Parenting Perspective: Building a tween's self-esteem

PHILADELPHIA - August 9, 2010

It's a tricky age for a couple of reasons - puberty is starting to kick in and that complicates things for pre-teens. Furthermore, peer pressure is building to a crescendo…so your tween may not be listening as well as he did before.

But assuming you still have decent line of communication with your 10, 11 or 12 year old, there are some specific things you can do to help them navigate the tough teen years ahead.

Dr. Kevin Caputo of Crozer-Chester Medical Center says try giving them short messages of encouragement while you're doing an activity they like.

"Activities enhance their self-esteem. It can be a sports activity or an intellectual activity. Then you can talk with them briefly about other issues during those activities," Dr. Caputo said.

Let your son decide what you're doing for fun. A couple times a week, kick the soccer ball, shoot some hoops, go to the movies or take a swim - whatever your son likes. Boys love the action-packed togetherness and they'll feel special just spending quality time with you where they're the focus. Then talk to them briefly afterwards.

"Try to understand why they enjoy the activity. Give them a hug after the activity, and tell them what you've liked about it," said Dr. Caputo.

Experts say you should also be patient with your tween boy. Pre-teen guys tend to have big emotional swings during puberty - one day they feel like the king of the hill; the next day they're down in the dumps. That's normal. But, if you see a long-term pattern of self-hatred should you get them some help.

When they have negative feelings, just saying 'you're not overweight,' or 'you're not unattractive' isn't enough.

"You have to give some other people's perspectives too. Like your friends think you're good-looking," Dr. Caputo suggested.


1.  Always communicate. Regular short chats, point out your values and what you like that they're doing when you see it happen
2. Tell them they can tell you anything and you won't judge them.  Your boys will make mistakes. Make sure they know they can be open with you about them.
3. Figure out one other trusted adult they can confide in - the pediatrician, a family friend or pastor - someone besides you they can talk to about adolescent worries.

And try to remember how you felt as a pre-teen.  It'll be easier to handle their anxieties if you can tell them some stories of how you felt the same way when you were their age.

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