal of raising children who are co-operative rather than obedient. Historically speaking, our parenting practices have been based on an autocratic style of ruling that uses external control methods to make kids mind their parents will. Punishment and rewards are the disciplinary tools. Unfortunately, this style of parenting results in raising children who are either rebels, pleasers, sneaks or cheats. The co-operative child however, behaves because they are intrinsically motivated to act in pro-social ways. Co-operation is a bi-product of being in relationships in an environment that is high in mutual respect and cohesion or belonging.
Power struggles ensue when a child ( or any person for that matter) feels they are being dominated or feels they are being controlled, manipulated, or victimized. They fight back for their right to be self–determined. Children learn through the modelling of adults that one gets their way by overpowering others. They do not have any training in how to be co-operative with their fellow man. Tweens and toddlers have a lot in common – they have a high need for self-direction and autonomy. Parents who use old methods of exerting power and control to direct their children at this age will succumb to resistance and power struggles until they learn to win a child’s co-operation rather than force their compliance.
2) Many tweens have iPods or smart phones and are on social media like Instagram and Facebook. How can parents monitor their mobile activities when kids are more tech savvy than their parents? Is there a difference between “monitoring” and “snooping”?
Parents have a responsibility to keep their children safe. Using technology requires education and training as well as supervision and consequences. This is a method used in the great society all the time: you need to learn to drive a car, take lessons, pass a test proving you are responsible. Roads are monitored and consequences ensue if you don’t use your responsibilities properly. Parents must educate children about on-line etiquette and safety. They must make agreements that supervision is a requirement if they are to have the responsibility of being on-line. Making an agreement to spot checks proves that you are not snooping but following your part of the agreement to keep your child safe. Be sure to congratulate them on all their good choices and on-line behaviours. The more they prove they are managing, the less the supervision should become. Show them they are earning your trust. Don’t criticize them for every little quip or foul language. Children need their freedom to be kids too – we all played spin the bottle and shared our newly learned swear words at sleepovers. They need some latitude to be silly too.
3) How should parents react when they hear their child swear?
I would simply say “ I see you are learning some new swear words. Those are powerful words – so I trust you will use good judgment in deploying them. Words can be weapons in a time of conflict and things you say to your friends at the park are not things you say to Grandma. I trust your discretion.”
If they keep swearing – notice if the usefulness of the swearing is to impress someone, to upset or hurt you. Ask the child “ do you think swearing is helping you to gain some status amongst your friends?” or “ Are you swearing to hurt my feelings because you are mad at me?”
4) Tweens want independence and parents need to give them space, but there still needs to be rules and guidelines. How can parents strike that balance?
I like to use the metaphor of rock climbing that I learned from my colleague Jennifer Kolari of Connected Parenting. She describes the process well. The parent must belay their tween as they ascend the wall of life. Hold too tight and they can’t grow. Too much slack and they could fall. Share this information with your tween. Explain that you want to find the “just right security” between you and your tween. Together, using positive and clear communication, discuss growing responsibilities and the consequences that ensue if the responsibilities are not met. Make agreements that are specific and time limited so they can be tweaked.
5) Having survived the tween years yourself, what are your top 3 tips for parents of tweens?
- Have a positive expectation rather than a negative one. Children move in line with your expectations and if you think it will be hellish – guess what, it will be. If you think this is an exciting time of growth, it will be that too!
- Don’t be disappointed when tweens test you to find the limits and boundaries. That is not a character flaw. It’s in a child’s job description to test limits and boundaries. It’s a parent’s job to set them. The only way to find a limit IS to push and test it.
- Prove to them that you can listen without judging if you want them to continue to come to you with their life stressors.